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Understanding Truck Driving Hours and Regulations

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Truckers are eager to hit the road on every haul because time is money. But before heading out, it’s essential to plan beyond your route.

Planning your time—checking your truck, getting fuel, and behind the wheel—must adhere to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Hours of Service (HOS) regulation. HOS doesn’t just include driver time and is designed to promote driver alertness and focus, ultimately reducing the risk of fatigue-related accidents.

Understanding what these regulations mean for drivers is crucial, as it allows both drivers and their companies to remain in full compliance with the established rules and ensure a safer and more efficient road experience for all.

Understanding FMCSA Driving Limits

Driving limits for truck drivers are set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the Department of Transportation (DOT) that regulates commercial motor vehicles. Designed to keep truck drivers safe and healthy—and make sure the roads are safe for other motorists—these driving limits detail how long drivers are allowed to be on the road, rest break regulations, on-duty limits, and more.

Hours of Service (HOS) Guidelines

FMCSA Hours of Service (HOS) are a series of guidelines that regulate your duty cycles and indicate how long you can drive, when to take breaks, and more. They also require drivers to use an electronic logging device (ELD), which keeps track of your duty status and driving hours to ensure compliance.

The major components of HOS guidelines that every driver must abide by are:

  1. 14-Hour Driving Window: A limit to how long a driver may be on-duty in a day.
  2. 11-Hour Driving Limit: A limit to how many hours a driver can drive during the 14-Hour Driving Window
  3. 30-Minute Rest Break: A mandatory rest break taken after 8 hours of driving.
  4. 60/70-Hour On-Duty Limit: A weekly limit to the number of on-duty hours a driver can have.
  5. 34-Hour Restart: A required break before a driver can restart their 60/70-Hour Limit
  6. Sleeper Berth Provision: Regulations regarding how drivers can use their sleeping berth for rest.

What Are Daily Driving Limits for Truck Drivers?

Each day, drivers are allowed a period for 14 consecutive hours, during which they can drive for up to 11 hours after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours. The 14-hour window begins the moment a driver starts any kind of work, and once they reach the 14-hour mark, they may not drive again until they’ve been off duty for at least 10 hours.

During the 14-hour window, drivers may only spend 11 hours driving the truck. Once they’ve reached 11 hours, drivers may not drive again until they’ve been off duty for at least 10 hours.

Together, these two rules comprise the 14-Hour Driving Window and the 11-Hour Driving Limit. To understand how they work together, it’s essential to be able to distinguish between on-duty hours and driving hours. While driving hours are just what they sound like—the hours spent actively driving the truck—on-duty hours also include the following activities:

  • All time at a plant, terminal, facility, or other property waiting to be dispatched unless the driver has been relieved of duty.
  • All time inspecting, servicing, or conditioning any truck. This includes fueling and washing it.
  • All driving time.
  • All time in or on a CMV other than time spent in a parked vehicle, time spent resting in a sleeper berth, or up to 3 hours of riding as a passenger immediately before or after at least 7 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth.
  • All time spent loading, unloading, or attending a truck.
  • All time spent handling paperwork.
  • All time taking care of a broken down truck.

How Often Do Truck Drivers Need to Rest?

After a driver has been driving for 8 cumulative hours, they must take a mandatory break that is at least 30 consecutive minutes long. While drivers can be fully off-duty during this break, they’re not required to be; they can take part in any of the non-driving on-duty activities listed above, be fully off-duty, or a combination of the two, so long as the driving break is at least 30 consecutive minutes.

While it can be tempting to get the job done without stopping for any breaks, the HOS mandatory rest breaks are essential for maintaining driver safety. Following rest break guidelines can help to reduce driver fatigue, prevent traffic accidents, and help drivers remain alert and awake while they’re driving.

What Is the Adverse Driving Condition Exception?

If a driver encounters dangerous weather or other conditions that compromise their ability to safely drive, they may extend their drive time and daily on-duty window by two hours, as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The driver didn’t know about the adverse weather before starting the trip.
  2. The driver could not have predicted the conditions or planned around them.

Examples of conditions that could qualify as adverse weather conditions are a highway being blocked by a car accident or the sudden onset of fog, snow, heavy rain, or other weather conditions that make driving dangerous. Typical rush hour traffic does not qualify as adverse conditions.

Exceptions to the HOS Rules

Other than the Adverse Weather Exception, there are a few other exceptions to the HOS rules:

  • Non-CDL Short-Haul Exceptions. Short-haul drivers who meet the following qualifications do not need to log their hours:
    • They operate within 150 air miles of the company’s primary location.
    • They return to that location at the end of each day.
    • They do not operate any vehicles that require a CDL.
    • They do not drive more than 14 hours on more than five days in any seven-day period.
    • They do not drive more than 16 hours on more than two days in any seven-day period.
  • 16-Hour Short Haul Exception. Short-haul drivers who come back to their primary location at the end of each day may be able to use this exception, which allows drivers to extend the 14-consecutive hour driving window to 16 hours once every 7 days. To use this exception, drivers must:
    • Return to their work reporting location that day and on the previous 5 duty days.
    • Be released from duty within 16 hours after coming on duty.
    • Use the exception only once every 7 consecutive days.

Are You Penalized for Exceeding Trucking Hour Limits?

Violating HOS regulations is incredibly serious and subject to several different penalties. If a law enforcement officer finds a driver is in violation of HOS rules, they can require the driver to stop and prevent them from going any further. The truck would then have to sit on the side of the road until the driver has accumulated the required amount of off-duty time.

Drivers and motor carriers can also receive fines and penalties for violating HOS rules, which range from $1,000 to 16,000, depending on the severity of the violation.

In addition to losing time, potentially missing delivery windows, and incurring fines, a pattern of violations can also negatively impact a carrier’s safety rating or a driver’s compliance, safety, and accountability (CS) score, both of which can lead to further penalties.

How to Stay in Compliance with HOS Limits

While adherence to HOS can feel complicated or overwhelming, there are many things that both drivers and carriers can do to ensure compliance:

  • Regularly review FMCSA and HOS guidelines.
  • Invest in electronic logging devices (ELDs) for accurate record-keeping.
  • Schedule routes with mandatory rest periods in mind.
  • Train drivers regularly on compliance and safety standards.
  • Monitor driver hours actively to avoid breaches.
  • Foster a company culture that prioritizes safety over speed.
  • Conduct internal audits to check for compliance.
  • Use alerts or reminders for drivers approaching their hour limits.
  • Keep updated on any changes or exceptions to driving rules.
  • Encourage open communication between drivers and dispatch about hours and fatigue.
  • Ensure proper documentation for any applicable exceptions.

Increase Road Safety with HOS Compliance

It can be tempting to view HOS guidelines as an inconvenience that prevents drivers from getting the job done. But it’s essential for all drivers and trucking companies to remain vigilant about adhering to HOS guidelines—it’s better for drivers’ health and it keeps roads safe for everybody.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a federal agency that sets and enforces safety regulations for commercial motor vehicles. It has established limits on how many hours truck drivers can drive and work each day and week.
The specific hours a truck driver can operate varies based on certain conditions and exceptions. However, in most cases, they are limited to 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour workday, followed by a 10-hour rest period.
Yes, there are specific exceptions like the adverse driving conditions exception, the non-CDL short-haul exception, and the 16-hour short-haul exception, among others.
Drivers and trucking companies that violate these regulations face penalties ranging from fines to suspension or disqualification from operating commercial vehicles.
Daily driver’s logs help ensure compliance with hour limits and provide documentation for safety audits and inspections. They come in various types to cater to different driving scenarios and needs.

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