Federal Trucking Laws to Know: A Brief Guide for US Truckers

Federal Trucking Regulations to Note in 2023


Trucking services are the lifeblood of interstate commerce. As such, the federal government heavily regulates the sector to ensure its smooth operation and the welfare of drivers and the public.

Hence, most of the applicable laws/regulations for the industry are made and enforced by a federal agency – the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an arm of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Any trucker who fails to follow the existing regulations could face severe sanctions. Compliance with the relevant federal law is important for anyone in the trucking business.

But, compliance requires knowledge. If you run a trucking company or you’re an independent truck driver, it is important that you’re aware of the existing regulations for the trucking industry to avoid being caught on the wrong side of the law.

The information provided here provides insight into current federal trucking laws to help you assess your compliance levels.

General Driver Qualification Regulations

To qualify as a truck driver, there are certain requirements you need to meet under the law, including the following;

  • You are at least 21 years old
  • You can read and speak the English language sufficiently enough to
    • communicate with the general public
    • understand traffic signs and signals
    • respond to official inquiries
    • make entries on reports and records
  • You have a valid commercial driver’s license
  • You can safely operate the vehicle (in this case, a truck)
  • You have passed a valid road test or have an equivalent certificate
  • You are not disqualified from driving a commercial motor vehicle under any other law.

Trucking companies must ensure that their drivers have the above qualifications before they can go on trips. Otherwise, they could be liable if a truck accident occurs or anything goes wrong.


Hours of Service Regulations

This is one of the most notable regulations laid down by the FMCSA, and it specifies maximum work hours and restricts the driving time for truckers and drivers of other commercial vehicles.

Under these rules, drivers of commercial motor vehicles, including trucks, can only drive for a maximum of 11 hours during a 14-hour window after observing ten consecutive off-duty hours. Also, drivers who have driven for a cumulative 8 hours are required to take a break for at least thirty minutes before they continue their trip.

The rules also restrict a driver’s weekly working hours to a maximum of 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. The calculation for consecutive working restarts if the driver takes 34 or more consecutive hours off duty during the week.

The hours of service rules were introduced to protect the public and avoid truck accidents due to driver fatigue. As a trucker or trucking company complying with them is for your benefit as well. However, if you’re struggling with the stipulated work duration, there are some exceptions that you could take advantage of (such as the short-haul and adverse driving conditions exceptions). You can consult an experienced trucking law attorney to determine if any of the exceptions apply to your case.


Federal Regulations on Alcohol Testing

A moving truck in the hands of an intoxicated person can be deadly. Therefore, truck drivers need to always be sober while they drive. To ensure this, they are required by law to undergo drug and alcohol testing in certain circumstances, including;

  • Where they are under reasonable suspicion of intoxication
  • After accidents involving fatalities
  • Before their first trip (for new hires)
  • Before allowing a driver who tested positive for drugs or alcohol to return to work
  • If a citation is issued to the driver after an accident and the accident caused immediate bodily injury requiring significant medical treatment or disabling damage to one or more vehicles.

The obligations created by these rules are directed toward employers. So, if you own a trucking company, it is up to you to ensure that your truck drivers are tested at the right time and that they do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Otherwise, you could face serious FMCSA sanctions.


Physical Fitness Requirements and Examinations

Commercial motor vehicles, including truckers, need to meet certain physical fitness requirements before they can drive under the law. As such, any person with any of the following health conditions is not allowed to drive a commercial vehicle;

  • Loss of a foot, hand, leg, or arm
  • A hand or finger impairment that interferes with grasping movements
  • Diabetes mellitus that requires insulin to control (subject to certain exceptions).

The rules mention other medical conditions that could disqualify a person from working as a truck driver. If you have further concerns about this, you can consult an experienced trucking law attorney to determine whether a specific illness can disqualify you or your driver.

The FMSCA requires potential drivers to first get tested for these conditions by an approved medical examiner, who then issues a certificate to those who pass the test. The certificate is valid for only two years. Therefore, all drivers need to be tested every two years to ensure they continue to meet the physical requirements.

In cases where the driver suffers from a health condition that needs to be monitored, the medical examiner may issue a certificate valid for a shorter period until the particular health challenge is under control.

Drivers are required to keep their certificates close by while operating or driving a truck.


Hazardous Materials Transportation

The Department of Transport’s regulations on the transportation of hazardous materials applies to all motor carriers or individuals employed by a motor carrier to supervise or operate vehicles that carry hazardous materials.

As a general rule, drivers of trucks carrying hazardous material cannot leave the vehicle unattended. This is particularly so where the vehicle is on a public highway or street. Also, vehicles containing substances like explosive materials cannot park in or close to public places. They can only be parked on private property with the property owner’s informed consent.

If the hazardous materials include explosives, the trucking company must ensure that each driver is given certain safety information/documentation, including the following;

  • A copy of the legal rules on the transportation of hazardous materials
  • Written instructions on the procedure to be followed in the event of an accident or delay
  • A route plan in compliance with Title 49 § 397.67 of the federal regulations.

Every driver transporting hazardous materials must adhere to the local and state laws governing driving and parking wherever they are. However, where local laws vary from the DOT regulations for the said vehicle and the DOT regulations impose a higher level of responsibility, the latter should be followed strictly.

Penalties for Non-Compliance With Federal Trucking Laws


It is important to comply with all the relevant federal trucking laws, as a failure could adversely affect your business. In many cases, the FMCSA may issue civil penalties (payment of fines) if a trucking company defaults in their obligations. If you fail to pay such fines, you may be prohibited from engaging in interstate commerce, which is bad for business.

How an Attorney Can Help


There are several federal trucking laws to comply with, so it is easy to lose track of all you’re required to do under the law.

If you’re having trouble with compliance, an attorney can help identify any lapses and ensure that you’re in good standing with the law. Also, if you are a truck driver whose employer has flouted an FMCSA regulation and caused you some form of injury, an experienced attorney can help you get compensation for your trouble.

If you have further questions on trucking laws and injuries, do not hesitate to contact Hurt Trucker Attorneys. We understand how important truck drivers are, and we understand the unique challenges you face. That is why we are committed to busting myths and misconceptions about truck drivers and offering high-quality legal representation where necessary.

Contact us today. Let us review your case and provide you with the legal help and support you need.