Posted January 16, 2024

Trucking Regulations and Compliance

By Gigi Tino

There’s much more to a trucker’s job than driving a big rig. Operating a heavy-duty commercial vehicle is a challenging task that can even be dangerous when the driver is unprepared. Truck drivers are subject to various regulations and compliance requirements to ensure safety, environmental protection, and fair labor practices. Both truck drivers and trucking companies need to be aware of and adhere to these regulations. Compliance with these regulations promotes safety on the roads and maintains the integrity of the commercial transportation industry. These regulations and programs are designed to reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities on the roads involving commercial vehicles.

Regulations for the trucking industry start with the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT is broken down into several divisions that oversee different aspects of transportation, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which focuses on the trucking industry. The FMCSA is responsible for regulating and overseeing the safety and operational standards of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) and commercial truck drivers.

While compliance with these regulations is important for your safety and the safety of other drivers, it is also important in the case of a DOT audit. A DOT audit refers to an audit conducted by the DOT or one of its specific agencies, such as the FMCSA for the trucking industry. These audits are typically carried out to assess compliance with various regulations and ensure the safety and integrity of commercial transportation operations. Audits can happen randomly and with little warning, even at weigh stations. During a DOT audit, auditors may review various records, including driver qualification files, hours-of-service records, vehicle maintenance records, and other documentation relevant to safety and compliance.

There are four types of DOT audits truckers and carriers should be prepared for. Any commercial carrier, truck driver, or commercial vehicle can be audited. New Entrant Safety Audits are for new carriers within their first six months of operation to ensure compliance with safety regulations. Compliance reviews are comprehensive examinations of safety management practices and overall regulatory compliance for carriers that have been in operation for longer periods, and may happen after an accident, road inspections with violations, complaints, or a request in change to safety rating. Carriers transporting hazardous materials are subject to Hazardous Materials Audits focusing on compliance with regulations related to the transportation of these materials such as container labeling, safety training, and shipping documentation. Security audits specifically look at a company’s safety plans, driver training, and security measures. Auditors will take a look at six categories that will be rated Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory after inspection is complete. These inspection categories are: General, Driver, Operational, Vehicle, Hazardous Materials, and Accidents.

Let’s get into the key regulations pertinent to truckers!

Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations:

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces HOS regulations to prevent driver fatigue and improve road safety. Drivers are limited in the number of hours they can drive consecutively and must take mandatory rest breaks. It is your responsibility as a trucker to follow the HOS regulations and take your breaks accordingly. For example, a CMV driver is permitted to operate for only 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Rest breaks that are at least 30 minutes long are required within the last 8 hours before operating. For weekly on-time duty, the cumulative time on-duty limit is 60 hours for seven consecutive days or 70 hours for eight consecutive days. Once this limit is reached, truckers must take 34 consecutive hours off-duty before they can begin working again.

Electronic Logging Devices (ELD):

The use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) is mandated by the FMCSA to record a driver's hours of service electronically, replacing the old practice of paper logbooks. ELDs ensure accurate and consistent tracking of driving hours and compliance with HOS regulations and provide important data to your fleet. They are connected to a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics and synchronized to the vehicle’s engine to accurately record a driver’s on-duty and off-duty time. Data such as location, speed, miles driven, routes, and more can also be recorded. It is imperative to have an FMCSA-approved ELD installed before you drive to avoid violations.

Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Requirements:

All commercial drivers, whether new, rehired, or maintaining current employment, have to be properly verified by their employers. Your company will keep this information in a Driver Qualification File (DQF) that you will need to update yearly. DQFs contain information about a driver’s CDL licensing and endorsements, a current Medical Examiner’s Certificate, three-years’ worth of driving records, employment history, drug tests, and proof of training. Drivers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) must obtain a CDL, which involves passing written and skills tests specific to the type of vehicle being operated. Check out our article on CDLs and endorsements to learn more about your options as a trucker!

Drug and Alcohol Testing:

The DOT mandates drug and alcohol testing for commercial drivers in specific situations, including pre-employment, random testing, post-accident testing, and reasonable suspicion testing. You must have documentation of your drug and alcohol screenings included in your Driver Qualification File for proper compliance.

Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance:

Regular inspections of commercial motor vehicles are required to ensure they meet safety standards. Truck drivers must conduct pre-trip and post-trip inspections and report any defects promptly. Be sure to also keep detailed reports of any noted problems and repairs. Truck drivers are required to keep 14 months of inspection reports in their vehicles.

Hazmat Regulations:

Drivers transporting hazardous materials must adhere to specific regulations, including proper labeling, documentation, and compliance with security measures outlined by the DOT's Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). As the professional transporting these materials, there is heavy responsibility on a hazmat driver for having the proper training, safety practices, storage, and more. HAZMAT audits can be some of the most in-depth inspections to undergo, so always ensure you have the proper documentation and practices before each trip.

It's crucial for truck drivers and trucking companies to stay informed about updates to regulations and compliance requirements as they may change over time. Regular training and communication with regulatory authorities can help ensure ongoing compliance. We recommend you always consult the latest resources and check for any changes in regulations specific to your region. Drive safely!