Long hours are part of the job for truck drivers. But how long is too long? When do you need a break?
The FMCSA “Hours of Service” (HoS) regulations describe how long truck drivers can work and drive and when they should rest. The 70-hour, 8-day rule is among the most important HoS rules as it helps freight operators and drivers determine a working week that is productive and safe for the driver and other motorists.
This informational blog post covers everything you need to know about hours of service regulations, breaks, exemptions, and potential penalties if these rules aren’t followed. We also offer a more comprehensive DOT hours of service training video.
Table of Contents
What is the 70-Hour 8-Day Rule?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) uses this rule to cover how many hours a driver is safe to drive while on duty over a rolling 8-day period. The basic math seems straightforward – over any eight consecutive days, a driver can’t be on the road if they’ve been on duty for at least 70 hours in total.
This 8-day period doesn’t have to be bookended by rest days, although giving employees regular time off is advisable to avoid driver fatigue. For example:
- A driver has been working Monday to Monday (8 days).
- They’ve accumulated 70 total work hours, 10 of which were logged on the first Monday.
- This means they can work on Tuesday because the first Monday’s hours will become void, and the work hours will drop to 56.
- However, the driver can only drive for a maximum of 11 hours of the 14 hours they’re eligible to work on Tuesday because of driving limit restrictions.
What makes this more complicated is the 11-hour driving limit and the 14-hour work limit. The United States Department of Transportation (DoT) hours are regulated within a working day and not just over the 8-day period. We’ll cover DoT hours, duty status, off-duty time, and consecutive hours behind the wheel below. What you’ll find after reading is that there are a lot of different rules when it comes to DOT Hours of Service, so make sure you follow them all to remain compliant.
Why is the 70-Hour 8-Day Rule Important?
Commercial trucks weigh several tons and are extremely dangerous to operate – a crash can easily cause multiple fatalities. The trucking industry is subject to intensive regulations to ensure that operators and other motorists are kept safe. Hours of service regulations ensure drivers aren’t fatigued and can safely operate commercial vehicles.
A motor carrier not abiding by hours of service rules can be subject to significant penalties, as can drivers. These include federal criminal penalties and punitive action taken by local law enforcement officials where appropriate. The driver and the motor carrier need to understand DOT HoS rules and keep to them.
Who Does the 70-Hour 8-Day Rule Apply To?
Dot HoS rules apply to anyone driving a commercial motor vehicle, but hours of service regulations are slightly different depending on what you’re carrying.
Commercial drivers who don’t operate daily follow a separate 60-hour 7-day rule. This works just like the 70-hour, 8-day rule but with different limits. We’ll discuss drivers that follow the 60-hour rule further down.
Property-carrying vehicles follow an 11-hour driving limit and a 14-hour rule for the maximum amount of on-duty time they can undertake before they must stop driving. They must spend ten consecutive hours without driving between any two periods behind the wheel, with some exceptions, e.g., when using a sleeper berth.
Passenger-carrying vehicles have a maximum 10-hour rule for hours driven. They have a 15-hour driving window while on duty, after which they may not get behind the wheel. This must be followed by 8 consecutive hours off-duty before they can legally drive again.
How is Truck Driving Time Calculated?
DoT hours are calculated using several metrics – we outline these HoS regulations below. Driving time is typically monitored using electronic logging devices (ELDs) to ensure that a driver doesn’t pass the driving limit or the duty limit. Here’s what each term means. If you are tracking hours in a logbook, we have a full guide on how to track your hours in a logbook.
A driver’s duty status can either be on-duty or off-duty:
On duty means the driver is working paid hours and not taking an extended rest break. They may or may not be driving; as long as they’re working, this counts towards their on-duty hours.
Off-duty time is when the truck driver takes their 10-hour rest break or spends more time than this off-duty (i.e., having a day off).
Duty statuses determine when an employee is fit to drive, along with the standard maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel. If a driver has been working for 14 hours, even if they haven’t driven during that time, they may not get behind the wheel until they take ten consecutive hours off-duty.
Total Driving Time
This is the maximum of 11 hours (for property-carrying vehicles) that drivers may spend driving during duty cycles. During any 14-hour on-duty period, you may drive for a maximum of 11. This must be followed by 10 hours of off-duty time according to the hours of service rules.
Consecutive Driving Hours
Drivers can only drive for a maximum of 8 hours consecutively before they have to take a break. FMCSA regulations state that truckers must take a 30-minute break after 8 hours behind the wheel.
Most drivers will take a break before this for safety and comfort reasons. However, it’s essential to know when you can resume driving and record breaks using an ELD.
There are just a couple of exemptions to HoS regulations, which will be covered in detail below. Exemptions exist to protect drivers from unforeseen setbacks rather than to “push the limit” of how long an individual driver can work. Attempting to stretch the hours of service rules could compromise fleet safety and put lives at risk.
Complying with Hours of Service Rules
Knowing how many hours a driver can be active is essential for fleet operators, whether they’re working out of the vehicle, driving, or resting. It’s primarily a matter of driver safety, but you must also stay compliant with federal motor carrier safety regulations to protect your business. HoS violations carry steep penalties – see below for further reading on penalties.
FMSCA Hours of Service Regulations: Quick Guide for a Fleet Manager
Here’s a quick guide to what you need to know as a fleet manager. This will keep your drivers safe on the roads and ensure your business is FMSCA-compliant.
