Through its Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) lays out limits for how long drivers of commercial motor vehicles can be behind the wheel. The idea is to ensure that drivers are being as safe as possible by not operating vehicles in a state of fatigue.
In 2020, the FMCSA amended this rule, with one of the changes relating to a regulation called the sleeper berth provision. Nowadays, 70 percent of new trucks have sleeper berths, according to the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). Drivers can use these berths to get sleep when they’re not behind the wheel so they can return to the road well-rested.
This article reviews the ins and outs of the sleeper berth rule and how it works in practice.
What are Hours of Service rules?
The HOS regulations have several different parts, all of which together are meant to guide the timing of vehicle operation. Together they answer the common question, “How many hours can a truck driver drive?” When trying to understand the sleeper berth provision, is good to put it in the wider context of these regulations.
Here are several of the most important provisions of the HOS:
- 11-hour driving limit: Drivers are allowed to drive at most 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- 14-hour limit (a.k.a. the 14-hour rule): Drivers must not drive past the 14th consecutive hour once they come on duty after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- 30-minute driving break: Drivers are required to take a 30-minute break after driving for 8 cumulative hours without a break of at least 30 minutes.
- 60/70-hour limit: Drivers must stop driving after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
The central thrust of the rules is that drivers must limit their driving time to 11 hours, and the driving hours (whether 11 or fewer) must take place within 14 consecutive hours. After that 14 hours, they must take 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
What is the sleeper berth provision?
The sleeper berth provision is a HOS rule that dictates how commercial motor vehicle drivers can use their off-duty time, including how they are allowed to split up that time and how the breaks relate to the other on-duty and driving time rules.
The sleeper berth provision allows cargo-carrying drivers to split their 10-hour off-duty time into chunks. In other words, they don’t have to take all 10 hours off consecutively in one go.
The rule is that drivers can split their off-duty time if one of the chunks is at least two hours long and the other is comprised of at least seven consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth. The two-hour chunk does not have to be spent in the berth. The two chunks of time must add up to at least 10 hours.
Why are sleeper berth requirements needed?
These sleeper berth regulations are necessary to ensure that drivers are getting enough rest and avoiding operating a commercial vehicle on too few hours of sleep or for too many consecutive hours.
The reason that the rule change offers more flexibility is that the 14-hour rule can be a big issue for drivers since the time it takes to get somewhere doesn’t always align with the on-duty and driving times laid out in the rules. HOS regulations state that time drivers spend at loading docks, even if the dock is closed and the driver is waiting for it to open, count toward the driver’s 14-hour on-duty period. Being able to take a shorter period off-duty to functionally extend the 14-hour window can help the timing of these logistics align.
How does the sleeper berth rule work?
How the driver’s rest periods relate to the 14-hour rule is an important — and confusing — factor in the sleeper berth regulations. The most important thing is that neither of the rest-period chunks counts against the driver’s 14-hour on-duty clock, when used together.
Let’s say a driver starts their day with two hours of non-driving on-duty time. After this, they drive for six hours. At this point, the driver has 6 hours remaining on their 14-hour clock and 5 hours of drive time.
Now, let’s say the driver takes a break in the sleeper berth for 8 hours. Effectively, the 14-hour clock has been paused. When the driver resumes driving, they still have 6 hours remaining on their 14-hour clock and 5 hours of drive time.
Once the driver drives the remaining 5 hours, they will be required to take a two-hour break and the 14-hour window restarts.
How does a driver split sleeper berth time?
The new version of the sleeper berth rule gives drivers more options of how to split sleeper berth time. Previously, the HOS said that drivers opting to split their 10 hours into two chunks have to divide it into a two-hour segment and an eight-hour segment, the latter of which had to be taken in the sleeper berth.
Under the new rules, drivers are able to split sleeper berth time in various ways, such as 8/2, 7/3, and 7.5/2.5. The only requirement for how they do it is that the two chunks must add up to at least 10 hours. These numbers apply only to cargo carriers; passenger carriers are still required to adhere to an 8/2 split.
Cargo-carriers sleeper berth rule vs. passenger carriers rule
Cargo carriers and passenger carriers have different sleeper berth regulations. While cargo carriers can split their 10-hour off-duty time in a number of ways, passenger carriers who are using a sleeper berth are required to take at least 8 hours in the berth. They are allowed to split the sleeper berth time into two chunks as long as neither one is less than two hours. For passenger carriers, all sleeper berth pairings have to add up to at least 10 hours.
An example of how to calculate driver hours
The sleeper berth rule and the 14-hour rule can get confusing. An example of how this looks in practice may help clarify the way these regulations work.
In this example, a driver’s shift starts at 10 a.m. with a two hours of on-duty time that involves loading, not driving. Since the driver is on-duty, the 14-hour working window begins at 10 a.m. Starting at 12 p.m., the driver drives his rig for three hours, until 3 p.m. The driver has now been on duty for five hours, three of them driving, which means that the driver can still drive for eight hours (out of the maximum 11) and has nine hours in which to do so (to stay inside the maximum 14-hour window).
The driver is tired and goes to sleep in the sleeper berth for seven hours. The 14-hour clock is effectively paused while the driver is sleeping. So when he wakes up at 10 p.m., he still has nine of his 14 hours of on-duty time left and can do up to eight hours of driving in that time. The driver also needs to do three remaining hours of rest time (to comprise the required 10 hours) before he can start a new 14-hour on-duty window.
Accordingly, the driver now drives for eight hours straight, until 6 a.m., takes a three-hour break over breakfast, and then starts a new 14-hour on-duty window.
Drivers may find it difficult to track the ins and outs of these rules as they apply to their daily schedules. An ELD solution and an electronic logbook app can help drivers stay on top of how many hours they’ve used in each way and what’s left to complete during the on-duty shift.
But regardless of which way they choose to track their hours, drivers must become well-acquainted with these rules and stick to them faithfully as they go about their on- and off-duty shifts.
Learn more about fleet safety on our blog.