A Fleet Manager’s Guide: How Many Hours Can A Truck Driver Drive?

April 28, 2020

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In this article, we’ll help you understand how driving limits apply to your particular fleet by answering a series of commonly asked questions about how many hours a truck driver can actually drive. We’ll also show you how you can leverage your ELD solution to easily abide by these driving and on-duty limits.

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As a fleet manager, one of your top priorities is probably the safety of your drivers — and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is right there with you. The FMCSA created their Hours of Service (HOS) regulations to protect the safety of truck drivers and others on the road. But despite the clear intent of these regulations, navigating exactly what the rules are and how they apply to your fleet can be tricky. It can be especially difficult to understand the driving time limits your fleet must adhere to, as driving limits depend on a multitude of factors from the type of carrier you are to how often your drivers work per week. 

In this article, we’ll help you understand how driving limits apply to your particular fleet by answering a series of commonly asked questions about how many hours a truck driver can actually drive. We’ll also show you how you can leverage your ELD solution to easily abide by these driving and on-duty limits.

Why did the FMCSA create driving limits in the first place?

The FMCSA established driver hour limits as part of their HOS regulations to minimize driver fatigue in the trucking industry. Driver fatigue impacts alertness and can prevent drivers from focusing on the road and the task at hand. It can also reduce reaction times to severe or changing road conditions and other drivers’ behavior—like if the vehicle in front suddenly slams on the brakes. In the United States, driver fatigue has been responsible for up to 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and nearly 800 fatalities every year. 

The purpose behind establishing HOS regulations was to curb the negative impacts of driver fatigue and sleep deprivation. The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate was enacted as part of HOS rules to help the FMCSA ensure compliance with these regulations while making it easier for carriers to log and track drivers’ hours. Not only have ELD regulations helped improve safety, but they’ve also allowed companies to improve their efficiency. In fact, trucking companies who have used Samsara’s ELD solution have saved up to 20 hours per week in backoffice overhead by eliminating manual logs and paper timecards.

Do I have to comply with hour limits? 

The only carriers required to comply with HOS limits are those that operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). According to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) regulations, a CMV is any vehicle that:

  • Is used as part of a business

  • Is involved in interstate commerce

And fits any one of the following descriptions: 

  • Weighs at least 10,001 pounds or has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of at least 10,001 pounds 

  • Is designed or used to transport nine or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation

  • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation 

  • Transports a quantity of hazardous materials that requires a placard 

If you operate a fleet that uses any amount of CMVs in your operations, you are required to comply with the truck driver hour limits outlined by the FMCSA. 

Are there different driving limits for different types of carriers?

Yes, there are different hour limits depending on the type of carrier you are. But first things first, it’s helpful to understand how the HOS rules separate and categorize carriers. According to the DOT and FMCSA, there are two types of carriers: property carriers and passenger carriers. 

You might think that if your fleet is made up of trucks you’re a property carrier, or if you’re mostly operating buses you’re a passenger carrier—but the regulations are a little more nuanced than that. Property-carrying vehicles are any CMV combination used to carry property, like food, packages, or other goods and products. This doesn’t refer to what’s in the cab of the vehicle, but rather what is in the trailer or semi-trailer attached to the tractor. For single unit trucks, like pick-ups or vans, this would refer to what’s in the bed or property-carrying section of the vehicle. 

Passenger-carrying vehicles are any CMV that is used to transport passengers to and from locations. As a reminder, according to the definition of CMVs, these would be any vehicles used to carry nine or more people (including the driver) for compensation or 16 or more passengers (including the driver) for no compensation. 

Driving limits for property-carrying vehicles 

There are two primary hour limits for property-carrying vehicles: the 14-hour limit and the 60/70 hour limit. These rules mainly limit the number of hours drivers can be on-duty, but they also outline how many of those on-duty hours drivers can actually spend driving. 

The 14-hour limit

Think of this rule as a driver’s daily on-duty limit. Under this HOS rule, drivers cannot be on duty for more than 14 hours each day and cannot drive for more than 11 of those hours. Drivers can perform other work during their 14 hour duty limit, but only 11 hours can be spent in driving time. It’s important to note that before coming on duty, drivers must have had 10 consecutive hours off duty. Also, drivers may not drive all of their 11 hours consecutively. Drivers can only drive up to eight hours consecutively. After hitting eight hours of driving time, they must take at least one 30 minute rest break before getting back behind the wheel.

The 60/70 hour limit

This regulation states that drivers that work over a period of seven consecutive days can only be on duty for a maximum of 60 hours, while drivers that work over eight consecutive days can only be on duty for a maximum of 70 hours. The 60/70 hour limit can be a bit of a confusing regulation, so it’s helpful to think of this rule as a driver’s “rolling” driving limit. “Rolling” means these hours aren’t based off of the actual days of the week, rather they’re based off an ongoing (or “rolling”) seven or eight day period. For example, if you have a driver that starts a new shift on Tuesday, their seven or eight day duty period would end on the following Tuesday or Wednesday—not at the end of the week on Friday. 

Under the Hours of Service rules, trucking companies that don’t operate trucks every day must follow the 60 hour/seven day limit. Truckers that operate vehicles every day can follow either rule. 

