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Hours of services (HOS) regulations explained

Stay up to date with the latest regulations governing commercial fleets

Hours of services (HOS) regulations
(Image: © FMCSA)

In the US, all commercial drivers must adhere to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) hours of services (HOS) regulations. Some of the best fleet management software and services will help you comply with these regulations, but it’s still important to know what they are and why they matter.

In the following feature, we’ll explain what the HOS regulations are, why they are important for the safety and security of commercial drivers, and what the consequences of ignoring them can be. Read on to learn more about these important regulatory requirements.

The FMCSA’s HOS regulations are designed to keep drivers safe (Image credit: FMCSA)

Why are HOS regulations in place?

The key reason the FMCSA introduced its HOS regulations was to ensure the safety of commercial drivers, their passengers, and other road users. Fleet operators in the US are required by law to follow the regulations, which protect all commercial drivers, including those involved with trucking, public transport, and transport for educational institutions. 

The rules focus on driver fatigue and aim to mitigate accidents by ensuring drivers adhere to strict driving time limits. They determine how long a driver can spend on the road on any given day as well as providing recommendations for periods of rest in between. Although the rules aren’t complicated to follow, it can be a little difficult to know which ones apply to which drivers as there are some variations depending on the category of vehicle in question. 

What are the HOS regulations?

The HOS regulations can be split into two parts. The first covers commercial drivers who are transporting property, while the second covers drivers with people on board their vehicle. Although the two regulatory requirements are very similar there are subtle differences between them.

Drivers transporting goods are restricted to an 11-hour driving limit. This means they are only allowed to drive for a maximum of 11 hours following 10 consecutive hours or more spent off duty. However, this 11-hour limit must be completed within a 14-hour window. So, for example, if a driver went on shift at 7 am they would have to go off duty by 9 am the following morning. 

Under the guidelines, rest breaks are compulsory. A driver is only allowed to get on the road if eight hours or less have elapsed since their last 30-minute rest period. Note, there are some exceptions to this rule for short-haul drivers. 

All drivers must go off duty after working 60/70 hours on duty over 7/8 consecutive days. This 7/8 period can’t restart until 34 hours or more have passed consecutively. 

The Sleeper Berth Provision enables drivers to split up their off duty time by spending eight consecutive hours in their sleeper berth and a further two consecutive hours at a different time, either in the sleeper berth or off duty. Again, this period must take place with a 14-hour window. 

Drivers carrying passengers are restricted to a 10-hour driving limit following a period of eight consecutive hours off duty. The window in which drivers are able to rack up their 10-hour stint on the road is 15 hours from the completion of their mandatory eight hours off duty period. 

The 60/70 hours on duty limit over 7/8 consecutive days is the same for passenger-carrying drivers as it is for those transporting property. So too are the rules governing the Sleeper Berth Provision.

What are the consequences of disobeying the rules and who’s liable?

Not every driver of a large transportation vehicle is required to follow the HOS regulations, but they do apply to most commercial vehicles used in a business context. If a vehicle is used for commercial purposes and also adheres to one or more of the following specifications, the chances are its driver must obey the HOS rules. 

These specifications include a weight limit of 10,001 pounds or over, the ability to transport 9–16 passengers or more (there are also variations depending on whether or not passengers pay compensation), or the transport of a significant quantity of hazardous waste.

If you don’t play by the rules, there could be some negative consequences to your business. The job of enforcing the regulations falls to US Department of Transport officers, who operate in every state, often pulling vehicles over at weigh stations. 

If drivers are found to be operating outside of the regulations, they can be forced to stop and take a break. These violations are logged and over time could have an adverse impact on a carrier’s safety rating—something that could usher in some bad press and put off potential clients.

Ultimately, though, the regulations are in place for safety reasons. If a driver operating a large vehicle makes a mistake on the road because they were too tired to concentrate, the end result could be catastrophic.

Summary

Maintaining a solid safety record not only makes your business an attractive prospect for potential employees but a good choice for new customers too. Although a little complicated in parts when it comes to determining which vehicle qualifies for which rule, the HOS regulations are relatively simple to understand.

However, modern fleet management tools make the compliance process even easier. An electronic logging device (ELD) synchronizes with a vehicle and tracks how long it has been operating in any given period. This in turn can let drivers and fleet managers know when it is time to pull over for a break.

There are a number of fleet management software options like KeepTruckin and US Fleet Tracking that include built-in ELD compliance features. They can be rolled out over full fleets so fleet managers can always ensure their drivers remain compliant.

Further reading