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DOT Hours of Service Regulations

David Gargaro
David Gargaro

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are key in regulatory oversight of trucking fleets.

  • The Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the number of hours truck drivers can work daily and weekly.
  • These are known as the "hours of service" rules, which require fleet managers to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) on vehicles and restrict driver on-duty time.
  • Regulations include the 14-hour/15-hour rule, the 11-hour/10-hour rule, the 30-minute break rule, 60 and 70-hour weekly limits, and a 34-hour "restart."
  • This article is for trucking companies that are looking for a GPS fleet-tracking solution to comply with government regulations.

The Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the number of hours truck drivers can drive each day and the number of hours they can work in a week. Its goal is to protect the health and safety of truck drivers and everyone else who uses the roads. The DOT's hours of service rules can be complicated; therefore, it's important to understand when and how these rules apply to transportation companies and the commercial truck drivers they employ.

What is the DOT?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for planning and coordinating federal transportation projects, as well as for setting safety regulations for all major modes of transportation. The DOT is also responsible for the FMCSA, the federal government agency that regulates and provides safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles. Its mission is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.

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What are the DOT's hours of service rules?

The DOT hours of service (HOS) rules regulate the number of hours that commercial truck drivers can drive and work per day and per week. These rules limit the amount of time that drivers are behind the wheel and impose mandatory rest breaks to ensure truck drivers are sufficiently rested when they begin a new shift.

Electronic logging devices (ELDs)

Effective December 18, 2017, all nonexempt commercial truck drivers must follow the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate. This involves installing an FMCSA-registered electronic logging device on their vehicle. The ELD automatically records the driver's drive time and ensures that drivers follow the HOS rules. Prior to the mandate, commercial truck drivers would record their time driving in paper logbooks. Many telematics systems include ELDs to ensure compliance. [Check out our picks for the best fleet tracking software and systems.]

Did you know?Did you know? ELDs are legally required by federal regulations. All fleets must come equipped with these devices, which guarantee compliance with HOS rules.

On-duty time

On-duty time is used to determine a commercial truck driver's HOS. It includes the number of hours that a commercial truck driver works or is ready to work. On-duty time covers:

  • All driving time
  • All time involved in inspecting, servicing or conditioning the truck
  • All time spent waiting to be dispatched for duty by the carrier
  • All time spent loading, unloading, supervising or attending to the truck
  • All time doing paperwork for shipments
  • All time taking care of the truck when it requires repair
  • All time spent undergoing drug and alcohol testing
  • All time spent doing other work for the carrier
  • All time spent doing paid work for other employers

On-duty time also includes all time spent in the commercial vehicle except:

  • When resting in a parked vehicle [Get tips on how to reduce your fleet's idle time.]
  • When resting in a sleeper berth
  • When riding in the passenger seat (maximum two hours) of a property-carrying vehicle (according to specific circumstances)

Whom do HOS rules apply to?

HOS rules apply to all types of commercial truck drivers. However, there are different HOS rules for different types of truck drivers. For example, drivers who transport property in their commercial vehicles have different rules than drivers who transport passengers. Interstate commercial truck drivers (i.e., those who drive across more than one state) must adhere to federal HOS regulations. Intrastate commercial truck drivers (i.e., those who drive within one state only) may be required to follow that state's HOS rules.

Did you know?Did you know? HOS rules apply to all commercial truck drivers. See below for certain exemptions available to non-CDL drivers.

HOS rules and regulations

All interstate commercial truck drivers must follow federal HOS rules.

14-hour rule/15-hour rule

Property-carrying commercial truck drivers may not drive more than 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty. The driver must take 10 consecutive hours off-duty before beginning driving again. For passenger-carrying drivers, there is a 15-hour limit on cumulative driving hours. Drivers cannot extend the 14-hour (15-hour) duty period with off-duty time (e.g., breaks, meals, fuel stops). [Read here for 10 ways to reduce fleet fuel costs.]

FMCSA provides the following example of the 14-hour rule: You have had 10 continuous hours off and you report to work at 6:00 a.m. You must not drive your truck after 8:00 p.m. that evening, which is 14 hours later. You may do other work after 8:00 p.m., but you cannot do any more driving until you have taken another 10 consecutive hours off, or the equivalent of at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty.

11-hour rule/10-hour rule

Property-carrying commercial truck drivers can drive up to 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours of being off-duty within a 14-hour period. For passenger-carrying truck drivers, the limit is 10 hours of driving after eight consecutive hours of being off-duty.

FMCSA provides the following example of the 11-hour rule: You have had 10 consecutive hours off. You report to work at 6:00 a.m. and drive from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. (seven hours driving). You take a 30-minute break as required and then can drive for another four hours until 6:30 p.m. You must not drive again until you have at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty. You may do other work after 6:30 p.m., but you cannot do any more driving of a commercial motor vehicle on a public road.

