How Many Hours Can a Truck Driver Drive?
Commercial truck drivers spend a lot of time on the open highway. They are responsible for hauling food, liquids, farm goods, construction materials, raw materials, and retail products destined for store shelves. There are rules in place about how many hours truck drivers can drive in a day to help ensure their well-being and the safety of other drivers on the roadways.
Since 1938, motor carrier safety rules have been implemented in some form. The guidelines truck drivers are most familiar with today were finalized in 2013 and are known as Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) established HOS with the sole purpose of keeping tired truck drivers off the roadways. Among other things, HOS rules require truck drivers to maintain logs of their active work hours and rest periods to ensure compliance. All current HOS protocols are closely monitored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is an agency within the USDOT.
How Many Hours Can Truck Drivers Drive Under HOS?
The quick answer to this question is that commercial truck drivers are permitted to drive for 11 hours before they must take a 10-hour rest break. That is the simplified version of HOS. Here is a breakdown of the HOS mandate in its entirety.
- The 11-hour rule states that commercial drivers must take a 10-hour break from driving once they have completed 11 hours of driving.
- The 14-hour rule applies once drivers come back on duty after their 10-hour break. Property-carrying drivers are prohibited from driving beyond the 14th consecutive hour unless they have spent 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
- The 30-minute break rule requires all commercial drivers to take a 30-minute break after 8 consecutive hours of driving. A rule change that became effective in September 2020 allows for some flexibility. We will discuss that further in the HOS exceptions section.
- The 70-hour rule prevents truck drivers from working more than 70 hours over any consecutive eight-day period. Taking a 34-hour rest period can reset this rule but it is not required.
- The split sleeper rule offers provisions to drivers who wish to divide their 10-hour breaks into two sessions. One segment can be no shorter than 7 hours and the other must be at least 3 hours. Drivers are required to track the driving time from before their first rest until they take the second part of the split. Some carriers do not allow their drivers to use the split sleeper rule.
What a 10-Hour Break Really Means
The HOS 10-hour break period is an important part of the mandate about how many hours a truck driver can drive in a day. There are specific guidelines about how truck drivers must spend the 10 hours. They must be fully off-duty, which means they cannot engage in paperwork or any other work-related tasks during this period. Their 10-hour break can be taken in the sleeper berth of their truck or while pursuing their own interests completely free from any trucking duties. Any combination of these is also acceptable.
Exceptions to the HOS Rules
As we previously mentioned, there are some exceptions to the HOS rules about how many hours truckers can drive. It is up to commercial drivers to understand how each of these exceptions applies to ensure they comply with all HOS guidelines. Exceptions include:
- Using a truck for personal conveyance while officially off-duty.
- Driving in a limited-access lot or yard.
- CDL drivers who operate within a 150 air-mile radius and return to their terminal within 14 hours qualify for a short-haul exemption. They are not required to maintain logs and instead must report their daily hours. This exemption was provided some flexibility with the September 2020 changes.
- Drivers can extend their maximum driving and workday limit by up to 2 hours during certain conditions under the adverse driving conditions exemption. This exemption was provided some flexibility with the September 2020 changes.
- Under certain emergency conditions, including federal and state emergency declarations, drivers are exempted from HOS to provide direct emergency assistance as requested.
In August 2019, the FMCSA published a notice of its intent to make changes to HOS regulations. Those adjustments were approved in June 2020 and became effective on September 29, 2020. Changes include:
- Short-haul exception now allows 14-hour days rather than the previous 12-hour days, plus the extension of travel up to 150 air miles from a driver’s terminal each day.
- Adverse driving conditions exception was updated in two ways. It now extends the 14-hour workday and the 11-hour driving clock by 2 hours.
- The 30-minute break requirement was updated to clarify that the 30 minutes can be taken on-duty or off-duty as long as drivers take it in their sleeper cab and it involves a break from driving.
What is the ELD Mandate?
On February 16, 2016, the ELD Mandate became law. It requires the electronic monitoring of how many hours a truck driver can drive in a day before they must take a break. ELD is short for electronic monitoring devices. Commercial truckers must use an ELD to monitor their on-duty hours to prove compliance with HOS regulations. ELDs replace the paper logs and Automatic On-Board Recording Devices (AOBRD) commercial drivers previously used to track their on-duty hours.
ELDs were necessary to ensure the accuracy of driving records. Human error in calculating driving time, plus pressure from employers to manipulate paper-log documentation, led the FMCSA to require ELDs.
How Many Hours Can Truckers Drive – Log Duty Status
ELDs capture driving time automatically. However, commercial truck drivers are required to manually record their non-driving time. Federal law also mandates that drivers keep a paper logbook as a backup to the ELD. There are four log duty statuses that impact driving hours.
Here is a breakdown of the log duty statuses truckers must record:
- Off-duty status refers to any downtime when the driver is free from performing work tasks.
- Sleeper berth includes all time spent resting in the sleeper berth, including the 30-minute break time.
- Driving status refers to all time the driver spends at the controls of his or her commercial vehicle. This includes any time spent idling in traffic.
- On-duty not driving is the designation for the time drivers begin work or are expected to be ready to work and the time they are relieved from their duties. It includes all non-driving time for duties such as loading and unloading, inspections, training, and fueling.
Penalties for Truck Drivers Who Violate HOS Rules
How many hours a truck driver can drive safely is taken seriously by the FMCSA. It expects drivers to strictly adhere to the rules and is swift to punish those who do not. Commercial truck drivers who fail to follow a HOS regulation are subject to fines and may be placed out of service. Law enforcement officers who discover a commercial truck driver violating a HOS rule can immediately put the driver and his or her truck out of commission. This means your truck will sit alongside the roadway while you are forced to take either a 10-hour or 34-hour break, whichever is applicable to your situation. Law enforcement can levy fines according to local and state laws and can range between $1,000 and $16,000 per violation.
If drivers or carriers are caught manipulating driving logs to skirt HOS mandates, their Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) score may be impacted. Civil penalties are also possible depending on the severity of the action and whether the driver or carrier are repeat offenders.