How do federal hours of service regulations prevent truck accidents?

Though many people may not be familiar with them, federal hours of service regulations play a key role in preventing large truck accidents caused by driver fatigue. These HOS rules, implemented by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, govern the working hours of commercial truck drivers in the U.S. who move goods from one state to another.

According to the FMCSA, fatigue is a significant factor in commercial truck accidents. The longer a truck driver remains behind the wheel without an eight hour break, the greater the risk that he will be involved in a crash caused by fatigue. Commercial trucks are, of course, much larger than passenger vehicles and the effects of these crashes can be devastating.

The federal HOS regulations focus on when and how long a driver may remain behind the wheel by placing specific limits on the amount of time a person may drive and how many hours he can work before he is no longer allowed to operate a commercial vehicle. There are three general on-duty limits that truck drivers must follow at all times:

  • Fourteen hour duty limit: drivers are allowed a period of 14 consecutive on-duty hours after being off-duty for 10 or more consecutive hours. This period begins whenever a driver starts any kind of work. Once a driver reaches the 14 hour limit, he may not drive again until he has been off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours. Even if a driver takes some off-duty time during this 14-hour period, his driving time is still limited to 14 hours.
  • Eleven hour driving limit: a driver may be behind the wheel for only 11 of the 14 consecutive on-duty hours. Once a driver has been behind the wheel for a total of 11 hours, he must be off-duty for at least 10 consecutive hours before driving again.
  • Sixty/Seventy hour duty limit: this rule is designed to limit a driver’s weekly driving hours and differs according to trucking companies’ schedules. If a driver’s company does not operate every day of the week, he is not allowed to drive after being on-duty 60 hours for seven consecutive days. If a driver’s company does operate every day of the week, he may not drive after he has been on-duty 70 hours in eight consecutive days. In either case, the regulations allow a driver to reset his on-duty calculations after spending at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.

Truck drivers subject to the FMCSA’s HOS regulations must keep log books to keep track of their time worked and distance traveled, among other information.