The ultimate hours of service guide for responsible fleet managers

The ultimate Hours of Service guide for responsible fleet managers


Here’s a scary thought: roughly one in five collisions involving a commercial vehicle is caused by driver fatigue. The problem is all the greater when you factor in that the vehicles involved are typically larger (e.g. trucks or buses), which means the consequences are often direr than when a typical private car is involved.


To minimize the number of such accidents and save priceless human lives, governments around the world are constantly devising and improving ways to stop fatigued drivers from being on the road. 


One of these ways is the Hours of Service of Drivers regulations, issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is part of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT).


In this post we’ll help you get up to speed on everything you need to know about this topic, so if you read one post on the topic, make sure it’s this one.


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Driver fatigue can cause fatal accidents (Source:


What are Hours of Service, anyway?


Hours of Service (HOS) is a term used for the maximum number of hours a commercial driver can spend driving and working each day, week, or another period.


The HOS regulations, as detailed in Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, determine this number for different circumstances, as well as mandatory break times and duty shifts. 


It also requires that drivers keep their Record of Duty Status (RODS), so they can show it to the inspectors from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).


A crash course in Hours of Service history


The earliest HOS rules can be traced back to the 1930s when they were conceived with an aim to bring some order into the emerging commercial trucking industry, as well as to protect drivers from being overworked.

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Under these initial Hours of Service rules, commercial drivers could drive a maximum of 12 hours within a period of 15 hours, and they were supposed to have at least 9 hours of off-duty rest and 3 hours of breaks during a 24-hour day. A driver also wasn’t allowed to be on duty for more than 60 hours over 7 consecutive days.


A few years after the regulation saw the light of day, drivers petitioned for an 8-hour daily and 48-hour weekly limit but without much success. However, this did spark a debate on limiting the HOS in the interest of public safety.


Based on the drivers’ feedback, growth of highway traffic and the resulting safety risks, as well as the scientific research on exhaustion and driving, the rules went through several changes and adjustments over the years, before they assumed the shape we can observe nowadays.


So what exactly do the Hours of Service rules entail?


Today, the rules are more inclusive than in the past and also reflect the differences in the type of cargo being transported – property or people. Let’s take a closer look:


11-Hour Driving Limit (Property) or 10-Hour Driving Limit (Passenger)


This rule prevents property-carrying drivers from driving more than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. The rule is slightly different where passenger-carrying drivers are concerned – allowing them to drive no more than 10 hours after an 8-hour off-duty period.


Let’s say your driver has had 10 consecutive hours off, has come to work at 6 AM, and driven between 7 AM and 2 PM. They take a 30-minute rest and then drive for another 4 hours until 6:30 PM. They aren’t allowed to drive again until they have a minimum of 10 straight hours off duty. They may do other work assignments after 6:30 PM, as long as they’re not driving.


14-Hour Driving Window (Property) or 15-Hour On-Duty Limit (Passenger)


According to this rule, property-carrying drivers aren’t allowed to drive after being on duty for 14 hours (following 10 consecutive hours off duty). As for the passenger-carrying drivers, they may not drive beyond the 15th consecutive hour mark after coming on duty (following 8 straight hours off duty). Off-duty time isn’t included in either the 14-hour or the 15-hour period.


Say your driver has had 10 continuous hours off-duty and has come to work at 6 AM. They can’t drive their truck after 8 PM that same day (i.e. 14 hours later). They may conduct other work duties after 8 PM but they can’t include driving until they have had a minimum of another 10 consecutive hours off duty.


30-Minute Break (Property)


Under this provision, drivers are required to take a 30-minute break when they have spent 8 cumulative hours driving without having at least 30 minutes of rest. The rest breaks may include any non-driving period, be it off-duty, on-duty without driving, meal breaks, spending time in the sleeper berth, or even a combination of these.


For instance, if your driver has come to work and started driving immediately, they could drive for 8 straight hours, take a 30-minute rest, and then drive for another 3 hours (for a total of 11 hours of driving).


Sleeper Berth Provision


A sleeper berth is a special accommodation area in the vehicle where the driver can rest while on the road. It can include a bed or reclining seat and its size and location are typically regulated by law.

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Under the sleeper berth provision, property-carrying drivers are allowed to split their mandated 10-hour off-duty period into two periods – one being at least 2 hours and the other at least 7 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth. These periods are excluded from the 14-hour driving window.


Drivers carrying passengers have to spend at least 8 hours in the sleeper berth and can split this time into two periods neither of which can be less than 2 hours. In both cases (property and passengers), the pairings are mandated to add up to at least 10 hours.


As an example, let’s observe a 24-hour day of one commercial truck driver: 


They came to work at 7 AM, began driving at 10 AM, and then went in their sleeper berth at 2 PM, resuming driving at 10 PM. Those 8 hours do not count as part of the 14-hour driving window, which means only 7 hours of the 14-hour on-duty window have been used and the driving limit is extended to 5 AM the next morning. Having driven only 4 hours and with 7 hours of driving time still available, the driver can now drive from 10 PM until 5 AM and take a second rest period at 5 AM until 7 AM, going off duty for 2 hours.


