Safety on our Roadways: Service Hour Guidelines for Truck Drivers
Every day we share crowded highways with work commuters, e-commerce deliverers, ride-share drivers, school and metro bus drivers and large commercial truck drivers, among others. Motorists use these roadways for a multitude of purposes. Yet if they have anything in common, it is to arrive at their destination without incident. Safety affects everyone on the road.
Among the more potentially dangerous vehicles are large trucks. By definition, a large truck is defined as having a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 10,000 pounds. Weighing as much as four or more times the average car, large trucks are also vastly longer and wider. When a truck of this size crashes with a car or another vulnerable road user, the outcome is often catastrophic.
In an effort to protect against dangerous and deadly truck crashes, the U.S. Department of Transportation sets out detailed service hour guidelines for truck drivers to follow. States have adopted the federal rules along with intrastate tolerance guidelines. These guidelines give States flexibility while making sure safety is maintained.
Duty Periods of Truck Drivers
Federal and state regulations define duty periods for truck drivers. Each duty period is 14 hours long which is comparable to a workday. A work period, or work week, lasts for 7-days. Drivers can work seven consecutive days in a row so long as they break for at least 34 hours in a row before starting another 7-day work period.
First issued in the U.S. in 1937, Hours-Of-Service (HOS) regulations were established to promote safety in the trucking industry and on the nation’s highways. Their goal was – and remains so today – to ensure commercial truck drivers are rested and not overworked. They restrict the hours drivers can drive and mandate specific breaks.
Today, HOS rules for property-carrying drivers are defined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Hours are tracked using an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) which is in every commercial motor vehicle. Here are Hours-Of-Service rules for duty periods:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit: a driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- 14-Hour Limit: a driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time includes getting fuel, unloading or other non-driving activities.
- 30-Minute Driving Breaks: A driver must take a 30-minute break when they have driven for a period of 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. The break may be satisfied by any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes (i.e., on-duty not driving, off-duty, sleeper berth, or any combination of these taken consecutively).
- 60/70-Hour Limit: A driver may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may “restart” a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
- Sleeper Berth Provision: A driver may split their required 10-hour off-duty period, as long as one off-duty period (whether in or out of the sleeper berth) is at least 2 hours long and the other involves at least 7 consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth. All sleeper berth pairings must add up to at least 10 hours.
A Typical Schedule
Let’s say Gus starts his work week on Saturday, January 1 at 8:00 p.m. Within the next 7-day work period, Gus’ schedule could look like this:
- Gus starts driving his truck at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday;
- He drives until 4:00 a.m. on Sunday (8 hours);
- At 4:00 a.m. he must take a 30-minute break;
- Gus drives from 2:30 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. (3 hours);
- By 7:30 a.m., Gus has reached his destination and the requisite 11 hours;
- Gus has 3 remaining hours in his 14-hour duty period for non-driving activities;
- After 14 hours, Gus’s duty period is over;
- Gus must take 10 hours off work before he starts the next duty period;
- This 7-day work period will officially end on Saturday, January 8 at 8:00 p.m.;
- His next 7-day work period cannot begin before Monday, January 11 at 6:00 a.m. (at least 34 hours later).
Exceptions and Penalties
Exceptions to hours-of-service rules are made when a driver faces adverse conditions from weather, traffic or issues with the road. The driver is allowed to tack on up to two hours of extra time. Another exception is made for short-haul trips within a 150-mile radius. Rules are more restrictive for vehicles carrying passengers as compared to those carrying property. For instance, the 11-hour driving limit for property-carrying drivers is a 10-hour limit for passenger-carrying drivers.
Penalties are assessed when rules are broken. They include fines, a downgraded safety rating, and revocation of the driver’s license.
The truck driving industry has a heightened responsibility to maintain safe practices on our highways. Given the size and weight of their large trucks, the consequences of driving while fatigued or under pressure can lead to severe and fatal injuries. As e-commerce sales continue to grow rapidly and large amounts of freight are transported across the country every day, roadway safety is as important as ever. Adhering to safety standards and guidelines is an important way truck drivers can contribute to preventing injuries and saving lives.