TO HELP TRUCK DRIVERS avoid crashes and catch up on their z's, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Washington, D.C., has changed hours-of-service (HOS) rules, mandating commercial motor vehicle drivers take more consecutive time off and log fewer hours behind the wheel. This change, which will take effect Jan. 4, 2004, is the first time the HOS rules have been altered since 1939.

The new rules allow drivers to drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Drivers may not drive after the 14th hour of coming on duty and may not drive after being on-duty for 60 hours in one seven-consecutive-day period. The on-duty cycle may be restarted whenever a driver takes a minimum of 34 consecutive hours off. The rules make an exception for short-haul drivers who generally return to their starting point in one work shift. These truckers may work for 16 consecutive hours.

The current rule allows 10 hours of driving within a 15-hour on-duty period after eight hours of off-duty time. Drivers may not drive after a 15-hour workday or after 60 hours on-duty for seven consecutive days or 70 hours of duty in eight consecutive days. The FMCSA's rules apply to interstate transport only and affect commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle-weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more. For details, visit www.fmcsa.dot.gov.