Hours of Service For Your Driver

Today’s blog is about laws governing commercial drivers in the United States and how it has and will impact deliveries especially to those being transferred – moving from one state to another.

The hours of service limit the driving hours of truck drivers and bus drivers.

Hours of Service (HOS) regulations are issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and govern the working hours of anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States. These regulations apply to truck drivers, commercial and city bus drivers, and school bus drivers who operate CMVs. These rules limit the number of daily and weekly hours spent driving and working, and regulate the minimum amount of time drivers must spend resting between driving shifts. For intrastate commerce, the respective state’s regulations apply.

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The FMCSA is a division of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), which is generally responsible for enforcement of FMCSA regulations. The driver of a CMV is required to keep a record of working hours using a log book, outlining the total number of hours spent driving and resting, as well as the time at which the change of duty status occurred. In lieu of a log book, a motor carrier may keep track of a driver’s hours using an electronic on-board recorder (EOBR), which automatically records the amount of time spent driving the vehicle.

The HOS’s main purpose is to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue. This is accomplished by limiting the number of driving hours per day, and the number of driving and working hours per week. Fatigue is also prevented by keeping drivers on a 21- to 24-hour schedule, maintaining a natural sleep/wake cycle (or circadian rhythm). Drivers are required to take a daily minimum period of rest, and are allowed longer “weekend” rest periods to combat cumulative fatigue effects that accrue on a weekly basis.

Enforcement of the HOS is generally handled by DOT officers of each state, and are sometimes checked when CMVs pass through weigh stations. Drivers found to be in violation of the HOS can be forced to stop driving for a certain period of time, which may negatively affect the motor carrier’s safety rating. Requests to change the HOS are a source of contentious debate, and many surveys indicate some drivers get away with routinely violating the HOS. These facts have started another debate on whether motor carriers should be required to use EOBRs in their vehicles, instead of relying on paper-based log books.

A graph outlining the relationship between number of hours driven and the percent of crashes related to driver fatigue. Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Drivers subject to the HOS include any driver of a vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds (4,536 kg) or more; which is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; which is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or which is used to transport hazardous materials in quantities requiring the vehicle to be marked or placarded under the hazardous materials regulations.

The purpose of the HOS is to reduce accidents caused by driver fatigue. As the graph to the right illustrates, the number of hours spent driving has a strong correlation to the number of fatigue-related accidents. According to numerous studies, the risk of fatigue is also greatest between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, and increases with the total length of the driver’s trip.

The FMCSA identifies three main factors in driver fatigue: Circadian rhythm effects, sleep deprivation and cumulative fatigue effects, and industrial or “time-on-task” fatigue.

Circadian rhythm effects describe the tendency for humans to experience a normal cycle in attentiveness and sleepiness through the 24-hour day. Those with a conventional sleep pattern (sleeping for seven or eight hours at night) experience periods of maximum fatigue in the early hours of the morning and a lesser period in the early afternoon. During the low points of this cycle, one experiences reduced attentiveness. During the high points, it is difficult to sleep soundly. The cycle is anchored in part by ambient lighting (darkness causes a person’s body to release the hormone melatonin, which induces sleep), and by a person’s imposed pattern of regular sleeping and waking times. The influence of the day-night cycle is never fully displaced (standard artificial lighting is not strong enough to inhibit the release of melatonin), and the performance of night shift workers usually suffers. Circadian rhythms are persistent, and can only be shifted by one to two hours forward or backward per day. Changing the starting time of a work shift by more than these amounts will reduce attentiveness, which is common after the first night shift following a “weekend” break during which conventional sleep times were followed.

Sleep deprivation and cumulative fatigue effects describe how individuals who fail to have an adequate period of sleep (7–8 hours in 24 hours) or who have been awake longer than the conventional 16–17 hours will suffer sleep deprivation. A sleep deficit accumulates with successive sleep-deprived days, and additional fatigue may be caused by breaking daily sleep into two shorter periods in place of a single unbroken period of sleep. A sleep deficit is not instantly reduced by one night’s sleep; it may take two or three conventional sleep cycles for an individual to return to unimpaired performance

Industrial or “time-on-task” fatigue describes fatigue that is accumulated during the working period, and affects performance at different times during the shift. Performance declines the longer a person is engaged in a task, gradually during the first few hours and more steeply toward the end of a long period at work. Reduced performance has also been observed in the first hour of work as an individual adjusts to the working environment.

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