1. The 11-Hour Driving Limit
HoS rules mandate that drivers can’t spend more than 11 hours in a 14-hour cycle driving. Rest breaks should be planned accordingly. Sleeper berths allow you some leeway, but 11 hours of driving is still the maximum within the 14-hour limit.
2. The 14-Hour Limit
At the end of any period of 14 hours of service, the driver must rest for at least 10 hours before they can operate a vehicle again. Again, sleeper berth exceptions may provide a window where a driver can be on the road for more than 11 hours in 14, but this requires combining 2 working days – learn more below.
3. 30-Minute Breaks
You must ensure that drivers take a break of at least 30 minutes every 8 hours on the road. These breaks must be logged. Most drivers will take a break before the full 8-hour period is up, but the break must be taken even if the driver is rushing to reach a destination.
4. The 60/70 Hour Limit
If your fleet offers drivers a schedule that doesn’t require them to work every day, a separate 60-hour rule applies. This is measured over a week, so employees can’t work more than 60 hours across any 7-day period.
Rules about breaks, driving limits, and on-duty limits still apply. The 60/70 hour limit covers property and passenger-carrying drivers.
5. The ELD Mandate
In almost all cases, electronic logging devices (ELDs) are required for commercial fleets. This lets commercial drivers report their duty status accurately and helps fleet managers keep track of progress more efficiently. The ELD mandate states that an electronic logging device should be installed in almost all commercial motor vehicles, with some exceptions, including:
- A private motor carrier transporting passengers
- Some part-time drivers who aren’t required to log work as often (working fewer than 8 days per month)
- Some driveaway-towaway jobs where the vehicle being driven is part of the delivery
In some cases, paper logs may also be kept – see CFR § 395.8 for more information.
Exemptions to the 70-Hour, 8-Day Rule
There are a few exemptions to the hours of service regulations. We provide a general overview of these below. Note again that these shouldn’t be abused to extend the driving window where possible – the safest way is always to abide by the regular rules.
Sleeper Berth Provision
The sleeper berth provision may be used to “split” the 10-hour rest period into 2 periods that constitute the equivalent of full rest.
One of these periods must be at least 7 hours long and be spent at a berth. Regular off-duty time can’t be used for this period. The other period must be at least 2 hours long and it doesn’t matter if it’s spent at a berth or not as long as the driver is off duty. These periods must measure at least 10 hours when combined.
It doesn’t matter which comes first as long as the 10 hours is reached. These periods aren’t considered part of the 14-hour work period, which means that drivers subject to maximum driving hours max extend their driving time beyond the usual limits.
Adverse Driving Conditions Provision
Drivers may extend both windows by a maximum of 2 hours if they experience adverse driving conditions. This is because poor conditions may slow down traffic, and drivers must take extra care to avoid accidents while delivering goods on time.
Short-haul exemptions allow drivers operating within a 150-mile radius of the fleet’s base to report using non-ELD methods, as long as the base is also their normal reporting center.
Hours of Service Recap
The recap is a vital part of the 70-hour, 8-day rule. “Recap” means “recapture” – this refers to the hours worked 8 days previously being recaptured and available for use.
How Do The Hours of Service Recap Work?
When a driver finishes eight consecutive days working, any hours they worked before this time are recaptured. Remember that 70 hours applies to time spent on duty. On-duty does not necessarily mean driving!
A driver who has worked for 70+ hours during eight consecutive days but only driven for 50 of those still cannot drive until they recap hours of service.
How Should You Manage Hours of Service Recap?
Long-haul truckers often need to work intensive shifts for several days. The best way to manage hours of service recap is with full days off. This is because any period of 34 hours or more off-duty resets the clock – it counts as a full recapture. The week begins anew.
This is also true for operators who offer a 60-hour period over seven consecutive days – time off resets the week.
Who Needs to Do an Hours of Service Recap?
Anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle needs to recapture hours of service. Fleet operators must pay attention to drivers’ schedules and organize the recap or risk not having drivers available for important work.
Penalties for Violating Hours of Service Rules
There are severe penalties for a violation, depending on its nature and the risk posed. Drivers carrying hazardous materials and exceeding their time of service, for example, may incur strong penalties from federal authorities. Local authorities may also assess fines.
The best way to avoid penalties is to ensure that drivers comply with HoS regulations at all times. This should be monitored using an ELD and ensuring that employees understand the regulations.
How many consecutive hours are required to restart a 70-hour, 8 consecutive day period?
If a driver takes more than 34 hours away from work, the 8-day period resets to 0. This is why regular days off are the best way to ensure drivers are available whenever needed for urgent long-haul trips.
How do you do a 70-hour recap?
Time is recaptured automatically when the 8 days are finished. It works on a rolling basis so that drivers may work for over 8 days in a row, but their driving time will be limited by those that can be recaptured.
How is a split sleeper berth calculated?
Splitting time off using a berth can be advantageous on long journeys or to avoid adverse conditions. The split must include at least 7-8 hours at a berth and a second period of at least two more off duty (these may be taken anywhere). The combined time off must add up to at least 10 hours.
This gives the driver enough time to rest and recover. These breaks should be logged using an ELD.
What are adverse conditions?
Adverse conditions include:
- Poor visibility
- Heavy rain or snow
- Snow or ice on the road
- Heavy traffic
Note that poor visibility covers mist or fog during the day or night but not clear nighttime conditions.
Understanding the 70-hour, 8-day rule is the best way to keep your fleet operating smoothly and your drivers safe. Ensure that staff takes appropriate breaks and schedule driving time so you don’t find you’re short of drivers when you need them most!