60/70-Hour Limit


Regardless of the type of cargo, drivers aren’t allowed to drive after 60 hours on duty in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours on duty in 8 consecutive days. In the case of drivers carrying property, the 7/8 consecutive period may be restarted after the driver has taken at least 34 or more straight hours off duty or in a sleeper berth.


So if a driver operating under the 70-hour/8-day rule has accrued 67 hours on-duty hours within an 8-day period, they are acting in accordance with the limit. However, once they reach the 70th hour, they can’t continue driving until they have had enough hours off-duty time. If your business allows the 34-hour restart option, then this driver can continue driving immediately after 34 straight off-duty hours.


Are there any exceptions?


Like many other rules and regulations, the Hours of Service rules have exceptions. These include:


Adverse Driving Conditions Exception


If unexpected unfavorable driving conditions like bad weather or roadblocks are present, drivers carrying property can extend the 11-hour driving limit and the 14-hour driving window by a maximum of 2 hours. The same exception pertains to passenger-carrying drivers, who can also extend their 10-hour driving limit and 15-hour on-duty limit by 2 hours in adverse driving conditions.


Short-Haul Exception


If your driver operates within a 150 air-mile radius of their work reporting location and doesn’t exceed a maximum duty period of 14 hours, they don’t have to adhere to parts 395.8 and 395.11 of the HOS regulations. For example, they don’t have to take 30-minute rest breaks. 


However, they’re expected to stay within a 150 air-mile radius of the reporting location, as well as report and return to their work reporting location within 14 consecutive hours.


Do the Hours of Service regulations apply to you?


The rules listed above apply to most Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) operators on the territory of the United States, regardless of whether they’re US-based or an international operator. A CMV is considered a vehicle that meets any of these conditions:


  • weighs 10,001 pounds or more (along with any load)
  • has a gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight of a minimum of 10,001 pounds
  • transports hazardous materials in a quantity that requires a hazmat placard
  • transports 9 or more people, including the driver, for compensation
  • transports 16 or more people, including the driver, with no compensation


Interstate commerce vs. intrastate commerce


Commercial operators carrying their cargo across state borders adhere to the federal HOS. Those that operate within one state’s borders are subject to each state’s own hours of service regulations


Vehicles transporting large amounts of hazmat are the exception, though. They have to adhere to the federal HOS at all times, regardless of whether they operate across or inside state borders.


Personal use


If your business’ vehicles can be used for non-commerce purposes but rather for personal activities like moving one’s belongings, then the federal HOS don’t apply for the duration of these activities.


Who makes sure the Hours of Service rules are respected?


Operators’ performance and adherence to highway safety rules are assessed by the FMCSA through its Safety Measurement System (SMS). This system is based on the data-driven Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program and includes monitoring the compliance with the HOS rules. The DOT officers can inspect your driver’s logs to check for how long they have been driving.


You better not break the HOS rules or…


Any observed violations of the HOS regulations are considered a serious threat to public safety, which is why there are various penalties for sanctioning the drivers and carriers involved in them. Depending on the severity of the HOS violations, penalties for failure to comply with the HOS rules range from:


  • placing the driver out of service until they have accrued the required off-duty hours
  • fine payments
  • civil penalties ranging from $1,000 to $75,000 per violation
  • downgrading the operator’s safety score
  • placing the carrier out of service
  • criminal charges and penalties


Any of these will reflect poorly on your business and you as the person directly in charge of your business’s vehicles and drivers. They will put a dent in your business’ reputation among potential customers as parts of the CSA safety assessments are available to the wider public.


What can you do to stay compliant with Hours of Service and avoid penalties?


The best way for your drivers to keep proper RODS and make sure they adhere to the Hours of Service regulations is through the use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)


An ELD is a form of an automatic digital HOS recording device, the use of which is detailed in the ELD Mandate. It lays out the technical requirements for these types of devices, as well as a two-stage compliance timeline for making the switch from the obsolete Automatic On-Board Recording Devices (AOBRDs), various logging software, and paper logs, to ELDs.


Safe Drive Systems incorporates ELD data into a unique and comprehensive fleet management platform that includes:


  • ELD
  • Telematics
  • AI cloud data
  • real-time dash camera
  • a radar-based collision prevention system


Working together, all these different parts provide complete data-driven, real-time insights into your fleet that you won’t get with any other fleet management service. This will not only allow you to ensure compliance with the regulations on Hours of Service but so much more, including monitoring your vehicles’ movements and fuel consumption, observing your drivers’ behavior, and effectively preventing collisions.


Ready to take advantage of this wealth of information for your fleet’s benefit? You’ve arrived at the right place. Simply book a free consultation and one of our advisors will be happy to recommend an ideal solution for your business.

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