Recognizing the danger of letting truck drivers go on extended "long haul" drives until they are dangerously exhausted, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) imposed limits on the amount of time a truck driver may legally operate their vehicle before they're required to rest. So what exactly are those "hours of service" rules?
Answer: Hours of service (HOS) rules are federal regulations which establish the maximum number of consecutive hours a commercial driver can legally operate their vehicle.
Before you read any further, please note that we always like to show our work. That usually means we will reference a statute or case law and will then explain what it means. With the hours of service rules, however, there's no good way to shorten the regulations, so we quote them in their entirety below. Please note you can still skip the following and jump straight to our summary below it.
(a) . . .No motor carrier shall permit or require any driver used by it to drive a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle, nor shall any such driver drive a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle, regardless of the number of motor carriers using the driver's services, unless the driver complies with the following requirements:
- Start of work shift. A driver may not drive without first taking 10 consecutive hours off duty;
- 14-hour period. A driver may not drive after a period of 14 consecutive hours after coming on-duty following 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
- Driving time and interruptions of driving periods -
- (i) Driving time. A driver may drive a total of 11 hours during the period specified in paragraph (a)(2) of this section.
- (ii) Interruption of driving time. Except for drivers who qualify for either of the short-haul exceptions in § 395.1(e)(1) or (2), driving is not permitted if more than 8 hours of driving time have passed without at least a consecutive 30-minute interruption in driving status. A consecutive 30-minute interruption of driving status may be satisfied either by off-duty, sleeper berth or on-duty not driving time or by a combination of off-duty, sleeper berth and on-duty not driving time.
(b) No motor carrier shall permit or require a driver of a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle to drive, nor shall any driver drive a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle, regardless of the number of motor carriers using the driver's services, for any period after -
- Having been on duty 60 hours in any period of 7 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier does not operate commercial motor vehicles every day of the week; or
- Having been on duty 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier operates commercial motor vehicles every day of the week.
49 CFR § 395.3
- Any period of 7 consecutive days may end with the beginning of an off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours.
- Any period of 8 consecutive days may end with the beginning of an off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours.
The official wording on this topic is a bit of a mouthful, so here's a condensed version:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit: Within a 24-hour period a truck driver may not drive more than 11 hours total. A driving shift must be preceded by a break of no less than 10 consecutive hours, and the driver must interrupt driving with a 30-minute break after no more than 8 hours.
- 14-Hour On-Duty Limit: Drivers may only be actively "on-duty" for no more than 14 hours a day. "On duty" relates not just to driving but also to sitting in traffic, loading/unloading, breaks, and other job-related tasks.
- 60/70-Hour Limit: Drivers who reach 60 hours of drive time in 7 days or 70 hours' drive time in 8 days (depending on how their company operates) must take a 34-hour break.
How is HOS Compliance Monitored?
Federal law has required truckers to log their service hours since 1937, but at the time and for the next several decades the government largely expected drivers to use the "honor system" and accurately maintain paper records. Widespread abuse occurred as drivers fudged their numbers or kept more than one logbook; moreover, some trucking companies were found to encourage and incentivize that behavior—and to punish honest drivers who didn't play ball.
Despite their shortcomings, paper logbooks were the standard until electronic logging devices (ELDs) were developed for commercial trucks. The devices haven't completely eliminated cheating but drastically reduce its frequency, and in recent years the FMCSA made electronic logging mandatory. Even with tighter monitoring of their service hours, though, some drivers take risks and stay on the road beyond their limits.
Why Does This Matter to Truck Accident Victims?
The unfortunate fact is that truck drivers are under pressure to complete routes and drop off or pick up freight within tight timeframes. Moreover, the tedium and solitude common to long-haul trucking can turn a long haul into a battle with fatigue. To meet deadlines and get home to their families sooner some drivers spend longer at the wheel than they realistically should, increasing the possibility of an accident.
When a fatigued driver causes a crash after violating hours of service, getting their service logs and ELD records is an important step in the ensuing investigation. Proving the driver was negligent is crucial in ensuring they and their employer are held accountable to innocent victims and their families, and an experienced attorney's help can be invaluable.
If you or a loved one were injured in an accident with a negligent truck driver anywhere in the U.S., the Texas truck accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices may be able to help. Call today for a free consultation.