It’s important to note that while drivers can be on duty for 60 or 70 hours over seven or eight days, they must still comply with the daily 14 hour rule: 

  • They cannot be on duty for more than 14 hours a day. 

  • And, they cannot drive more than 11 hours a day. 

This means that if your drivers are working a full 14 hours each day, they may reach their 60/70 hour limit before their seventh or eight day on duty. (For example, if a driver works 14 hours five days in a row, they’ll already hit their 70 hour/eight day max.) They will not be able to drive again until their hours on duty drop below 70 hours worked over eight days. But there is a quick way drivers can reset their clocks and get back to work: the 34-hour restart—more on that later. 

Driving limits for passenger-carrying vehicles 

The rules themselves are mostly the same for passenger-carrying vehicles, but the daily number of hours are slightly different. Passenger-carrying drivers have a max on-duty limit of 15 hours per day and a driving limit of 10 hours per day, but only after they’ve taken at least eight consecutive hours off duty. This differs from property-carrying drivers who can be on duty for 14 hours and drive for 11 of those hours, but only after a 10 hour break. But just like property-carrying drivers, passenger-carriers can only drive for eight hours straight before they’re required to take a 30 minute break. 

When it comes to “rolling” on-duty limits, passenger-carrying vehicles are still required to comply with the same 60 hour or 70 hour limits as property-carrying vehicles. But within those 60 hours/seven days and 70 hours/eight days, they can only be on duty for 15 hours per day and can only drive for ten of those hours. 

How can drivers reset their driving limit?

Depending on your driver’s schedules, there are two main ways they can reset their on-duty time and driving times. For drivers who don’t work a consecutive seven or eight day shift, they can reset their daily clocks by taking either an eight hour (for passenger-carriers) or 10 hour (for property-carriers) break. After taking these breaks, drivers can work their max number of daily on-duty and driving hours. 

For drivers that work 60/70 hour schedules and find themselves running low on time, the fastest way to reset their clocks is through the 34-hour restart. The 34-hour restart is an optional break the FMCSA has created that allows drivers to reset their driving and on-duty limits by taking a consecutive 34-hour break. There are no limits to how often a driver can use a 34-hour reset or where they can take it—including in their sleeper berth. You can read more about the 34-hour reset here. 

Are there any exceptions to driving limits?

Yes, under the FMCSA’s HOS regulations there are two scenarios where drivers are permitted to be on-duty or drive more than their limits:

  • Adverse driving conditions: The FMCSA defines adverse conditions as snow, sleet, fog, or other poor weather that impacts road conditions that wasn’t apparent when the driver was initially dispatched. So if a driver starts their shift in snow, that wouldn’t be considered adverse conditions. But if they’re dispatched with the sun shining and mid-way through their drive hail hits and the roads become icy, that would be considered adverse conditions. If road conditions are adverse, drivers are allowed to drive past their normal limits until they either reach a safe location or their intended stop. However, drivers may not drive more than two extra hours beyond their driving limit. 

  • The 16-hour exception: Short-haul drivers are truckers that travel within a 150-mile radius of their home terminal. Short-haul drivers who start and end their shifts in the same terminal can take advantage of this exception. This exception allows short-haul drivers to extend one of the days of their seven or eight day workweek by two hours. Drivers who choose to use the 16-hour exception are still limited to the daily driving limit of ten or eleven hours—depending on the type of carrier—but they can perform other work like yard moves, loading, or inspections after maxing out their daily driving time. 

What are the penalties for going over trucking hour limits?

The regulations may seem difficult to navigate and implement, but the consequences for not complying can be even more unpleasant. Not complying with the Department of Transportation’s on-duty and driving limits can result in: 

  • Drivers being put on roadside shutdown until they have enough off-duty time to drive again

  • Fines from local and state law enforcement

  • FMCSA civil penalties for either yourself or your drivers, which can range from $1,000 to $11,000

  • Potential reduction in your safety rating if you’re found to have multiple violations

  • Federal criminal penalties if you or your drivers are found to be willfully allowing or requiring violations

The good news is compliance with these HOS driving and on-duty regulations can be easily achieved through your ELD solution so you can avoid these violations altogether. 

How can I ensure compliance with on-duty and driving limits?

While ELDs are now a requirement for all CMV fleets, not every ELD platform is created equal. Beyond just accurately tracking and logging your drivers’ hours of service, it’s important that your ELD solution clearly highlights violations and unassigned hours so you can take action to avoid penalties. 

Samsara’s ELD solution provides fleets with a single, consolidated view into all HOS data across their entire operation. Through our Compliance Dashboardyou’ll get complete visibility into  violations, unidentified driving, and unassigned hours so you can take quick corrective action. You can easily track trends and monitor compliance performance over time, making it simple to prepare for audits and inspections. In fact, customers, like Swire Coca-Cola have been able to reduce HOS violations by up to 70% with Samsara’s ELD solution. 

The Samsara Compliance Dashboard is just one part of our complete fleet management platform that ensures safety, efficiency, compliance across your whole operation. Schedule a demo or free trial today to see how Samsara can help you ensure HOS compliance and streamline your fleet. 

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