The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a branch of the Department of Transportation (DOT) that regulates commercial vehicles. Hours of Service guidelines, sometimes known as HOS rules, govern the hours that truckers can drive and when breaks are required.
The FMCSA regularly issues new Hours of Service rules for truck drivers, so it’s essential to stay on top of the changing regulations. Here’s what you need to know about the DOT Hours of Service rules.
What are DOT Hours of Service?
DOT Hours of Service regulate your duty cycles, including how long you can drive and when you take mandatory rest breaks. The DOT HOS rules, sometimes known as the FMCSA HOS rules, also require truck drivers to use an electronic logging device (ELD) to track duty status and driving hours, with some limited exceptions.
The rules can seem complicated, but they serve an important purpose. Driver fatigue is a real danger, and it can potentially lead to traffic accidents. The HOS rules outline mandated breaks, helping drivers remain awake, alert, and safe on the road.
Plus, complying with HOS rules helps a carrier’s safety rating remain high.
Who do the HOS rules apply to?
DOT truck driver rules, including HOS regulations, apply to anyone who operates a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States. Even international carriers from Canada or Mexico must follow these rules while driving in the U.S.
A commercial motor vehicle meets one or more of the following conditions, whether or not it has an attached trailer.
- Weighs (with or without a load) more than 10,000 pounds
- Transports a quantity of hazardous materials (Hazmat) that requires a placard
- Designed or used to transport 16 or more people, including the driver
- Designed or used to transport nine or more people, including the driver, for pay
Remember that the vehicle must meet only one of these conditions for HOS rules to apply. It doesn’t matter if you don’t consider yourself a commercial driver or if you are not transporting a load. You must follow the Hours of Service rules if the vehicle meets any of the above criteria.
When do the Hours of Service regulations apply?
Exactly when the Hours of Service regulations apply can be slightly tricky to understand. That’s because interstate commerce and intrastate commerce are regulated a bit differently.
Interstate drivers must follow all DOT Hours of Service regulations at all times. Interstate commerce is business that takes place across state lines. However, you do not have to cross state borders personally — and neither does your truck — for interstate commerce regulations to apply. If you are driving for a company that engages in interstate commerce, either as an employed driver or an independent contractor, you must abide by interstate commerce regulations. If you are involved with interstate commerce only part time, you must still follow HOS rules for at least seven days after your last day of interstate commerce driving.
Intrastate commerce is business that takes place solely within a single state. Drivers who engage only in intrastate commerce are not required to follow DOT Hours of Service regulations. However, each state sets its own guidelines.
An important exception exists for Hazmat drivers. Suppose you are transporting hazardous materials in quantities large enough to require a placard. In that case, you must follow DOT HOS regulations regardless of whether you are engaged in interstate or intrastate commerce.
Hours of Service rules overview
So what exactly are the Hours of Service rules? What do you need to know to be compliant? Let’s take a closer look at the HOS rules.
Here’s an overview of the regulations and what they mean.
1. 14-hour shift limit
This rule states that truckers cannot drive past the 14th hour of being on duty following a minimum ten-hour break off duty. No matter what tasks you have done other than driving or how few hours you have driven since your ten hours off, once 14 hours have elapsed since your last ten-hour break, you cannot drive again until you complete another ten hours off duty. Note that any off-duty breaks or naps are still counted as part of the 14 hours unless they are ten or more hours long.
2. 11-hour driving limit
Within your 14-hour shift limit, you can drive for no more than 11 total hours. These hours can take place any time during the 14-hour shift, but you must total them up and not go over 11 hours of driving before a ten-hour rest period.
3. 60/70-hour limit
In addition to daily limits, there are also weekly limits on total driving time. Carriers that do not operate daily cannot drive after completing 60 hours on duty within any seven-day period. Carriers operating daily cannot drive after completing 70 hours on duty within eight days. This clock resets after a 34-hour restart.
4. 34-hour restart
The 34-hour restart ensures that you have some consecutive time off to rest and refresh. Taking 34 consecutive hours off duty resets the 60/70-hour limit. After your restart, you are free to drive again within the daily limits until you hit the 60 or 70-hour weekly limit.
