Hours of Service Regulations for Professional Truck Drivers

What are Hours of Service Regulations for professional truck drivers?

The FMCSA has issued regulations controlling the number of hours a truck driver can be behind the wheel during various periods. These regulations are typically referred to as “Hours of Service.”

The FMCSA regulates a number of factors related to the time a driver is allowed to drive and required to rest:

  1. Consecutive driving hours
  2. Hours worked in in addition to those behind the wheel
  3. Hours driven within a 24-hour period,
  4. Hours driven within 7- or 8-day periods,
  5. Required time off.

The regulations permit a driver to be on duty for 14 hours, 11 of which can be driving. The other three hours can be used for pre- and post- trip inspections, loading and unloading, completing paperwork, etc. The other 10 hours a driver must be off duty with no work permitted. A portion of those 10 hours must be spent in the sleeper berth. The driver must spend at least seven of those 10 hours in the sleeper berth. Thirty minutes of the remaining off duty hours must be spent resting after a driver has been on duty for eight hours.

The intention of Hours of Service is safety. Drowsy driving resulting from too much time behind the wheel and/or lack of sleep is a major concern when it comes to highway safety.

While operators of any vehicle need to be aware of their levels of alertness while driving, regulating every driver on the road is not possible. But regulating truck drivers is not as difficult. Understanding Hours of Service regulations can be confusing. An explanation is provided below.

Many drivers consider Hours of Service regulations to be a nuisance that prevents them from completing their jobs efficiently. The FMCSA says the regulations are meant to ensure the safety of truck drivers and those sharing the roads. Likewise, the FMCSA imposes these regulations to prevent truck drivers from being abused by employers or contracting companies.

Until recently, drivers recorded their hours in logbooks; however, the FMCSA now requires that most trucks be equipped with electronic logging devices (ELD). These tools help prevent drivers from falsifying records and/or carriers from forcing drivers to drive or work longer than regulations allow.

What are some definitions helpful in understanding Hours of Service Regulations?

Understanding the FMCSA regulations related to Hours of Service is not easy. The actual regulations are written in a legal format not easily followed by the average person. Likewise, it is not easy to summarize Hours of Service regulations in simple terms. For this and operational reasons, many carriers and truck drivers have been opposed to Hours of Service regulations. The FMCSA periodically updates Hours of Service regulations in response to congressional action.

The first step in understanding Hours of Service regulations is to consider FMCSA terminology and definitions. As previously noted, the regulations are written in legal language, so some may be more difficult to understand than others. Definitions included are taken from FMCSA regulations. A simplistic variation is included if deemed necessary.

  • On-duty
    By regulation, on duty time is “all time from when a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work.” In general, other than assigned breaks, a driver is on-duty from the time of arrival at the workplace until the time of leaving. Keep in mind, your workplace may be your truck.
  • Driving Time
    Driving time is all time spent at the driving controls of a commercial motor vehicle. This definition is fairly simple, but driving time is time you are behind the wheel of your truck, even when stopped.
  • Sleeper-Berth Time
    Sleeper berth time is any amount of time spent inside the sleeper berth (e.g., resting or sleeping). A sleeper berth is an area separate from (usually immediately behind) the driving controls that includes a bed. The rules do not explicitly require that a driver must sleep, only that a driver must take a period of “rest” within the sleeper berth or off-duty (i.e., home).
  • Off-Duty
    Off-duty time is any time not spent on-duty, driving, or in the sleeper berth.

How are Hours of Service tracked?

Traditionally, a driver recorded on- and off- duty times, as well as hours and other information in a handwritten logbook. With technology becoming less expensive, today, at least in most cases, FMCSA requires trucks to be equipped “electronic logging devices” or ELDs. You can think of an ELD as an electronic logbook.

An ELD automatically records driving time and location, leaving the driver responsible only for reporting on-duty and off-duty time. In these respects, the ELD is less susceptible to forgery than a paper logbook and prevents employers from abusing drivers while also maintaining safety on the highways.

It should be noted that the ELD requirement is relatively new, and many truck drivers and others in the industry openly express frustrations with the devices. In some cases, a malfunction can keep a driver off-duty longer than is required.

The FMCSA continues to monitor the effectiveness of ELDs and may modify regulations pertaining to them in the future.

Hours of Service regulations do have some exceptions. For instance, a driver encountering adverse weather may be allowed mare than 11 hours of drive time but not more than the maximum on-duty time of 14 hours. Other exceptions relate to distances driven from a driver’s base location, oil field drivers, and regulation variances for some states.