The hours-of-service regulations are in Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. These regulations are developed and enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the United States Department of Transportation. These regulations put limits in place for when and how long you may drive, with the idea that these limits will help make sure that you stay awake and alert while driving.
Hours of service regulations apply to people driving a commercial truck, or truck-tractor with a trailer, that is involved in interstate commerce and weighs 10,001 pounds or more including the load, or is carrying hazmats requiring placards.
Drivers are only allowed to be on-duty for 14 consecutive hours in a 24-hour period before they have to be off-duty for 10 hours. That means that even if you take a break or a little nap during the day, you have to go off duty 14 hours after you went on-duty. During this time, you are only allowed to drive for 11 total hours. At the end of your 14 hours, you are required to get 10 consecutive hours of rest, either in your home, a hotel, or sleeper berth. In addition to these two limits, you can only work 60 hours over seven days, or 70 hours per eight days without a 34-hour break.
Carriers are required to test potential employees for illegal drugs and alcohol. If any drivers’ tests are verified positive, that driver must be removed from the job immediately. If the results come back verified adulterated, the driver must also be removed from the job. Any driver who refuses to take the test will also be pulled out of safety-sensitive functions. Employers may also be required to report the results of these tests to the government.
Several states and municipalities regulate the amount of time drivers can idle their engines. This can present a problem for drivers who sleep in the berth. Unless you have a separate climate control system, you will rely on the truck’s engine to power the heat and air while you sleep. Some towns charge drivers for idling their engines longer than a few minutes, with fines as high as $25,000. When planning your routes, understand local idling regulations and avoid planning a cold- or hot-weather rest period in a town with severe restrictions.
Heavy vehicles take a toll on state roads. To prevent excessive damage, states and cities have placed limits on the amount of weight trucks can carry over roads and bridges. The problem is that the states are all different. Understanding weight limits is critical to route planning. If you get caught with an overweight load, depending on the state, you might have to sit by the side of the road until another tractor-trailer can come take part of the load, or you might get a hefty fine, or both driver and carrier could be penalized for the excess weight.
The FMCSA requires all interstate commercial drivers to be at least 21 years old and to pass a physical exam every two years. If you have a medical disorder that could put you and other travelers at risk – like epilepsy or an immediate risk of heart attack – your doctor will not approve you to drive. Drivers must have at least 20/40 vision with or without corrective lenses, over a 70-degree field of vision.
If you have been convicted of a felony involving a motor vehicle or a hit-and-run, you probably won’t be able to drive. Drivers also need to be able to read road signs and communicate in English.