5. Rest breaks
Once you have driven for eight hours, you must take a 30-minute break. You do not have to go off duty at this time, but you must stop driving until at least 30 minutes have elapsed.
6. Split sleeper berth rule
The split sleeper berth rule can sound pretty complicated and confusing, but it serves a critical purpose. It allows you more flexibility in your driving day, making it easier to deal with backups at loading docks or even routes that get you to your destination in the middle of the night.
The split sleeper berth rule lets you split your ten-hour off-duty period into two shifts: 8/2 or 7/3.
In the 8/2 split, one shift of 8-10 hours must be spent in the sleeper berth, while the other shift of 2-8 hours may be spent any way you like — as long as you are off duty. The 7/3 split is similar, but the sleeper berth period may be as short as seven hours, while the other shift must be at least three hours long.
Completing one of the two periods shifts the 14-hour clock. You may drive again after finishing your first rest shift. However, when you finish your second rest shift, your 14-hour clock will restart to the end of the FIRST rest period. So, driving for six hours between rest periods will count towards your next 14-hour shift limit and your next 11-hour daily driving limit. You can only reset the 14-hour clock by taking ten consecutive hours off.
Like any regulation, there are some exemptions to the HOS rules. These include the following circumstances.
1. The 30-minute break exception
As mentioned above, HOS regulations require you to take a 30-minute break after eight hours of driving. However, if you are a short-haul driver that meets one of the 150 air-mile exemptions detailed below, you are not required to take this break.
2. The 16-hour short-haul exception
Short-haul drivers are occasionally allowed to extend their 14-hour shift limit to 16 hours. To qualify, you must meet all of these conditions:
- On the day you use the exception — and the previous five consecutive workdays — you reported to and ended your shift at the same location.
- You are released from duty no later than the 16th hour following ten hours off duty.
- You have not used this exception in the past six consecutive days (or you have completed a 34-hour restart during that time).
3. 150 air-mile exemption
Under the 150 air-mile exemption, short-haul drivers do not have to log daily hours if they meet the following qualifications:
- You travel no more than 150 air miles from your starting location.
- You start and end your day at the same location.
- You complete your workday within 14 hours.
- You have a full ten-hour off-duty period after each workday.
4. 150 air-mile non-CDL short-haul exemption
The rules are slightly different if you have a non-CDL short-haul driving position. You do not need to log your hours if:
- You operate within 150 air miles of your company’s primary location.
- You return to that location at the end of each workday.
- You do not operate any vehicles that require a CDL.
- You do not drive more than 14 hours after starting your workday on five days or more in any seven-day period.
- You do not drive more than 16 hours after starting your workday for two days or more in any seven-day period.
5. Adverse driving conditions exemption
If you run into dangerous weather or other adverse driving conditions, you can extend your allowable drive time and daily shift limit by two hours. However, you must meet these qualifying criteria:
- You didn’t know about the adverse driving conditions before starting the trip.
- You could not have predicted the conditions through common sense or advance trip planning.
Before changes to the regulations in 2020, drivers were allowed to extend their drive time but not their duty day. This meant you would still need to keep going to reach safety before your 14-hour day ended.
With the new changes, adverse conditions also extend your duty day by two hours, allowing you to pull over and wait out the threat before continuing safely.
6. Emergency conditions
When a state or national governing body declares a state of emergency, some or all of the HOS regulations may be temporarily suspended. This typically applies to trucks in the direct path of the disaster or traveling interstate to assist and not to those engaging in unrelated commerce outside of the emergency region.
However, each emergency is different. If an emergency has been declared, check the latest guidelines for that specific situation.
Tips to stay compliant with HOS rules
You can avoid violating HOS rules, simplify compliance, and prioritize driver safety by following a few simple tips.
- Log your status correctly in your electronic logging device and edit if you make a mistake.
- Plan your trip, from routes and fuel stops to 34-hour restarts.
- Combine stops, such as grabbing a sandwich and using the restroom while refueling.
- Carefully track your on duty time, as well as your off duty time.
- Know when wait times can be logged as off duty (and when they can’t).
- Expect the unexpected and always shoot for arriving early.
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