How Long Can Truck Drivers Drive Before a Break is Required?

Logo Truck Steering Wheel Picture

In the commercial trucking industry, driving fatigue can be a real hazard if work hours are not managed efficiently and as per industry recommendations. Fatigue can impact both truck drivers and other motorists.

To mitigate hazards, there are certain regulations in place. The recommended truck driving standards are determined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These federal regulations include how many hours a day and per week a truck driver may safely drive.

For the regulations to be effective, drivers must be familiar with FMCSA guidelines and the exceptions. In the following article, we’ll explore the details of how many hours truck drivers should drive, exceptions to the regulations, and the penalties workers and companies may incur for contravening FMCSA guidelines.

[We do also have an Hours of Service Training Video as well]

Truck Driver Safety

The FMCSA federal regulations are in place to help keep commercial truck drivers and other motorists on the roads safe by minimizing the high accident risks posed by driving fatigue. The number of hours per day and per week for any truck driver allowed to drive are regulated.

Trucking companies must make sure drivers adhere to these basic rules.

Trucks Changing Lanes

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation When Truck Drivers Work

When people do not get enough sleep, they experience reduced alertness and cognitive impairment. This means that judgment, coordination, and reaction time are affected. This impaired function makes accidents more likely when drivers are tired. Some studies suggest that a lack of sleep can impact driving ability much the same as drinking alcohol does.

Often, truck drivers drive very long distances on tight delivery deadlines. This causes some drivers to push through tiredness and sleep deprivation to get the job done. This is not ideal, and safety needs to be considered first.

Mitigating Driver Fatigue

Due to its seriousness, driver fatigue needs to be addressed and mitigated. When truckers drive, they need to be aware of their personal limitations. They should also adhere to FMCSA and DOT hours of service regulations.

Hours of Service

The hours of service regulations allow for specific truck driver drive time. What’s the longest truck drivers can drive? Truck drivers can drive for a maximum amount of 11 hours per on-duty 14-hour driving window. A truck driver can drive for a maximum of eight hours. The details are applicable as per daily and weekly drive cycles and rest breaks needed.

Truck Driver Falling Asleep

How Many Hours a Truck Driver Should Drive

So, how many hours a day do most truck drivers drive? The FMCSA rules state that on-duty truck drivers should drive for no more than 11 consecutive hours before taking a rest break. This 11-hour driving limit period should take place within a 14-hour driving time window period following a break of at least 10 hours. This 14-hour limit period starts at the beginning of a driving shift.

Taking Breaks

Drivers should take breaks that amount to a total of three hours during this window. This may be time spent having meals, taking a nap, or any other rest activities. For example, if a driver begins a shift at 7 am, they can finish their shift at around 9 pm that night. This is providing they only continue to drive a maximum of 11 hours and take breaks for a total of three hours in between.

Non-driving Duties

A driver may still work extra hours and attend to other non-driving duties such as vehicle maintenance and report writing. They can do so as long as these activities do not take place while still on the roads.

Truck Driver Steering Wheel

How Many Hours of Service Should a Truck Driver Drive Per Week?

The weekly hours of service limits set by FMCSA include a 60/70-hour limit per week to minimize driver fatigue. This takes into account an on-duty work cycle of seven to eight consecutive days.  In other words, a truck driver can drive for a maximum of 60 hours in seven days, or 70 hours within eight days, for a maximum of 11 hours at a stretch. Truckers can drive a maximum 14-hour period with breaks in between.

How many miles can a truck driver in a day?

Depending on job stipulations, truckers may drive 100 to 700 miles daily.

If the above limits are hit, a driver can still work on off-road duties such as unloading and any paperwork. The driver can then begin the cycle again after a rest period from driving.

Drive Time Periods

This hour-driving limit system works on a rolling rather than a blocked time period. So, for example, when a driver who was on an eight-day duty period reaches their ninth day, the hours worked on the first day fall away from the calculation. The second day’s hours will fall away on the 10th day of the cycle, and so on.

Drivers can then start a new seven or eight-day work cycle after taking a rest period of at least 34 hours. Rest hours may be proper off-duty hours, time spent in a sleeper berth, or a combination of these rest options.

Work cycle hours begin at zero after this phase of rest.

Truck Driver Outside of Truck

Required Hours of Rest

According to the official Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines, a truck driver should have a minimum of 30 minutes break for every eight hours straight on duty time driving period. After a weekly driving cycle, drivers should have 34 consecutive hours off duty.

This system takes into account the 11 hours of truck driving limit. Drivers can use the off-duty time to have a meal, sleep, or participate in other leisure activities.

Sleep Requirements

Truckers should aim to sleep for at least eight hours in between major driving stints. Sleeping for less than this time increases the chances of a trucker being involved in an accident. During the 34-hour rest period following a week’s work, truckers need to have taken two segments of sleep before starting to drive again.

Off-duty time rules do not apply to drivers who have qualified to do short-haul drives. We’ll get into these exceptions a bit later in this article.

Who Needs to Comply with the FMCSA Regulations?

