What are the federal trucking regulations?

It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to envision the damage an 18-wheeler truck can cause in a trucking accident. Often weighing up to 80,000 pounds and traveling at 60 miles per hour or faster, they can be very destructive if not driven safely.  For this reason, the federal government has issued lengthy guidelines to govern the operation of these vehicles, focusing on the maintenance and upkeep of the trucks themselves as well as the health of the driver behind the wheel. The most pertinent of these guidelines are summarized here. More extensive information can be found at the website of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  Violations of these regulations often serve as the legal basis for holding a truck driver and trucking company accountable in the event of a trucking accident.

How long can an operator drive before resting?

Drivers are limited to 70 hours of driving per average work week. If a driver reaches the maximum 70 hours before the end of the week, they may resume working as long as they rest for 34 consecutive hours that includes at least two nights (1-5 a.m.). They must also take a 30 minute break during the first 8 hours of any shift. Per day, a driver is limited to 14 hours of work, 11 of which can be driving.

Many exceptions for these rules exist. For example, drivers who specialize in oilfield operations have slightly different regulations. On-duty work time for oilfield truck drivers does not include time when a driver is waiting at an oil or gas well site. This waiting time is regarded as off duty (or rest) time, and does not count against the driver’s 14 hour work limit for the day. Note: a driver’s compliance with the permitted driving hours per week does not automatically get the driver off the hook if he is involved in an accident.  For example, even if a oilfield truck driver is technically not on duty but is sitting at a well in his truck for 12 hours before he starts driving, that fact can be used to show a jury how his exhaustion led to the accident.  

What alcohol and drug regulations do truck operators have?

No driver may report for work or remain driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or 0.04 or greater, and from using alcohol or controlled substances while driving. They are also prohibited from driving within four hours after using alcohol. Drivers are not allowed to report for duty or remain on duty while using any controlled substances, regardless of whether they have sobered up. Controlled substances are only allowed pursuant to the approval of a licensed doctor familiar with the driver’s medical history, who has specifically advised that the substance won’t negatively affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a truck.

No employer with knowledge that a driver has a BAC of 0.04 or greater may permit the driver to keep working. Employers with knowledge that a driver is or was drinking within 4 hours or using drugs may not permit that driver to keep working.

All drivers must submit to pre-employment controlled substance testing (exceptions detailed at the link below). Drivers who test positive are not allowed to perform safety-sensitive functions (a/k/a driving).

If involved in an accident, drivers are required to take a post-crash alcohol test per federal regulations. Truck drivers are also forbidden to use alcohol or controlled substances for 8 hours following an accident, until they have taken their post-accident alcohol test.

Drivers are not allowed to refuse to take any of the federal alcohol or controlled substance tests. There are 6 different types of testing required by federal regulations:

Employers are required to provide educational materials explaining the drug and alcohol testing policies and procedures to their drivers. All employees supervising drivers must undergo 1 hour of alcohol misuse training, and another 1 hour of controlled substance training.

What is taught in a licensed commercial vehicle training program?

Truck drivers must complete an official Licensed Commercial Vehicle (LCV) driver training program. These programs review drug and alcohol testing, medical examinations, diet, exercise, and issues of driver fatigue. They also go over key vehicle components, basic vehicle operation and maneuvering, speed management, night operations, extreme driving conditions, and security issues, among others.

What maintenance regulations must truck drivers follow?

All motor carriers are required to systematically inspect, repair, and maintain all motor vehicles in their control. All motor vehicles must be inspected at least once every 12 months. Carriers must inspect all vehicles that are under their control for 30 consecutive days. Inspection reports must be kept by the owner for a minimum of 14 months, and available for inspection by an authorized federal, state, or local official.

Carriers must require their drivers to create a daily written report on each operated vehicle at the end of each day’s work. This report shall cover all defects or deficiencies found by the driver on service brakes, parking brakes, the steering mechanism, lighting devices, tires, and emergency equipment, among other items. In trucks not carrying passengers, this report is not required if no issues are found. These reports must be kept by the carrier for a minimum of 3 months.