The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) hours of service rules is meant to keep the roads safe by preventing truck drivers from driving when they are excessively fatigued.
The rules do this by limiting the number of consecutive hours that you can drive. They also do this by limiting the number of hours you can drive in a week and mandating breaks.
What is the purpose of the DOT hours of service regulations?
The DOT’s hours of service (HOS) regulations are meant to reduce the number of truck accidents that are related to truck driver fatigue.
Truck accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- distracted driving,
- texting while driving,
- driving under the influence (DUI), whether of drugs or alcohol,
- not obeying traffic signals,
- cargo shifting, and
- driver fatigue.
In 1990, it was estimated that driver fatigue was a contributing factor in 30 to 40 percent of truck accidents.1 Rigorous enforcement of the DOT’s HOS rules aimed to reduce that rate by regulating people with a commercial driver’s license (CDL). In 2007, an estimated 13 percent of truckers were considered to be fatigued at the time of their crash.2
How do the rules further that purpose?
The HOS regulations aim to reduce truck accidents caused by driver fatigue by:
- requiring drivers to log their hours on the road,
- mandating rest breaks between driving times,
- imposing a limit on the number of hours that you can drive in a week, and
- limiting the number of hours you can drive in a single day.
The regulations do not apply to non-CDL drivers or to CDL holders who only drive intrastate. However, they do apply to both types of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers involved in interstate commerce:
- property-carrying drivers, mainly truckers, and
- passenger-carrying drivers, typically bus drivers.
While the rules apply to both sets of CMV drivers in similar ways, there are small variances.
These regulations are often seen as restrictive. Covered drivers frequently want more flexibility. Recent amendments to the regulations have added or strengthened exemptions.
Electronic logging devices (ELDs)
The DOT’s hours of service regulations require all drivers to maintain logs of hours driven. These log books used to be handwritten. However, lots of truckers used to falsify these paper logs in order to drive longer hours.
The DOT regulations allowed trucking companies to install automatic onboard recording devices in their vehicles to better monitor a driver’s hours of service.3 Now, DOT regulations require the use of electronic logging devices, or ELDs.4
The ELD mandate can only be satisfied by a device listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) registered ELDs list.5
These ELDs automatically record the:
- current geographic location information for the vehicle,
- engine miles,
- vehicle miles,
- driver’s authenticated user identification data,
- vehicle identification data, and
- motor carrier identification data.6
Drivers have to manually input whether they are:
- taking off-duty time,
- in the sleeper berth,
- driving, or
- on-duty but not driving.7
All of this information, including the records of duty status, are necessary to determine whether you are complying with the DOT’s hours of service rules.
Truck drivers in property-carrying vehicles have to take a 30-minute break after driving for 8 consecutive hours. This break requirement can be satisfied with any non-driving ELD status, or even a combination of them. However, there have to be at least 30 consecutive minutes.8
Only truckers who qualify for the short-haul exception are exempted from this requirement.
Drivers in passenger-carrying commercial vehicles are not required to take these breaks.9
60- and 70-hour limit
DOT regulations forbid motor carriers from requiring any driver to drive more than:
- 60 hours in any 7-day period, or
- 70 hours in any 8-day period.10
This is often referred to as the 60/70-hour rule.
Property-carrying drivers can reset their string of consecutive days. They can do this with an off-duty period of at least 34 consecutive hours.11
Passenger-carrying drivers cannot reset their driving day period. They cannot make use of the 34-hour restart.
Daily driving limit
All drivers are subject to a daily maximum driving time limit under DOT’s hours of service rules.
For property-carrying vehicle drivers, these regulations require:
- 10 consecutive hours off duty before starting a shift or workday,
- no driving after a period of 14 consecutive hours after the start of a shift, and
- an 11-hour driving limit during that 14-hour shift.12
For passenger-carrying vehicle drivers, those regulations are:
- 8 consecutive hours off duty before starting a shift,
- no driving after being on duty for 15 consecutive hours, and
- only 10 cumulative hours of driving during that 15-hour shift.13
These regulations essentially create a driving window. You must have an 8- or 10-hour period of rest to open it. You can only spend 10 or 11 of those hours on duty. The remaining amount of time cannot be on-duty hours.
Are there any exemptions that truck drivers can use?
These hours of service are subject to a small set of exemptions:
- adverse driving conditions,
- using the sleeper berth, and
- driving short hauls.
If one of these exemptions apply, it can tweak your hours of service obligations. They can even immunize you from them.
All of these exceptions were altered or added when the FMCSA issued revisions to its HOS rules in 2020.
Adverse driving conditions
If you encounter adverse driving conditions that make it impossible to complete your run before the hours of service run out, you can take 2 extra hours to reach your destination or a safe stopping point.14
Adverse driving conditions include:
- fog, or
- other adverse weather conditions or unusual road or traffic conditions.15
These conditions could not reasonably have been known before beginning your shift.
Sleeper berth exemption
All drivers have to spend at least a certain number of consecutive hours off-duty before beginning a shift. If you use a sleeper berth, those hours do not have to be consecutive. You can split them up into shorter periods.
Property-carrying truckers have a 10-hour off-duty period. They can satisfy this by splitting it up into 2 periods and using the sleeper berth so long as:
- one rest period is for at least 7 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth,
- the 2 rest periods total at least 10 hours,
- neither rest period is for fewer than 2 consecutive hours, and
- their driving time before and after each rest period would not exceed 11 hours or violate the 14-hour limit.16
Passenger-carrying drivers have an 8-hour off-duty period. They can split this into 2 shorter periods of time, so long as:
- neither rest period is shorter than 2 hours,
- the total driving time from both before and after each resting period does not exceed 10 hours, and the total on-duty time does not exceed 15 hours, and
- the sleeper berth times add up to at least 8 hours.17
All short-haul drivers are exempt from maintaining a driver’s log using an ELD.
You are a short-haul driver if you:
- only drive within a 150 air-mile radius of your normal work reporting location, and
- return to your work reporting location and are released from work within 14 consecutive hours.18
Property-carrying truckers must have also had at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty before each shift. Passenger-carrying drivers must have had at least 8 consecutive hours off-duty.19
- National Transportation Safety Board, “Factors that Affect Fatigue in Heavy Truck Accidents” (January 1995).
- U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), “The Large Truck Crash Causation Study” (July 2007).
- 49 CFR 395.15.
- 49 CFR 395.22(a).
- 49 CFR 395.26(b).
- 49 CFR 395.24(b).
- 49 CFR 395.3(a)(3)(ii).
- See 49 CFR 395.5.
- 49 CFR 395.3(b) (property-carrying drivers) and 395.5(b) (passenger-carrying drivers).
- 49 CFR 395.3(c).
- 49 CFR 395.3(a).
- 49 CFR 395.5(a).
- 49 CFR 395.1(b).
- 49 CFR 395.2.
- 49 CFR 395.1(g)(1)(ii).
- 49 CFR 395.1(g)(3).
- 49 CFR 395.1(e)(1).
- 49 CFR 395.1(e)(1)(iii).