The Federal Motor Carrier Service Administration (FMCSA), part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), lays out regulations for drivers of commercial vehicles that define their permissible number of driving hours per day and the number of on-duty hours per week. These rules, called Hours of Service (HOS) rules, provide an essential framework for how drivers must structure their driving and work time.
The goal of the rules is to ensure that drivers of heavy vehicles are getting enough rest to improve road safety. Between 2011 and 2015, an average of 32,000 crashes involving drowsy driving caused injuries each year, and an average of 732 caused fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those figures are for all drivers, but it’s obviously a particular problem when truck drivers snooze off at the wheel: In the majority of crashes between trucks and smaller vehicles, it’s the passenger vehicle occupants who are injured or killed.
This article provides a run-down of a lot that you need to know, including information on how to comply with FMCSA hours of service rules and what happens if you don’t. It’s important to note that the rules vary depending on whether a vehicle carries passengers or property. This article is about property-carrying vehicles only.
Hours of Service regulations — contained in Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations — were first published in December 2011 to allow the FMCSA to oversee the operations of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce.
The regulations lay out specific rules for how many hours in a row drivers can work and what breaks they are required to take. Here are the key regulations impacting drivers’ schedules:
Drivers can only drive a maximum of 11 hours in a 14-hour window, meaning that they must have 10 consecutive hours off duty in a 24-hour period.
The HOS 14-hour rule says drivers must complete their 11 maximum driving hours with a 14-hour window.
Within the 14-hour window in which they are permitted to drive, drivers must take a 30-minute rest break after being on duty for 8 hours (though not necessarily driving the whole time). Rest breaks can be logged in one of two ways: as off-duty time or as time resting in the sleeper berth.
60/70 hour limit
Drivers can only drive a maximum of 60 hours in a seven-day period, and a maximum of 70 hour in eight days. Once drivers reach those limits, they must stop driving for at least 34 hours. This 70-hour-8-day rule forces drivers to take a proper break after a solid period of work.
Once drivers have hit the 60- or 70-hour limits in seven or eight days, drivers can take 34 consecutive hours off duty or in a sleeper berth in order to reset those limits.
What are DOT Hours of Service?
DOT driving regulations are aimed at eliminating accidents caused by overtired drivers. The rules stipulate the maximum number of consecutive hours a commercial truck driver can work before taking a break. It also regulates how many hours total they can work in a week or an eight-day period.
Violating the HOS rules carries big risks for drivers; their carrier’s safety rating can be damaged, they may be forced out of service for a period of time, and/or they may have to pay fines or face other penalties. In extreme cases in which people knowingly break these rules, jail time can result.
What is HOS and how does it apply?
HOS regulations apply only to commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. Interstate commerce is the transfer of goods, services, and/or passengers across state borders. Intrastate commerce, by contrast, is the movement of goods, services, and/or passengers within the borders of one state. While HOS regulations do not apply to intrastate commerce, each state has its own hours of service regulations that apply to intrastate commerce.
How many hours can a trucker drive in one day?
A driver carrying goods (not passengers) can only drive a maximum of 11 hours in one day, after logging 10 consecutive hours off duty. Vehicles that carry passengers are subject to different rules.
There are a range of exceptions to hours of service regulations. Here are a few of the most commonly encountered:
30-min break exception
There are a few instances in which drivers are exempt from the 30-minute rest break rule. DOT laws say that short-haul drivers who are keeping within 115.08 miles of the work reporting location for the day (called the “100 air-mile radius rule”) are exempt.
Non-CDL Short-Haul Exception
Drivers who keep within a 150 air-mile radius in a truck that does not need a CDL license (CDL) can quality for this exception, which allows the driver to extend the 14-hour driving window to 16 hours on two days in a consecutive seven or after any 34-hour restart.
16-hour short-haul exception
Once every seven consecutive days, a driver can extend the 14-hour driving window to 16 hours assuming the driver meets the criteria to qualify. The criteria resolves around the driver returning to the normal work reporting location (see page 9 of this document for details).
Adverse driving conditions exception
Drivers who experience dangerous or adverse conditions can extend their maximum truck driver hours to 13, presuming that they could not have known about the conditions ahead of time, including through basic common sense.
Emergency conditions exception
In emergency conditions that are declared or acknowledged by a federal or state institution, some or all HOS regulations can be temporarily lifted. Drivers should check FMCSA’s list of active emergency declarations to get specifics about a given situation.
Records of Duty Status
A record of duty status (RODs) is a log of hours worked and breaks taken, which drivers must keep to show their compliance with HOS to roadside inspection officers. Think of it as a work hours logbook. A RODs is a document kept by a specific driver regarding their activities and is not tied to a particular truck or carrier. In the case of co-drivers, each keeps their own separate DOT logbook.
