Whether you're an experienced driver or just learning how to start a trucking business, safety is a top priority. Most drivers know not only the weight of their truck but the weight of their responsibility to keep roads safe. To facilitate safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) requires drivers to comply with certain regulations and mandatory breaks. These are known as the DOT hours of service rules and are intended to prevent drowsiness and fatigue that can cause traffic accidents. In this article, we’ll explain the rules and how to remain compliant to ensure better safety and avoid costly penalties.
How are hours of service rules applied?
The DOT hours of service (HOS) regulations restrict the number of consecutive hours a truck driver can work. The regulations apply to both passenger-carrying drivers and property-carrying drivers. Passenger-carrying drivers, as the name implies, transport passengers in buses or motorcoaches. Property-carrying drivers transport property in vehicles or trucks. The hours of service rules will be applied differently depending on whether you’re a property-carrying driver or a passenger-carrying driver. Let’s take a closer look at the specific rules.
- 10-Hour Driving Limit: Drivers can drive 10 consecutive hours after a mandatory 8-hour break.
- 15-Hour Limit: Drivers cannot continue to drive after being on-duty for 15 consecutive hours, following an 8-hour off-duty break.
- 60/70 Hour Limit: Drivers cannot drive more than 60 hours in 7 days or 70 hours in 8 days. Drivers are allowed back on-duty after a consecutive 34-hour break.
- Sleeper Berth Provision: Drivers who have a sleeper berth must use it for at least 8 total hours. Drivers are allowed to split the 8 hours into separate rest periods if each is not less than 2 hours. However, if sleeper berth breaks are split, then they must add up to 10 total hours.
- Adverse Driving Conditions: Drivers are allowed to exceed the 10-hour driving limit and the 15-hour on-duty limit by 2 hours in cases of adverse driving conditions. Adverse conditions during inclement weather like snow, ice or heavy fog are a few examples.
- 11-Hour Driving Limit: Drivers can drive 11 consecutive hours after a mandatory 10-hour break.
- 14-Hour Limit: Drivers are not to drive for longer than 14 hours on-duty and must have a mandatory 10-hour break afterwards.
- 30-Minute Driving Break: Drivers are required to take a break of 30 minutes after an 8-hour, uninterrupted shift. The 30-minute break can be used in a sleeper-berth or any off-duty task that doesn’t include driving.
- 60/70-Hour Limit: Drivers cannot drive more than 60 hours in 7 days or 70 hours in 8 days. However, property-carrying drivers may restart a 60- or 70-hour driving cycle if they take 34 consecutive hours off-duty.
- Sleeper Berth Provision: The sleeper berth provision for property-carrying drivers differs slightly because of the time limits. Drivers are allowed to use their 10-hour off-duty requirement by taking a 2-hour off-duty break and a mandatory 7 consecutive hours sleeping in a sleeper berth. Sleeper-berth breaks should add up to a minimum of 10 hours for property-carrying drivers.
- Adverse Driving Conditions: Drivers are only allowed to exceed the 11-hour driving limit and the 14-hour on-duty limit by 2 hours in cases of adverse driving conditions.
What records need to be kept?
Besides adhering to driving limits, the FMCSA requires drivers to maintain an updated log of hours spent driving, including breaks, for the past six months. Along with mandatory record-keeping, audits can be performed at any time. If an audit is triggered, drivers normally have 48 hours to provide their electronically-submitted logs. Failure to provide accurate records can result in costly penalties.
What are the penalties?
If any hours of service rules are violated, then federal law compels the DOT to penalize drivers. And in 2021, the DOT announced that penalty adjustments and increases would occur each year based on inflation. Violations include falsification of records, inaccurate recordkeeping, missing driver history documents and not obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL), to name just a few. Below is a list of some of the violations that the FMCSA could penalize:
|Description||Prior Penalty||New Penalty|
|Not obeying a subpoena to produce records - minimum penalty||$1,112||$1,125|
|Not obeying a subpoena to produce records - maximum penalty||$11,125||11,256|
|Recordkeeping - maximum penalty per day||$1,292||$1,302|
|Recordkeeping - maximum total penalty||$12,919||$13,072|
|Knowing falsification of records||$12,919||$13,072|
|Non-recordkeeping violations by drivers||$3,923||$3,969|
Source: Federal Register
What are the exceptions?
In 2021, the DOT increased maximum penalties for failing to record trucking hours of service from $15,691 to $15,876. However, for both property-carrying and passenger-carrying drivers, the Short-Haul Exception is in place that allows drivers to be exempt from penalties that are enforced by DOT hours of service. The Short-Haul Exception stipulates that drivers are exempt if they’re operating within a 150-mile radius of their reporting location and do not work for longer than 14 consecutive hours.
With all the regulations that can impact truck drivers, staying informed is important. Experienced drivers know the rules, the penalties and the exceptions to maintain compliance. And by doing so, they can promote safe driving on the road and avoid hefty fines off it.