Long-haul truck drivers are a critical part of the booming global supply chain. The drivers themselves bear the responsibility of keeping themselves, their cargo, and others on the road safe, all while meeting increasingly short delivery deadlines. This pressure to get from point A to B faster, maximizing both fleet earnings and driver incomes, can make it tempting to cut down truck driver rest times. However, there are strict regulations in place to help ensure drivers get proper rest before getting behind the wheel.
If you’re wondering “how long can a truck driver drive?", we answer that question in this article and explain why this regulation is so important.
How many hours a day can a trucker legally drive?
The Hours of Service (HOS) regulations are created and enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency under the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates the trucking industry.
The HOS rules specify how long truckers can drive in a day. Currently, the driving limit is set at 11 hours for every 14-hour window. We’ll get into more detail on these driving limits later.
Why are these driving limits in place? Because truck driver fatigue can lower reaction times and lead to a higher risk of collisions. In fact, drowsy driving has been proven to have the same effects as drunk driving, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Also, data shows that “late response,” which can also be correlated with fatigue, was the trucking industry’s most prevalent risky driving behavior in 2019. In other words, knowing how many hours can a truck driver drive is critical to ensuring fleet and driver safety.
Do I have to comply with these regulations?
Generally, yes. As long as you drive a commercial motor vehicle and have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), the number of hours you drive per day must fall within the mandated time frame.
Under the HOS rules, a commercial motor vehicle is a truck that’s used for supporting business activities, like picking up and delivering goods, and has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of at least 10,000 lbs. For reference, a semi-truck hooked up to an empty trailer weighs around 35,000 lbs.
If you’re driving the truck for personal use (during rest hours, for example), HOS regulations may not apply to you.
The FMCSA also draws a distinction between interstate or intrastate deliveries. The HOS rules only apply to interstate deliveries (e.g., deliveries between states). However, most states have their own limits for commercial vehicle and semi-truck driver hours that are similar to the federal HOS regulations by the FMCSA.
Driving limits for different types of carriers
How many hours a day can a truck driver drive? What about per week? In many cases, it’s not as straightforward as simply remembering the 11-hour limit. Below, we give more detail about the HOS rules and how they require drivers to follow three kinds of hourly limits at all times.
The 11-Hour Driving Limit
As we previously explained, the 11-hour driving limit says drivers can only drive for a maximum of 11 hours within a 14-hour driving window. What about how long you can drive before taking a break? Drivers can complete 8 hours of consecutive driving before being required to rest for 30 minutes.
The 14-Hour Driving Window
Next is the aforementioned 14-hour driving window. This specifies that you have a maximum time frame of 14 hours to drive your truck, but only if you have rested for a minimum of 10 consecutive hours beforehand. Once you’ve reached the 14-hour limit, you need to take a 10-hour rest, regardless if you’ve logged 11 hours of driving or not.
The 60/70 Hour Duty Limit
Lastly, there’s the “60/70 Hour Duty Limit”, which regulates how many hours a CDL driver can drive in a week. You can only drive a maximum of either 60 hours every seven days or 70 hours in eight days. After that, you need to take a 34-hour break to reset your seven or eight-day limit.
Exceptions to driving limits
The FMCSA has outlined certain situations that warrant an exception to the rules. The first is when the driver is starting and finishing their shift at the same location. In this case, the 14-hour driving window is extended to 16 hours. Note, however, that the driver still needs to drive a total of 11 hours.
Another exception is when road or weather conditions are bad enough that the driver needs extra time to reach a safe place to stop. If that happens, drivers can take two extra hours on top of the 11-hour limit, although the driving window is still limited to 14 hours.
In 2020, the FMCSA issued an emergency declaration stating that HOS rules were relaxed due to COVID-19. Truck drivers were permitted to work longer hours to ensure timely deliveries of medical supplies, food, and other essential goods (like toilet paper). Learn more about HOS exemptions under COVID-19.
Penalties for breaking HOS rules
The FMCSA takes its HOS rules very seriously and there are consequences when the rules about how many hours a truck driver can drive are broken. These consequences include fines and fees that must be paid to the federal and state authorities. Your CDL can also be revoked.
The carriers themselves are not immune from penalties, especially if negligence or complicity is proven. This can raise your CSA rating, which can prohibit you from operating if your score increases to certain levels.
HOS management services
The most effective way to accurately manage driver hours and ensure HOS compliance is to implement a fleet management system like Lytx. Our advanced HOS tools collect all of your driver logs and supporting documents, in any format, and submit them to an online system that helps you identify compliance risk. You can manage files at the corporate, regional, or driver level from one simple dashboard, and then address issues proactively to head off violations or fines. Documents are stored and tracked for the required six months, providing you with a single, online source of truth for driver HOS compliance.
Contact us today if you’d like to learn more about how we can help your company improve operational efficiencies and manage your fleet.