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The coronavirus just indefinitely postponed truck drivers' most hated 72 hours of the year

Business Insider logo Business Insider 3 days ago Rachel Premack

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Video by NBC News

The most dreaded event of the year for many truck drivers has been put on hold for the first time ever, thanks to increasing demand for them as the coronavirus pushes shoppers to panic buy and hospitals to load up on more supplies.

The International Roadcheck, typically scheduled for early summer, has been postponed "to later in the year," the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance announced Wednesday. The CVSA is an intergovernmental agency with local, state, and federal commercial-driver safety officials from Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

Each year, the CVSA conducts a 72-hour "blitz" in which 13,000-plus inspectors pull over truck drivers and assess them for following key points of safety laws for commercial drivers. In the U.S. and Canada, the CVSA said the 2019 blitz saw 67,072 inspections uncovering 12,019 critical vehicle problems and 2,784 driver violations.

Those drivers and trucks were put out of service until the problems were resolved. An out-of-service order pushes a truck company's federal safety score lower, and it means a short-term loss of income.

The time spent during the inspection -- and the downsides from potentially being placed out of service -- encourages many truck drivers to just not work during International Roadcheck, industry publication FreightWaves reported last year. Some take vacations, while others make necessary repairs to their trucks.

a man riding on the back of a truck © David Goldman/AP

FreightWaves data revealed that, in the week of International Roadcheck, truck drivers rejected 20% of loads going into Los Angeles in 2018, where state-level trucking safety laws are the most strenuous in the country. After the inspection blitz, rejection rates fell to 13%.

The conclusion: Truck drivers "would rather avoid inspection than haul freight."

Truck drivers are getting slammed with new work 

In recent weeks, truck drivers have hustled to fulfill orders for retail goods and medical equipment, forcing the federal government to lift an 82-year-old trucking safety law earlier this month. That law requires truck drivers to drive no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period -- and the unprecedented lifting of that for certain loads was hailed as a win by drivers, many of whom detest the law.

As stores rush to restock shelves impacted by panic buying, freight-analytics company Project44 said loads to grocery and discount stores popped by more than 50% last week from the same week last year. Trucking jobs posted on freight marketplace DAT last week are up 66% from the beginning of the month.

Across the country, sales of hand sanitizer jumped by 228% during the four weeks ending March 7, compared withthe same period last year, according to the most recently available data set from retail sales tracker Nielsen.

During January and February, Adobe Analytics, which tracks 80 top online retailers in the U.S., said sales of cold, cough and flu products popped 198%, toilet paper grew 186%, canned foods jumped 69% and "virus protection" items like gloves and masks jumped 817%.

The increased demand for truck drivers is what drove the CVSA to postpone International Roadcheck. The agency said in a press release that "public health and safety" are its top concern as the U.S. death toll for the coronavirus hits 1,000.

Still, the CVSA will still regularly inspect trucks.

"As we urgently respond to this time-sensitive crisis, we must remain diligent and committed to ensuring that the commercial motor vehicles and drivers providing essential goods and services to our communities are following motor carrier safety regulations," said CVSA president Sgt. John Samis, a state trooper in Delaware. "Safety doesn't take a break. It is always our top priority."

a man standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera © John Froschauer / AP

Read more:

Trump administration suspends an 82-year-old road safety law for some truck drivers 

McDonald's pushes ordering system invented for truckers, as 1.8 million drivers struggle to find food

Experts say coronavirus is already having 'disastrous' effects on global supply chains

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