February 2, 2023
The U.S. Department of Transportation sets many rules and regulations that are meant to keep people safe while they're traveling on the country's roads. One of the main things that falls under these regulations are rules that apply specifically to professional truck drivers.
Set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, these are known as Hours of Service, or HOS, rules. These regulations set specific guidelines for how long truck drivers are allowed to be behind the wheel at one time, and when they must stop and take a break.
The rules regulate a truck driver's duty cycles, which includes the length of time they're allowed to drive and when they must take their mandatory breaks for rest. In addition, the HOS rules require all drivers to have an ELD, or electronic logging device, to track their driving hours and duty status.
The impetus behind HOS rules is to prevent driver fatigue, which can present a significant danger to truck drivers and others on the road. Driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of major car accidents, so the DOT is seeking to prevent them as much as possible.
Below are some more details about HOS rules so you can ensure that you follow them properly.

Who Must Follow the HOS Rules?

DOT HOS rules apply to all drivers of any commercial motor vehicle. Carries that come from Mexico and Canada also must follow the HOS rules while they are driving in the United States.
The DOT defines a commercial vehicle as meeting at least one of these conditions, regardless of whether the vehicle has a trailer attached or not …
It is used or designed to transport at least 16 people, which includes the driver.
It is used or designed to transport at least nine people for pay, which includes the driver.
It requires a specific amount of Hazmat that would require it having a placard.
It has a weigh in excess of 10,000 pounds, even if it isn't carrying a load.
If even one of the above conditions is met, then the vehicle is subject to the DOT HOS rules. This also means that even if you're not a full-time commercial vehicle driver by trade, if the vehicle above meets the criteria, then you are subject to the rules and must follow them.

When Are the Regulations in Effect?

The next thing to understand is when the DOT HOS rules are in effect. There are two different categories, one for interstate and one for intrastate commerce.
Interstate drivers -- those who drive across state lines -- have to follow the rules all the time. The tricky part comes into play because this applies if you drive for a trucking company that conducts interstate commerce. Even if you aren't driving across state lines, in other words, you would be subjected to DOT HOS rules if you're an independent contractor or employed driver for such a company.
If you drive on interstate commerce part-time, then you have to follow the HOS regulations for at least one week after the last day that you drove across state lines.
Drivers who only drive intrastate -- or within one state -- don't have to follow the DOT's HOS rules. They do, however, have to follow that state's own guidelines for driving and resting.
The one exception to the above is if you are transporting Hazmats. Even if the delivery of the Hazmats is intrastate in nature, you'll be required to follow the DOT HOS rules if you'd have to get a placard.

Specific HOS Limits

Now that you understand what HOS rules are, to whom they apply and when they apply, let's dive into the specific rules and regulations that are in place.

Daily Driving Limits

The first regulation is called the 14-hour shift. Drivers can be behind the wheel after the 14th hour that they're on duty, until they get at least a break of 10 hours. It doesn't matter what the tasks are that you've done in the previous 14 hours, if you haven’t had that 10-hour break, you need to take one.
Any nap or break that you take during off-duty hours count as part of those 14 hours, unless they total at least 10 hours.
The second regulation is the 11-hour driving limit, which operates within the 14-hour shift. During those 14 hours, you can't be driving for more than 11 in total. Once you hit 11 hours of driving in a 14-hour shift, you must take a break of 10 hours.

Weekly Driving Limits

This rule states that any carrier that doesn't operate on a daily basis can't drive after they've finished 60 hours of on-duty work in any period of seven days. Any carrier that operates on a daily basis can't drive after they've finished 70 hours of on-duty work in a period of 18 days.

34-Hour Restart

This rule ensures that all drivers have time off on consecutive days to refresh and rest. Once a driver has taken 34 hours off in a row, then their weekly driving limits will reset.

Breaks for Rest

Any time that a trucker has driven eight hours, they have to break for at least 30 minutes. This doesn't mean they have to go off-duty for that time period. It just mandates that they can't drive again until those 30 minutes have gone by.

Additional Rules and Exemptions

Those are the main DOT HOS rules, but there are some others that can apply depending on your specific situation. In addition, there are some examples to the regulations, which again may apply to you depending on a number of different factors.
The FMCSA provides a full explanation of all the HOS rules right on their website. So, if you need to figure out whether a specific rule applies to you, and how you can stay compliant with it, visit their website for more information.
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