At the end of last year, the federal government passed a final rule for commercial vehicle drivers regarding hours of service. This rule governs, among other things, the amount of time that truck drivers or commercial vehicle operators can spend on the road.

By limiting the number of hours drivers can spend on the road in a given period, drivers are forced to rest an adequate amount of time so they can safely perform their duties and reduce the likelihood of an accident caused by truck driver fatigue.

The revision finalized by the government in December marks significant and detailed changes in the hours-of-service (HOS) rule that was previously in place. The updated rule covers drivers that are transporting property or passengers.

For property-carrying drivers, the rule:

  • Sets an 11-hour maximum driving limit after having 10 consecutive hours off duty
  • Limits drivers from driving beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming off duty
  • States that drivers cannot exceed 60 to 70 hours on duty in seven to eight consecutive days.

For trucks with sleeper berths, drivers must spend at least eight hours resting in the berth, as well as two additional hours off (to make up the 10 consecutive hours of being off duty).

For passenger-carrying vehicle drivers, such as tour bus drivers, specific rules apply as well:

  • Drivers may only drive a maximum of 10 hours after having eight hours off duty.
  • They may not drive after being on duty for 15 hours, and can only drive up to 15 hours if they had jut been off duty for eight hours.
  • Drivers may not exceed more than 60 to 70 hours on duty in seven to eight consecutive days

One of the most significant changes in the updated HOS rule are the mandated rest breaks.

The previous rule also did not define penalties, specifically “egregious” hours of service. Under the new rule, a driver who violates a time limit by driving three or more extra hours could be charged with an “egregious” violation for drivers transporting property or passengers. Violation of this rule could subject drivers and their companies to the maximum civil penalties.

Even though the final rule has been enacted, the rule does not go into effect until February 27, 2012. And because change often takes time, commercial drivers and transportation companies have until to July 1, 2013 to become compliant with all of the provisions.

While advocates have expressed concerns about the rules essentially putting truck drivers on the roads during the busiest times of the days, experts hope that these new mandates will make for more alert drivers, and fewer trucking accidents.