New Hours-of-Service Rules: What You Need to Know

Hours of Service regulations are integral to the operational landscape of commercial driving, weaving safety into the transit fabric. These rules, set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), govern the number of hours commercial drivers can work and rest, aiming to mitigate fatigue-related accidents. New amendments to the HOS rules have emerged in this evolving landscape, promising enhanced flexibility while underscoring the unwavering commitment to safety. 

This article unveils these changes, offering insights on their implications for drivers and the broader tapestry of road safety. We’ll navigate through the nuances, providing a comprehensive understanding of what you need to know to adapt, comply, and optimize operational efficiency under these revised guidelines.

Understanding Hours of Service Rules

The Hours of Service (HOS) rules are regulations set to safeguard the health of CMV drivers and public safety. The FMCSA established rules defining drivers’ operational hours and required rest breaks. HOS rules are crucial in making our roads safer by preventing fatigue-related accidents.

Here’s an overview of the regulations and what they mean.

14-hour/15-hour rule

This rule is often referred to as the “driving window.” After beginning their shift, drivers have 14 hours, within which they can drive up to 11 hours. After this window, the driver must be off-duty for 10 consecutive hours. The 15-hour variation is sometimes used for non-driving work tasks. A driver cannot be on-duty (including driving and other work-related tasks) for more than 15 hours following 8 consecutive hours off-duty.

11-hour/10-hour rule

Within the 14-hour window, a driver can only be actively driving for 11 hours. After hitting this limit, the driver must take 10 consecutive hours off-duty before they can go again. This rule ensures that drivers get adequate rest before getting behind the wheel.

30-minute break rule

The 30-minute break rule mandates that if a driver has been on duty (driving or not) for 8 consecutive hours, they must take a break of at least 30 minutes before continuing. This break can be taken as off-duty, sleeper berth, or on-duty not driving. The main goal is to allow drivers a chance to rest and refresh, reducing fatigue.

60-hour/70-hour limits

These rules pertain to a driver’s total on-duty time over a specific period:

  • 60-hour limit: A driver cannot be on duty for more than 60 hours within 7 days.
  • 70-hour limit: A driver cannot be on duty for more than 70 hours in any 8 consecutive days.

Drivers working for companies operating trucks 7 days a week usually follow the 70-hour/8-day limit, while those working 6 days a week or fewer follow the 60-hour/7-day limit.

34-hour restart

This provision allows drivers to “reset” their 60-hour or 70-hour clocks. By taking 34 consecutive hours off-duty, a driver can start a new 7-day or 8-day period, effectively bringing their total hours in the previous period down to zero. This means after a 34-hour break, the driver has 60 or 70 hours available again. However, this restart has specific criteria, including the requirement to include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Exemptions to Hours of Service Rules

While comprehensive, the Hours of Service (HOS) rules understand that the trucking industry is vast and varied. Recognizing drivers’ unique challenges in specific situations, the FMCSA provided certain exemptions to the standard HOS rules. Here’s a rundown of these key exemptions:

30-minute break exception

The standard HOS guidelines require a 30-minute break following 8 straight hours of driving. However, specific short-haul drivers are exempt from this requirement. If these drivers do not drive more than 8 hours a day and return to their starting point by the end of their shift, they can bypass the 30-minute break rule.

16-hour short-haul exception

Typically, drivers are bound by the 14-hour driving window. However, under the short-haul exception, drivers can extend their drive time to 16 hours once every 7 days. This exemption applies to drivers who:

  • Start and end shifts at the exact location.
  • Stay within a 100-mile radius of their starting point.
  • Stay within 11 hours of driving time.

Non-CDL short-haul exception

For drivers operating vehicles not requiring a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) but still used for commercial purposes:

  • They can work within a 150-air mile radius of their starting location.
  • Their driving window is extended to 14 consecutive hours.
  • After this window, they must take 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
  • Drivers must not drive after the 14th hour of coming on duty 5 days a week or after the 16th hour of coming on duty 2 days a week.

Adverse driving conditions exception

The HOS rules recognize that sometimes drivers encounter unexpected adverse driving conditions, such as sudden severe weather changes. In such cases, the driving time can be extended by up to 2 hours. However, this does not open the 14-hour driving window. This provision ensures drivers can safely navigate unexpected adverse conditions without violating HOS rules.

Emergency condition

In situations declared as emergencies by federal, state, or local governments, the HOS regulations may be temporarily lifted for drivers providing direct assistance to the emergency. This could include transporting essential supplies, equipment, or persons. Once the immediate assistance is completed, or the driver has had 10 consecutive hours off-duty, they must adhere to standard HOS rules.

Penalties for violating HOS rules

Violating Hours of Service (HOS) rules can result in severe consequences for the individual driver and the company they work for. Local enforcement agencies and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) take these violations seriously due to their implications for road safety. 

Truckinginfo says fines for non-adherence to the rules can span between $1,100 and $16,000 for each violation. The nature and recurrence of these breaches can also lead to additional sanctions. Habitual violations of HOS regulations typically lead to a decline in a driver’s compliance, safety, and accountability rating. Moreover, employers who intentionally allow or advocate for such violations may be subject to stringent federal criminal consequences.

Staying compliant with HOS rules is not just about avoiding fines or penalties; it’s for the safety of drivers and all road users. With proper understanding, tools, and practices, compliance becomes a natural part of the driving routine.

Tips to Stay Compliant with HOS Rules

Compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) rules is essential for the safety of drivers and the general public. Here are some practical tips to help drivers and fleet managers maintain compliance:

  • Understand the Basics: Get to know the fundamental HOS rules. Knowing the maximum driving hours, required rest periods, and restart provisions is foundational.
  • Use Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs): ELDs automatically record driving time, making it easier to track hours and ensuring accurate, tamper-proof records.
  • Plan Routes Efficiently: Proper route planning can help drivers avoid unnecessary delays and ensure adequate rest breaks. Using GPS and traffic apps can help anticipate delays.
  • Stay Updated: HOS rules can be updated or modified. Regularly check the FMCSA website or subscribe to industry newsletters to stay informed.
  • Take Breaks Seriously: Never skip mandated rest periods or breaks. Fatigue can set in even if you feel fine, increasing the risk of accidents.

FAQs about HOS Rules

Why do HOS rules exist?

HOS rules were established to ensure the safety of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers and the general public. A driver can operate a vehicle by regulating the number of hours and mandating specific rest periods. These rules aim to reduce fatigue-related accidents on the road. 

What is on-duty time?

On-duty time includes all moments from starting or being ready to work until relieved of all work responsibilities. This consists of driving, loading/unloading cargo, inspecting the vehicle, waiting at a shipper or receiver, completing paperwork, or other job-related tasks. 

When do the Hours of Service regulations apply?

Hours of Service rules are for commercial drivers operating interstate or transporting goods destined for other states. This covers trucks over 10,001 pounds, vehicles for 9+ passengers for hire, those carrying 16+ passengers without pay, and vehicles with hazardous materials needing placards.

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