In case you wondered, no, a truck driver can’t drive as much as they want. There are strict regulations that cover the number of hours a truck driver can drive. And these regulations extend to cover even non-driving hours.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is an agency that regulates this number of hours a truck driver can drive a day and is a part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).
These limiting rules exist for a reason: they are paramount for the safety of both truckers and drivers on the road. The regulation that enforces this is called the Hours-of-Service Regulations, or HOS.
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What Are the Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations?
All truck drivers have an enormous responsibility as they drive on the road. The Hours-of-Service Regulations’ main concern is safety on the road, and what better way to do this but keep tired drivers off the roads.
These regulations dictate the limits for when and how long a truck driver may legally drive to ensure maximum awareness and alertness while driving. This is especially applicable for driving continually to help reduce driver fatigue.
Who Must Comply with This Law?
Anyone, no matter whether they are owner-operators or company drivers, who drives a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) must comply with this law.
A commercial motor vehicle is defined as a truck, or truck-tractor with a trailer, that is involved in interstate commerce and:
- Weighs, including load, 10,001 pounds (4,536 kg) or above, or
- Has a combined weight of 10,001 pounds (4,536 kg) or above (gross weight or combined weight), or
- Is transporting hazardous materials in a sufficient quantity to require placards.
It’s important to note that there are certain exceptions to the hours-of-service requirements. Another thing important to note is that the definition of commercial motor vehicle given above is only applicable with the Hours-of-Service regulation, therefore with other federal laws, the definition of what a commercial motor vehicle is may vary.
The Difference Between Intrastate and Interstate Commerce
Interstate commerce is when a truck cargo is to be transported to another State or country. This applies to cargo that’s picked up and delivered in the same State, but its shipper is from another state too. So, from this, intrastate covers (not always) all cargo that stays within the same State after transport and the services occur within the same state.
If the truck driver operates a vehicle in interstate commerce once in a while, they aren’t required to comply with the Federal Hours-of-Service Regulations at all times. However, the moment the driver starts operating in interstate commerce, they must follow the Federal regulations.
The moment the driver starts the interstate route, they must have logs with them for the last 7 days of the haul (unless that wasn’t required to log).
If the truck driver is operating in intrastate commerce only, the Federal Hours-of-Service regulation does not apply to them. Still, many states have local laws that are identical to this regulation. To determine what State safety requirements are to be followed, the driver can contact the appropriate State agency.
Personal Use of a Commercial Motor Vehicle
When a driver uses a commercial motor vehicle for personal use (i.e. an activity that’s not in support of a business), the Federal Hours-of-Service do not apply to them.
How Many Hours Can a Truck Driver Drive According to HOS?
As mentioned above, the Hours-of-Service regulation covers two things:
- How long a truck driver is allowed to drive by limiting the time they drive their truck, and
- How many total hours a truck driver can work before they are no longer permitted to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
Three maximum daily limits must be followed when Federal Hours-of-Service regulation applies, and those are:
- The 14-hour driving window limit,
- The 11-hour driving limit,
- The 60-hour/7-day limit, and
- The 70-hour/8-day limit.
The HOS 14-Hour Driving Window Limit
The 14-hour driving window limit essentially represents the trucker’s workday, in which they can drive for up to 11 hours, and do other non-driving work-related things, including breaks, naps, and lunch breaks.
This limit is often mistaken for 24 hours, but it is not such. It allows 14 consecutive work hours only after the driver has had at least a 10-hour break, which totals 24 hours. After the 14 hours are over, the driver is required to rest for 10 consecutive hours, or an equivalent of 10 consecutive hours off duty, to be able to drive.
Sleeper berth that’s located in the truck can extend the 14-hour limit.
The HOS 11-Hour Driving Limit
During the 14 hours period, the truck driver is allowed to drive the truck for up to 11 hours. If the driver has driven for more than 8 consecutive hours without a break, they must take one of at least 30 minutes.
Once the driver has driven for 11 hours, they are not permitted to drive their truck for the next 10 hours. However, they can still do non-driving activities, like loading and unloading the trailer.
