Truck drivers have one of the toughest and most tiring jobs out there. They drive long hours in stressful conditions caused by heavy traffic, poor weather, and aggressive or distracted motorists. They deal with tight deadlines and are also typically paid by the mile, which means they must make every second of every trip count. On top of all of this, truckers have to comply with state and federal regulations related to the trucks they operate, their loads, breaks, driving hours, and so much more.
Here are several interesting—and surprising—rules that truck drivers must follow.
#1. The Clock Keeps Running
Truck drivers must comply with federal hours-of-service regulations, which set strict limits on the amount of time a trucker can be behind the wheel. These regulations also address how many consecutive hours and days a truck driver can work. Property-carrying drivers, for example, can drive no more than 11 consecutive hours after spending at least 10 consecutive hours off duty. They must also take a 30-minute break after driving for 8 consecutive hours, and their 11 driving hours must occur within a 14-hour window. Once that 14-hour window closes, the trucker may not drive again until they have taken a 10-hour break.
When it comes to 11-hour and 14-hour time limits, the clock keeps running. There are no allowable extensions, even if a trucker must stop for gas or take a bathroom break. The only exception is if the driver encounters “adverse driving conditions,” at which point they can exceed the 11-hour and 14-hour limits by up to 2 hours.
Interesting Fact: Most modern 18-wheelers and tractor-trailers are equipped with electronic logbooks that track their driving time, breaks, stops, and more. The information stored in this logbook may be shared with law enforcement in the event of a truck accident or investigation.
#2. Hubcaps Can’t Be Rusty
Commercial trucks are immense, powerful vehicles that must be properly maintained for the safety of the trucker and everyone on the road. Roadside inspections may occur at weigh stations or during any of several blitzes by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), which are meant to improve highway safety by cracking down on violations. Here are the planned truck inspection blitzes for 2023.
While inspections will include dozens of specific points, the one we’re bringing to light involves rusty hubcaps. An inspector may note and ticket a trucker for having rusty hubcaps or tire rims. Some inspectors will look for signs of fresh paint, which could be an indicator that a trucker attempted to cover a larger problem with a coat of paint.
Interesting Fact: If you’ve ever noticed spikes on the wheels of large trucks, their purpose is to prevent lug nuts from getting dirty, corroding, or rusting. They may look a bit medieval, but they serve a real purpose.
#3. No Hitchhikers!
Truck drivers are generally prohibited from picking up hitchhikers while hauling loads. In addition to being a potential distraction or danger to the trucker and their cargo, a hitchhiker is not authorized to be in the truck or near the trucker’s equipment.
#4. No Loud Music
What better way to pass the time on the road than to listen to music? While truckers can certainly listen to music while they drive, they are prohibited from having distractions in the cab. Loud music may be considered a distraction, so truckers must keep the volume of the radio at a reasonable level. Truckers must also avoid other distractions like eating, reaching for something in the cab, or using a cell phone.
#5. Truckers Have to Be Medically Qualified to Drive—And They Have to Prove It
A commercial truck driver must be medically qualified to operate the vehicle to which they’ve been assigned. Truckers must carry proof of medical qualification on their person at all times, or this information must be available on their driving record for law enforcement or DOT officers to access. Even after a commercial driver’s medical status has been applied to their driving record, they must provide a new medical certificate to the appropriate licensing agency before the previous certificate expires.
#6. Diabetic Truckers Can Drive, If Approved by a Certified Medical Examiner
For years, truckers were not allowed to drive if they had diabetes that required insulin treatments. Regardless of the severity or type of diabetes, they were prohibited from operating commercial vehicles. This changed in 2003 when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) created the Diabetes Exemption Program. This program had limited success, however, as truckers had to apply for medical certification through the FMCSA, which could take months.
Today, truckers can see an FMCSA-certified medical examiner to obtain a certificate that allows them to drive for up to one year even if they have diabetes. The medical examiner will review the trucker’s medical records, including blood-glucose data, to determine whether they are well enough to drive. This certificate needs to be renewed annually for the trucker to continue to operate a commercial vehicle.
Interesting Fact: Truckers are twice as likely to get diabetes than other workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14% of truckers said they have diabetes, as compared to 7% of the working population in the United States.
#7. Truckers Must Pass Exams Based on Vision in the “Better Eye”
In March 2022, the FMCSA published a final rule regarding the “alternative vision standard” for commercial drivers. If a driver meets certain qualifications, they may pass the vision portion of the DOT exam based on the vision in their better eye—with or without corrective lenses. This is a two-step process. The driver would need to first see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for an evaluation, which would be sent to a DOT medical examiner. Next, the medical examiner would review this evaluation and determine whether the driver meets the vision standard. Approval would be granted for 12 months at a time.
#8. The Proof Is in the Pudding—And Truckers Have 48 Hours to Supply It
Truckers and carriers are required to maintain many different types of documentation, from driver medical and vision records to information about tire sizes or vehicle weight limits. When the FMCSA requests these records, they must be provided within 48 hours. This 48-hour limit does not include weekends or federal holidays and applies to physical documents as well as electronic records. Part 390 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) explains these rules in more detail, such as where the records may be kept and what penalties may be imposed if they are falsified or altered in any way.
Just For Fun: The Strangest Driving Laws for Truckers
You’ve probably read about some interesting laws that are still on the books—surely, they were created for some purpose, but they are fairly meaningless today. There are a few that specifically affect truckers, so we’ve included our top five for your entertainment.
- In Missouri, it’s illegal for a person to drive with an uncaged bear in their vehicle.
- Out of miles in Eureka, CA? Make sure you don’t use the road as a bed: it’s illegal.
- In Alabama, it’s against the law to drive while blindfolded. We certainly hope so!
- Don’t swear in your vehicle in Rockville, MD. It’s illegal if you’re within earshot of someone.
- You can’t store trash in your truck in Hilton Head, SC. It’s illegal because it attracts rats.
Whether they’re somewhat bizarre or clearly essential, trucking regulations keep the industry operating efficiently. Most importantly, they protect the safety of everyone on our nation’s roads.