Truckers’ Hours of Service and Highway Safety

Large trucks are difficult to maneuver and control, so their drivers must be skilled, well-trained, and alert, and have their wits about them at all times to avoid accidents. To ensure the safety of both truckers and the general public, strict regulations regarding hours of service and safety have been put in place to prevent crashes caused by truck-driver fatigue.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the U.S. government agency within the Department of Transportation (USDOT) that regulates and oversees the trucking and commercial motor vehicle industries. The FMCSA has rules and regulations for commercial driver’s license standards, safety fitness procedures, financial responsibility for motor carriers, and inspection, repair and maintenance of vehicles, as well as for hours of service (HOS).

The HOS regulations dictate the maximum amount of time drivers are permitted to be on duty including driving time and specifies number and length of rest periods, to help ensure that drivers stay awake and alert. In general, all carriers and drivers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) must comply with HOS regulations found in 49 CFR 395. This helps prevent drivers from driving too long and becoming fatigued, a factor that contributes to 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle crashes.

What are Hours-of-Service Regulation Changes?

Rules and regulations are important safety measures for everyone on the road. However, hours-of-service regulations are designed by politicians, not truck drivers; and sometimes drivers feel as though they are not a good fit. Over a decade ago, the rule was set that drivers could not drive for more than 14 hours after coming on duty. After 14 hours, regardless of how many of those hours were actually spent driving, the driver had to clock out for 10 consecutive hours. Also, drivers had to take at least one 30-minute break per eight hours of driving time. That break is included in their 14 hours of on-duty time, even if they are not driving. While this may seem logical to some, drivers often complained that the regulations were not practical for all situations and created a scenario where drivers had to rush to complete runs within the 14-hour period, sometimes compromising safety.

To make HOS regulations more practical for drivers, on June 1, 2020, FMCSA revised four provisions of the hours-of-service regulations to provide greater flexibility for drivers without adversely affecting safety. Motor carriers were required to comply with the new HOS regulations starting on September 29, 2020. These revisions included:

Short Haul Exceptions — Drivers are exempt from requirements of §§ 395.8 and 395.11 if they are operating within a 150 air-mile radius (172.6 statute miles) of their normal work reporting location or they return to the work reporting location and are released from work within 14 consecutive hours.

Adverse Driving Conditions Exception – This exception expands the driving window time by up to an additional 2 hours during adverse driving conditions where drivers cannot safely complete the run within the maximum driving time or duty. This is to allow drivers to complete that run or to reach a place offering safety.

30-Minute Break Requirement — This revision requires a break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after 8 cumulative hours of driving time (instead of the previous on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not-driving period to qualify as the required break.

Sleeper Berth Provision — This provision modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement. It allows a driver to spend at least 7 hours of that period in the berth combined with a minimum off-duty period of at least 2 hours spent inside or outside the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours. When used this way, the time does not count against the 14-hour driving window.

As of 2022, the main key regulations for HOS include the following:

  1. 14-Hour Driving Window: Drivers are allowed to be on duty for up to 14 consecutive hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  2. 11-Hour Driving Limit: Drivers are allowed to drive up to 11 hours within the 14-hour window.
  3. Rest Breaks: A minimum of 30 minutes of rest is required after 8 hours of driving.
  4. 60/70-Hour Limit: Drivers are subject to a weekly maximum of 60 hours on duty in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period.

Possible Rule Changes for 2024

The FMCSA and USDOT have a joint rulemaking process for developing safety standards and regulations on the qualifications of commercial motor vehicle drivers, as well as any changes in equipment or operations. In an attempt to come up with changes that increase safety in the trucking industry, rules proposed for 2024 include:

  • Having a new clearinghouse return-to-duty process for CDL drivers who have a drug and alcohol program violation.
  • Requiring all CMVs operating in interstate commerce to have an electronic ID system capable of wirelessly communicating a unique ID number when queried by federal or state motor carrier safety enforcement personnel.
  • Limiting speeds of heavy vehicles to 68 mph. The proposed rule requires all commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 lbs. or more, which are equipped with an electronic engine control unit (ECU) to be equipped with a device that limits the top speed of the vehicle.
  • Amending certain regulations to ensure the safe introduction of automated driving systems (ADS) on equipped commercial motor vehicles.
  • Setting strict 2024 emissions standards to meet air quality and climate change emissions standards to reduce smog-forming emissions.
  • Requiring AEB systems and electronic stability control systems on new vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.
  • Requiring new carriers to take a standardized test to make sure they’re aware of and comply with federal safety regulations.
  • Changing safety fitness procedures for any federally regulated commercial motor carriers; if determined to be “Unfit,” the carrier would have to either improve its operations or shut down.

Do the Changes Make Our Roads Safer?

While these proposed changes may make the situation safer or more convenient for truck drivers, the real question is how well they will protect the safety of everyone else. Truck drivers must drive responsibly, and they and their trucking companies can be held liable if violation of rules or other negligence results in an accident.

If you have been injured in a collision involving a truck, you may be entitled to compensation for the damages you received. Attorney Billy Johnson has successfully secured settlements and jury awards on behalf of his clients across Kentucky. He will aggressively fight for your rights and seek the financial compensation you deserve.

Call the Johnson Law Firm at 606-437-4488 today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Attorney Billy Johnson

William “Billy” Johnson grew up in the Dorton area of Pike County, Kentucky, and early on decided to stay in the beautiful Appalachian mountains. Like many others in Eastern Kentucky, Billy’s dad worked as a coal miner, a hard job but one that taught his son how to meet challenges head on and persevere. Attorney Billy Johnson has years of experience helping injured clients with claims such as car, truck, and motorcycle accidents, wrongful deaths, work injuries, and more. [ Attorney Bio ]

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