Any truck driver who operates a commercial motor vehicle needs to adhere to the hours-of-service or HOS regulations. Commercial motor vehicle types include trucks and tucks that have trailers that are being used for interstate commerce to provide transport solutions.

Vehicles that meet the following criteria qualify as commercial vehicles:

  • A gross combination weight rating or a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more. That is, including trailers and load.
  • Transportation of hazardous materials in amounts that require warning placards.
  • Passenger-carrying drivers also need to adhere to the guidelines. Drivers with nine or more people on board must adhere to the abovementioned regulations.

Truck Driving on Highway

What are the Exceptions to FMCSA Standards?

While FMCSA has strict regulations, there are a few exceptions. There are three main exceptions to the interstate commerce transport rules. These are documented in the guidelines, so drivers making use of the exceptions according to the guidelines will not be penalized for contravening regulations.

Exception for the Non-CDL Short-Haul

A person may be able to lengthen their 14-hour driving window to 16 hours within the non-CDL (commercial driver’s license) clause. If a person qualifies for this, they may operate two 16-hour driving windows within a seven-day working cycle, so long as there is a 34-hour rest period between driving stints. The half-hour break stipulation doesn’t apply in the case of non-CDL exceptions.

Who Qualifies for Non-CDL Short-haul Exceptions

People who qualify include those who do not drive vehicles that require a commercial driving license. These people also need only to drive a maximum of 150 air-mile or 172.6 standard mile radius. They need to be able to return to their place of work and to be able to go home each day.

Non-CDL Short-haul Exception Requirements

Workers who operate within the exception of the non-CDL short-haul do not have to track their miles in a logbook. However, trucking companies should retain records for six months that indicate the following:

  • The time the drivers report for work every day.
  • The total number of on-duty hours.
  • What time does the employee end their driving shift every day?
  • The total time worked over the most recent seven-day work period.

If these details are recorded accurately and regularly, then truckers should have no problem with making use of the non-CDL short-haul clause.

The Adverse Driving Conditions Exception

Road conditions can also dictate exceptions to hours of service limit periods. This is officially called the Adverse Driving Conditions exception. If challenging conditions slow down the drive, a truck driver is allowed to drive for a further two hours over the 11 hours limit to complete a journey. This allowance takes the limit to 13 driving hours per day.

Adverse conditions may be expected or unexpected at the commencement of a journey. Poor conditions include:

  • Heavy rain
  • Snow
  • Fog
  • Significant traffic due to adverse conditions or accidents

Truck drivers should note, however, that this bad weather or adverse conditions exception is in place to allow them more time on the roads to get to a rest stop. If they can take a rest break sooner and avoid 13 hours of service in challenging road conditions, they are expected to do so.

The Adverse Driving Conditions exception does not allow for predictable driving issues such as peak time congestion. Drivers still need to comply with the 14-hour driving window period and half-hour rest break stipulation.

The 16-Hours Short Haul Exception

Drivers who operate mainly from the workplace and who can return home most days should be eligible for the 16-hour short-haul exception. This clause is similar to the non-CDL short-haul exception in that it lengthens the driving window from 14 to 16 hours. The only difference is that drivers can only use this exception once in every seven-day work period.

Much like with the non-CDL short-haul exception, drivers can make use of the 34-hour rest break to be able to employ this exception more frequently. The criteria to qualify for this divergence from the regulations include:

  • The staff member must return to the workplace on the same day as the extended driving window.
  • The worker should also have returned to the place of work each day for five on-duty days before the extended window.
  • The staff member must take time off from duty within 16 hours of the beginning of the extended shift.
  • Truck drivers eligible for the non-CDL short-haul exception do not qualify for the 16-hour short-haul exception.

Providing truckers have enough opportunity to rest between driving shifts, they should be able to make use of the 16-hour short-haul exception.

White Diesel Truck

Contravention of FMSCA Standards: What Happens If You Go Over Your 14-hour Clock?

If people violate the FMSCA hours of service regulations, then they may be penalized. If truckers and companies do not qualify for exceptions, they can expect the following repercussions:

  • A worker may need to stop driving if already on the roads until they have had enough time off to comply with the regulations before starting work again.
  • Workers and companies could get fined by the FMCSA for violations. Fines can range from $1,000 to as much as $11,000 per contravention, depending on how severe each instance is.
  • State and local law enforcement bodies may fine workers and companies over and above FMSCA fines.
  • The safety rating of a company may be dropped if there are many guideline violations within them.
  • Depending on the severity of regulation violations and how they are addressed, workers and companies could even face federal criminal charges.

Drive Time Compliance: Conclusion

Fatigue and deprived sleep are serious and ongoing issues in commercial trucking industries. So, companies and truckers must understand and follow guidelines to help avoid the accidents that can occur if truckers are over-tired.

As you can see, people working in the commercial trucking industry must manage their time carefully, so they are not too tired to work effectively and safely. They must adhere to FMCSA drive time regulations to ensure they do not suffer from fatigue, which can cause serious accidents and potentially loss of life.