Steering us out of a bad skid: Trucking takes the wheel of the US economy

The world turns in interesting ways and often spins in a direction that surprises even the most savvy and cynical social observers. Such is the case with COVID-19 the virus shipped special delivery from Wuhan China.

We turned a really sharp corner

Like many flu viruses making their way around the population centers of the world, COVID-19 began to spread – and by January was making some very scary headlines. As the news of mounting cases, rising death tolls and overtaxed healthcare systems, the virus mutated into more of an agent of fear rather than disease. Civilized society and culture took a sharp turn and within the span of about two weeks decided to see if it could stop the virus from spreading by stopping the world from turning.

Because of an unprecedented response by the most of the world’s industrialized countries to try and halt the disease’s spread we now find ourselves sheltering in place and keeping our social distance. To get the job done the best course of action was to begin closing schools and churches, shuttering public events, stopping travel, cancelling industry conferences, axing arena sports and more.

All of that has put the US economy into a real skid and the stock market’s gyrations have been epic and historic. According some sources, we’re already in recession. Fortunately, like any disease the US economy has some built in anti-bodies that will see us through to better economic health once the crisis passes. Which it will.

Truckers and supply chain go anti-viral in a good way.

Americans’ 2020 COVID-19 pandemic fears will always be remembered in part for their hoarding of toilet paper (come on, people) and cleaning supplies, among other things. By March 12 or so, consumers were seeing many empty shelves cleared of these essentials.

American began to ask: Who’s going to replenish these essentials if we are ever to survive? Of course it’s America’s truckers to the rescue; aided and abetted by federal agencies engaged for once to support the industry in its mission, rather than stymie its best efforts.

FMSCA suspends rules to speed essential goods to market

Most times, governments have a heavy grip on trucking’s wheel (we’ll mention Pennsylvania later) but by March 14 there was news the feds were going take at least one hand off the wheel and bring relief from some of the regulations that tend to hamper the free-flow of essential goods, emergency medical supplies and all the things society needs to fight a pandemic.

In an unprecedented move supported by the Whitehouse, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak.

By March 18, FMSCA expanded on its national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak.

In the announcement, FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen remarked that “Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, FMCSA is providing additional regulatory relief to our nation’s commercial drivers to get critically important medical supplies, food, and household goods to Americans in need. The nation’s truck drivers are on the front lines of this effort and are critical to America’s supply chain. We will continue to support them and use our authority to protect the health and safety of the American people.” FMCSA’s emergency declaration is the first time the Agency has issued nation-wide relief and follows President Trump issuing of a national emergency declaration in response to the virus.

Moving essential supplies now

FMCSA’s expanded declaration allows for regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations by providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts intended to meet immediate needs for:

  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19
  • Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants
  • Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores.
  • Immediate precursor raw materials—such as paper, plastic or alcohol—that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items.
  • Fuel
  • Equipment supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine.
  • Persons designated by federal, state or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes
  • Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services

To ensure continued safety on the nation’s roadways, the emergency declaration stipulates that once a driver has completed his or her delivery, the drive must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers. The expanded declaration also stipulates that direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration.

Beyond the crisis, to recovery: truckers will lead

Nashville Tennessee’s WKRN headline March 18 declared “The trucking industry could be key to keeping the economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The station’s reporter noted truckers were hard at work keeping essential goods flowing as supplies continue to run low. According WKRN, drivers are putting in overtime “so they can travel across the country and help keep stores stocked.”

Truckers need support in the road

The news channel’s story pointed out an essential truth—there are now fewer options for truckers to eat or to take a break. Restaurants have allowed for more drive-thru and delivery options, but there are still limited choices for those driving a semitrailer truck. Gas stations and grocery stores are convenient, but most shelves are empty.

As opposed to some government efforts to the contrary (Hey Pennsylvania), Transport Topics reports the nation's truck stop chains and travel centers are working hard to stay open and serve drivers during the crisis, while also taking steps to ensure safety even though services are reduced in many cases.

Heading towards recovery-ville

As the disease and social impact trends of the pandemic begin to abate, the nation’s truckers and the supply chain will be more essential than ever to sharpen the rebound of the economy. In spite of headlines and all the bad news there is also an equally constant stream of factors and circumstances that will serve to steer us safely out of this skid and put us on a faster road to recovery.

It’s clear we are in this together and everyone’s doing their part. Americans everywhere are all so thankful for our first-responders and medical community; rightfully so. We feel like the USA’s truckers are also showing this to be their finest hour. We salute you - each and every one. God Bless our truckers! Thank you, all!