Hours of Service: Knowing the Rules and Understanding the Exceptions

Out on the road, drivers of large tractor-trailers bear a lot of responsibility and safety is a top concern. To keep fatigued drivers off the road, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration developed and enforces the Hour-of-Service (HOS) regulations which place limits on how long truck drivers may drive. To track drivers’ compliance with the HOS regulations, records of duty status or driver’s daily logs are used. These logs are required for any person who is subject to the safety regulations and drives a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as defined in Section 390.5 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

From a legal standpoint, if a driver of a CMV is involved in an accident, any evidence of that driver’s fatigue goes toward the question of liability. If the driver has a violation on their daily log indicating they logged too many hours on duty without a required rest break, the fatigue argument may be made. A trucking company and its drivers’ understanding and compliance with these regulations will not only strengthen the safety of our roads, but it will also avoid issues of fatigue which often arise after an accident.

In general, the HOS regulations provide an 11-Hour Driving Limit and a 14-Hour Driving Limit that CMV drivers must follow at all times. It’s important to also be aware that there are exceptions to the following HOS requirements.

The 11-Hour Driving Limit:

An interstate property-carrying driver is allowed to drive their truck up to 11 hours. All their time spent behind the wheel of the CMV in operation is considered “driving time.” After 11 hours of driving time, the driver must have at least 10 consecutive hours “off duty” before they can drive again. In order for time to be considered off duty, the driver must be relieved of all duty and responsibility for performing work. Also, the driver must be able to leave the place where their vehicle is parked.

So, if you’re a driver and you come to work at 5:00 a.m. and drive for 7 hours (from 6:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.) and then take a 30-minute break; after the break, you can drive for another 4 hours, until 5:30 p.m. Then, you must have 10 consecutive hours off duty before you can start driving again. You can do other work after 5:30 p.m., but you cannot drive a CMV again until you have 10 consecutive hours off duty. See Section 395.3(a)(3).

The 14-Hour Driving Limit:

The 14-hour rule is known as the 14 hour “driving window” limit. A driver is allowed a period of 14 consecutive hours in which they may drive up to 11 hours of those 14 hours on duty. Under the 14-hour rule, a driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.

The 14-hour window begins the moment the driver starts any kind of work. “On duty” time includes all the time a driver is working or is required to be ready to work. Examples include time spent at a terminal or facility of a motor carrier or shipper, time inspecting and servicing the truck, time loading and unloading and all driving time. Once the driver reaches the end of the 14th hour on duty period, they cannot drive again until they have been off for 10 hours. Do note that a driver may continue to work beyond the end of the 14th hour, but they may not do any more driving until they have taken another 10 consecutive hours off. See Section 395.3(a)(2).

The window is limited to 14 consecutive hours, even if you have some off-duty time such as a 30-minute lunch break or nap during those 14 hours. Your 30-minute break will not extend this 14-hour period, rather the 30-minute meal break will count against the 14-hour driving window. An exception to this rule would be with drivers in the 100 air-mile radius of their work reporting location who are not required to take the minimum 30-minute breaks.

Rest Breaks:

A driver may only drive if 8 hours or less has passed since end of driver’s last off duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes. Meal breaks or other off duty time of at least 30 minutes qualifies as a break. Within the 14-hour window and 11-hour driving rule, a driver may drive a total of 11 hours during their 14-hour driving period; but, driving will not be permitted if more than 8 hours have passed since the end of the driver’s last 30-minute break. Of note, the FMCSA has exceptions to the required rest break, such as the short-haul exceptions in 395.1(e). Further, if a driver is working but not driving after 8 hours, no break is required.

Status of Suspended Restart Provision:

The FMCSA has suspended enforcement of the requirements regarding the restart of a driver’s 60-hour or 70-hour limit as required by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, which was enacted December 16, 2014. The restart provisions have no force or effect through this period of suspension and such provisions are replaced with the previous restart provisions that were in effect on June 30, 2013 which allowed drivers to restart their 60-hour or 70-hour calculations by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off duty, without any additional limitations. Drivers are therefore authorized, as of December 2014, to resume use of the previous 2013 restart provisions. To date, the current suspension of HOS restart provisions will remain in place for the first part of 2016. For additional information on the suspended restart provision see last week’s blog by Andrew Laquet.

Anna Newell is an associate attorney at Roberts Perryman. Anna’s practice focuses on transportation, insurance coverage and defense.

Anna Newell

Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL. http://www.robertsperryman.com


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