The ROD must include a specific set of information:
- 24-hour period grid
- Total miles driven
- Truck/tractor/trailer number
- Name of carrier
- Main office address
- Driver’s certification verifying logs
- Co-driver’s name
- Time zone
- Total hours spent (categorized as off-duty, on duty, in sleeper berth, driving)
- Shipping document number, name of shipper, and/or name of commodity
- Annotations (record of occurrences such as a duty status change, descriptions of breaks, or missed opportunities to apply for an hours of service exemption)
HOS Violations and Penalties
Common HOS Violations
There are many types of HOS violations that can get a driver in trouble. But certain ones seems to come up the most often. Common DOT log violations include:
- Driving for longer than 11 hours in a 14-hour window
- Operating for longer than 14 hours on-duty
- Driving more than 60/70 hours in 7/8 days, such as exceeding a 70-hour workweek
- Not maintaining a RODs
- Falsifying the HOS logbook
- Driving with the wrong class license
Violations may be discovered by various authorities, including a driver’s carrier that is tracking driving hours; the police at a roadside inspection; or DOT authorities at a weigh station. Violations may also be discovered if the driver has a collision while operating the vehicle over HOS-regulated driving hours.
Violating DOT hours rules leads to penalties, which can apply to the driver and/or the carrier. Here are a few common hours of service violation penalties that drivers and carriers face:
- Drivers who have been driving for too many hours may be forced to shut down at roadside until they have been off-duty for enough time to be back in HOS compliance.
- FMCSA may fine a driver or carrier to the tune of up to $16,000 per violation.
- If a carrier has many violations, its safety rating may be downgraded.
- Drivers or carriers can be brought up on federal criminal penalties including fines, license suspension, and jail time if they knowingly and willfully allow or require violations.
How to avoid penalties
While HOS compliance used to be hard to verify due to the easily falsifiable nature of paper logbooks, recent laws have banned the use of handwritten logs. In 2017, a mandate requiring drivers to use electronic logging devices (ELD) went into effect. The rule requires the use of either an ELD or an automatic on board recording device (AOBRD) to create RODs for each driver. ELDs, also called electronic logbooks or e-logs, automatically record driving time, making a commercial driver logbook violation much easier to detect.
So if you’re a truck driver wanting to prove that you followed the HOS 70-hour rule or the 30-minute break rule for truck drivers, the best way to do so is to maintain your ELD and have its report readily available. Oh, and of course, follow the rules. This will allow you to avoid penalties.
Acronyms to know
- AOBRD: Automatic On Board Recording Device
- DOT: Department of Transportation
- ELD: Electronic Logging Device
- FMCSA: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
- HOS: Hours of Service
- RODs: Records of Duty Status
Terms to know
- Electronic Logging Device (ELD): A digital tool that automatically records driving time and hours of service information.
- Federal Motor Carrier Service Administration (FMCSA): A U.S. federal government agency under the Department of Transportation that regulates interstate and international commercial vehicles.
- Hours of Service: Safety rules that dictate how much time drivers of commercial vehicles can spend working in a given period.
- Inspection: A review performed by a DOT officer to check whether a commercial driver complied with HOS regulations and various other rules.
- Interstate commerce: The movement of goods, services, and/or passengers across state borders.
Intrastate commerce: The movement of goods, services, and/or passengers within a state’s borders.
- Logbook: A report of a driver’s hours of service statuses for 24-hours.
- Short-haul: Trips that keep the driver within a couple hundred miles of the day’s worksite.
Proposed changes to HOS rules
After the ELD mandate was implemented in 2017, various industry stakeholders proposed changes to the HOS regulations. In June 2020, FMCSA revised some HOS rules to give drivers greater flexibility while maintaining safety. The rules went into effect in September 2020. Here are a few of the changes:
- Short-haul exception expansion: This change expands the short-haul exception to 150 air-miles and allows drivers to do a 14-hour work shift.
- Adverse driving conditions exception expansion: This change expands the hours a driver can work during adverse conditions to 15 hours from 13.
- 30-minute rest break change: This change says that drivers need a 30-minute break after eight continuous hours of driving time, instead of eight hours of on-duty time. Time that is on-duty but not dedicated to driving can now be counted as the break.
Keeping in compliance with HOS regulations is a serious and complex business. With the advent of ELD and a mandate for their use, tracking hours and staying in line with rules has become easier. Drivers are able to track hours and maintain HOS compliance with a few clicks.
There are many excellent ELD options on the marketplace. To ensure accurate reporting every time and it’s essential for carriers to choose a reliable technology partner, such as Geotab ELD, a fleet compliance management solution for monitoring and recording HOS. Drivers use the Geotab Drive app from a mobile device to manage their duty status and log their hours.
Drivers do a demanding job, and FMCSA hours of service regulations only make it more so. Staying on top of rule changes, maintaining compliance, and — of course — staying safe are priorities that can be made easier with the right technology in place.