30-minute break rule

Commercial truck drivers cannot log driving time if eight hours have passed since they have taken a 30-minute off-duty break. Drivers must take a break of 30 consecutive minutes. Truck drivers may perform other nondriving tasks after eight hours without taking a break.

60-hour and 70-hour limits

For commercial truck drivers who do not drive every day of the week, they may not drive after 60 hours on duty in seven consecutive days. For commercial truck drivers who drive every day of the week, they may not drive after 70 hours on duty in eight consecutive days. In both cases, the driver may start the seven (or eight) consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off-duty.

34-hour restart

Commercial truck drivers can restart their 60-hour/70-hour limits for driving after taking 34 consecutive hours off-duty. They can commence their new workweek after resetting the clock with the time off. The driver can perform other on-duty tasks besides driving (e.g., paperwork, unloading and unloading goods) during the restart period.

FMCSA provides the following example of the 70-hour limit and 34-hour restart rule: If you follow the 70-hour/8-day limit and work 14 hours per day for five days consecutively, you will have been on duty for 70 hours. You would not be able drive again until you drop below 70 hours worked in an eight-day period. However, if your company allows you to use the 34-hour restart provision, you would have driving time available immediately after 34 consecutive hours off duty. You would then begin a new period of eight consecutive days and have 70 hours available.

Exemptions to the HOS rules

There are several exemptions to the HOS rules for commercial truck drivers.

30-minute break exception

Property-carrying commercial truck drivers must take a 30-minute break if at least eight hours have passed since the last off-duty period. This rule does not apply to short-haul truck drivers who

  • Fall within the 100 air-mile radius
  • Fall within the 150 air-mile radius and drive vehicles that do not require a commercial driver's license (CDL)

16-hour short-haul exception

Property-carrying commercial truck drivers can extend the 14-hour driving limit to 16 hours once every seven consecutive days. To qualify for the exemption, they must meet the following criteria:

  • After returning to their normal work reporting location, the carrier releases the driver from duty at that location for their previous five duty tours
  • After returning to the normal work reporting location, the carrier releases the driver from duty within 16 hours of coming on duty after 10 consecutive off-duty hours
  • The driver has not used the exemption in the previous six consecutive days, except when beginning a new seven or eight-consecutive day period when starting an off-duty period of at least 34 consecutive hours

Non-CDL short-haul exception

Truck drivers who travel short distances in a truck that does not require a CDL might be able to extend the 14-hour driving limit to 16 hours on two days within seven consecutive days or after the 34-hour restart period. There is also no requirement to keep a logbook for these drivers. To qualify for the exemption, they must meet the following criteria:

  • The driver operates a commercial motor vehicle that does not need a CDL.
  • The driver works within a 150 air-mile radius of the normal work reporting location, to which they return each day.

Adverse driving conditions

Truck drivers can extend their maximum driving limit by two hours (i.e., from 11 hours to 13 hours for property-carrying drivers, and from 10 hours to 12 hours for passenger-carrying drivers) per shift if they face adverse driving conditions. To qualify for this exemption, the driver could not 

  • Know there were adverse driving conditions before starting their shift
  • Anticipate the adverse driving conditions using either common sense or trip planning tools

The adverse driving condition exception does not extend the 14-hour (15-hour) rule for either type of driver. The driver must stop and layover within an 11-hour drive time if it is safe to do so, if they cannot return to their home base within 14 hours (or under the 16-hour exception).

Emergency conditions

Emergency conditions may enable some or all HOS rules to be temporarily lifted. A federal or state institution must declare and acknowledge a state of emergency for this exemption to apply.

Penalties for violating HOS rules

If a commercial truck driver violates HOS rules, the FMCSA may place the driver on shutdown at roadside until they accumulate a sufficient number of off-duty hours to become compliant. The FMCSA might also levy civil penalties on the driver. Drivers can be charged with federal criminal penalties if they knowingly and willfully violate FMCSA regulations. State and local law enforcement officials can also fine drivers for violating regulations.

The FMCSA can impose civil penalties on the carrier. Fines range from $1,000 to $11,000 per violation depending on the severity of the rule being broken. The agency can downgrade the carrier's safety rating if there are multiple violations. It can also impose federal criminal penalties against a carrier if they knowingly and willfully allow or require their truck drivers to violate the regulations.

Image Credit: vitpho / Getty Images
David Gargaro
David Gargaro
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
David Gargaro is a content writer and copy editor with more than 20 years of experience in multiple industries, including publishing, advertising, marketing, finance, and small business. He has written on B2B-focused topics covering business technology, sales, marketing, and insurance. David has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Actuarial Science from the University of Toronto. He served as the managing editor of a small publishing company, and self-published a book called How to Run Your Company… Into the Ground.