COVID-19: Temporary Changes to Hours of Service Regulations for Drivers of Commercial Vehicles

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Throughout Canada, regulations governing hours of service for drivers of commercial vehicles have been put in place by government authorities in order to limit driving hours for bus and truck drivers. These regulations provide, among other things, the maximum number of hours that may be worked by drivers, with a focus on combating fatigue at the wheel.

The current global pandemic has led governmental authorities to modify or suspend the application of these regulations governing driving and rest hours. This article describes the principal changes that have occurred to date, and will be updated if other provincial authorities or the federal government adopt measures regarding driving and rest hours for drivers of commercial vehicles.

For our previous updates and for up-to-date information on COVID-19 and McCarthy Tétrault's perspective on the related legal issues, please visit our COVID-19 hub here.

Québec

On March 13, 2020, Québec declared a state of health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Quebec, the Regulation respecting the hours of driving and rest of heavy vehicle drivers[1] (the “Regulation”) adopted under the Highway Safety Code, governs the driving and rest hours of all drivers, owners and operators of heavy vehicles for provincially governed traffic. Due to the current crisis, the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (Quebec Automobile Insurance Corporation, or “SAAQ”) announced on April 6, 2020, the suspension of the application of the Regulation with respect to the provisions related to driving and rest hours. Certain conditions apply to this exemption, such that heavy vehicles covered by the Regulation must be carrying, or be returning from delivering, the following goods in order to be eligible for the exemption:[2]

  • food products (which include food products intended for farm animals and domestic pets);
  • sanitary and medical supplies;
  • pharmaceutical products;
  • products necessary for the production of food;
  • a combination of the goods listed.

This suspension of the Regulation will allow drivers of heavy vehicles to exceed the total driving hours in the periods immediately before and after each rest period, set at a maximum of 13 hours.[3] The SAAQ also specified in its press release[4] that it was counting on the industry's usual cooperation to ensure the safety of road users, despite the easing of the regulatory measures. The SAAQ also maintains that the prohibition on driving when the ability to drive is impaired to the point of being dangerous remains. The driving and rest time exemption will be in effect in Quebec until the government ends the state of health emergency.

Elsewhere in Canada

In response to the pandemic, the Government of Saskatchewan has also opted for a temporary change to the regulations governing driving hours for drivers of commercial vehicles, effective March 30, 2020. As in Quebec, carriers eligible for the exemption must meet certain conditions in order to qualify. As such, the exemption applies to the transportation of goods and supplies intended to meet immediate needs related COVID-19 being:[5]

  • medical supplies and equipment related to tests, diagnosis and treatments;
  • supplies and equipment necessary for community safety and sanitation, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants;
  • food, paper products and other groceries for emergency resupply of distribution centres or stores;
  • raw materials, such as paper, plastic or alcohol, necessary for the manufacture of medical supplies, sanitation items and safe distribution of groceries;
  • fuel; and
  • equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine and isolation facilities.

 The Government of Saskatchewan also notes that the transportation of the following persons will be permitted:

  • people designated by Federal, Provincial/Territorial or local authorities for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes; and
  • people needed to provide other medical or emergency services.

 The Government, however, recommends that carriers continue to monitor the activities of their drivers. It also specifies that at the end of an emergency period and before returning to normal operations, the driver of a heavy vehicle is required to take eight consecutive hours off-duty before driving.

United States

In the United States, on March 18, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) issued a national emergency statement to ease the regulatory requirements on driving hours for drivers of heavy vehicles transporting emergency assistance in response to COVID-19. This exemption is for the transportation of some goods related to the needs arising from the current situation. For more information, you may consult the FMCSA press release.

McCarthy Tétrault's Transportation and Logistics Group has extensive experience advising motor carriers with respect to provincial and federal regulations governing hours of service and the broader regulatory environment in which they operate. For more information, please contact David F. Blair or Brian Lipson.

[1] Regulation respecting the hours of driving and rest of heavy vehicle drivers, CQLR, c. 24.2, r. 28.

[2] Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), « Exemption relative aux règles sur les heures de conduite et de repos », Press release of April 6, 2020, https://saaq.gouv.qc.ca/salle-de-presse/communique/exemption-relative-aux-regles-sur-les-heures-de-conduite-et-de-repos/ (in French only).

[3] Regulation respecting the hours of driving and rest of heavy vehicle drivers, CQLR, c. 24.2, r. 28, s. 16(4).

[4] Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), « Exemption relative aux règles sur les heures de conduite et de repos », Press release of April 6, 2020, https://saaq.gouv.qc.ca/salle-de-presse/communique/exemption-relative-aux-regles-sur-les-heures-de-conduite-et-de-repos/ (in French only).

[5] Government of Saskatchewan, « Truckers Transporting Essential Supplies Granted Exemption », Press release of March 30, 2020, https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2020/march/30/supplies-granted-exemption

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