The HOS 30 Minute Break Rule
A driver is not permitted to drive after the 8th hour of the 14-hour driving window without taking a 30 min off-duty break. After this break, the driver can continue to drive up until the 11 hours per day mark.
The HOS 8 and 2 Split Sleeper Rule
The driver can split a two-hour break into two segments – 8 with 2 hours at separate instances. However, many driving companies do not allow this, as it can interfere with the normal sleep patterns of the driver.
The HOS 60 Hours/7 Day and the 70 Hours/8 Day Limit
The rule itself is pretty simple, although it may seem complex at first. A driver can drive for a maximum of 60 hours in 7 days, and a maximum of 70 hours in 8 days.
Both the 60 Hours/7 Day and 70 Hours/8 Day limit rules expand the 14 hour and the 11-hour limits with a limit on a 7 or an 8-day basis. Both of these starts at the time specified by the motor carrier for the start of a 24-hour period.
This is why this limit is often seen as a weekly limit, but that’s not the case per se, as it might start on Wednesday, and end on Tuesday.
The HOS 34-Hour Restart Period
For the 60 or 70-hour period to restart, there needs to be a buffer of a total of 34 or more consecutive hours off-duty for the driver. The driver can perform on-duty tasks other than driving during the buffer period, such as loading and unloading and paperwork after reaching the 70/80 hour limits.
There are other exceptions to the Hours-of-Service rule other than using the truck for personal transportation. These are:
- Moving the track in yard moves (driving in a lot or yard can be performed as an on-duty status after the limit is passed)
- CDL drivers that do short hauls are exempted from keeping logs if they are operating within a 100-mile radius and they begin and return to their terminal within 12 hours
- Truck drivers can drive for up to two more hours when certain conditions occur, such as irregular weather patterns that the driver could not know before they started driving
- Truck drivers can finish their route under certain emergency conditions, such as having a federal or state declaration that allows them to do so (like the HOS exemption during COVID-19.)
How Many Hours Can a Trucker Team Drive?
The same rules apply to each individual of the team. However, the team can operate in a way to keep the truck moving constantly i.e. driver one drives his 11 hours (with a 30 minutes break) while the other driver is resting for 10 hours.
How Many Miles Can a Truck Driver Drive a Day by Law?
Miles covered are not restricted by any law. A driver can go for maximizing miles within the given 11 hours, but they still must adhere to traffic laws.
Penalties for Not Adhering to Hours-of-Service Rules
There are certain penalties if the truck driver does not adhere to the hours-of-service rules. They are as follows:
- The driver may be placed on shutdown at a roadside until they fulfill their off-duty obligations to be back within legal limits,
- State and local law enforces may fine the truck driver,
- Civil penalties can be levied, which are anything in between $1,000 to $11,000 per violation (depending on the severity),
- The carrier’s safety rating can be degraded if there are repeat violations, which can appear on a DAC report
- It is a federal crime if a carrier knowingly and willfully allows and/or requires violations of laws. The same applies to truck drivers who knowingly and willfully violate the regulations.
The Driver Logs – Logbooks and ELDs
The HOS regulation states that the trucker must keep track of their time by completing a daily driver’s log. These logs are recorded by truckers themselves in a logbook, or a device like an ELD logs everything automatically.
It is important to note that the log must cover the whole 24 hours of each day and must include both on-duty and off-duty hours.
The logbook is what DOT inspectors check, so failing to present one when requested (or presenting an incorrectly filled one, or even worse, falsified one) can lead to serious repercussions. Penalties include fines, suspensions, and worst-case scenario, losing the CDL license.
The HOS Emergency Exemption due to COVID-19
On March 13, the FMCSA announced that they will be introducing an exemption from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (which also include the HOS regulations).
It was designed to provide leeway for CMV drivers who transport essential supplies, equipment and persons, as well as the transportation of these goods itself.
Throughout the next period, the FMCSA has extended and changed several aspects of the HOS waiver. You can find a timeline of all changes on the following links: