Hours of service (HOS) tracking is often cited as one of the most time-consuming tasks that long-haul truck drivers perform on a regular basis. With the new electronic logging device (ELD) legislation overhauling the methods that drivers use to track their record of duty status, many motor carriers are reviewing HOS regulations to better understand the changes and exceptions to the detailed rules for when drivers can be on the road.
The 16-hour rule has several caveats, but can come in very handy for drivers whose regular routes have certain characteristics. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the fundamental reasons for HOS regulations, how they’re meant to operate, and what changes have been made under the 16-hour rule.
Why Does the DOT Regulate Hours of Service?
The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates hours of service to help reduce the number of traffic accidents that result from driver fatigue. These regulations apply to long-haul and short-haul commercial drivers, as well as city and school bus drivers. HOS regulations limit the number of driving hours per day and the number of driving and working hours per week. These regulations are meant to facilitate a 21 to 24-hour schedule, allowing drivers to maintain a regular sleep schedule and avoid fatigue. Drivers are required to take breaks and go off-duty for extended rest periods to counteract the cumulative effects of fatigue.
How do Current Regulations Ensure Better Safety for Drivers?
The current FMCSA guidelines for hours of service tracking allow drivers to be “on-duty” for up to 14 hours a day, with 11 hours spent driving the vehicle. The remaining three on-duty hours can be used for vehicle maintenance and inspection, any time spent at a plant, terminal or facility operated by the motor carrier or while waiting for dispatch, crossing a border, loading or unloading a vehicle or attending the same while it is being loaded or unloaded, any time spent providing samples for drug testing, or for performing any other work required by the motor carrier. Drivers are permitted a maximum driving time per week of either 60 hours over 7 days or 70 hours over 8 days which they can reset by taking a 34-hour rest period (usually taken on weekends).
The HOS guidelines have changed over time and they may be subject to change in the future but, as of right now, they exist as they are to prevent fatigued drivers from operating CMVs.
Some exceptions to the 16-hour rule are universal. For one example, in emergency situations or dangerous weather conditions, drivers can exceed the 11-hour maximum daily driving time, provided they stay within the 14 hours of duty time allotted per day. Other exceptions only apply to specific drivers, like the 100 and 150-air mile rules, which lets some drivers who venture less than 100 or 150 air miles from their reporting location remain exempt from keeping record-of-duty logs.
The DOT 16-Hour Rule: When and How Does It Apply?
The 16-hour rule is a special exemption that allows certain drivers to remain on-duty for 16 hours instead of 14, but without extending the allowed 11 hours per day of driving. This exemption applies to drivers that have started and stopped their workdays at the same location for the previous five work days. These drivers can be described as short-haul drivers because they return to the same work location each day.
Under the 16-hour rule, the driver can remain on-duty for an extra two hours but must be relieved from duty immediately after the 16th hour. This exception can be invoked one time in each 34-hour reset cycle once the 5-day pattern has been established.
The reason for this exemption is quite clear once the requirements are understood. Drivers who report to the same location every day may still experience delays from time to time and should not be prevented from returning home due to restrictions on their duty hours. The 16-hour rule helps to avoid situations where a driver takes a 5-hour trip, experiences a 5-hour delay when delivering a load, and still needs to return to the reporting location. Without the 16-hour rule, the driver might reach the 14-hour on-duty limit when just an hour away from home and having driven for just 9 hours that day.
Without the DOT 16-hour rule, drivers might speed or drive recklessly to try to get home without violating HOS, essentially substituting one unsafe practice with another. The 16-hour rule is a common-sense regulation that ensures drivers don’t get stuck sleeping in the berth or at a hotel when home is just around the corner.
The DOT has done a decent job of including exemptions to HOS regulations that allow truckers the flexibility to act reasonably and safety in the normal course of job performance. While the 16-hour rule can only be applied once weekly, it acts as a great option for drivers that are on the same regular route and need to get home at the end of each day.