DOT Hours of Service: An Unavoidable Reality of Transportation Operations

By Scott Balthaser | September 5, 2023

If you run a commercial trucking operation, you can’t ignore driver hours of service (HOS) rules—and you probably don’t want to.

Although the regulations are complex and cumbersome, their purpose—”to help ensure that drivers stay awake and alert” and, consequently, prevent accidents and save lives—is commendable. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), truck-involved crashes killed 4,965 people and injured another 146,930 in 2020.

Recordkeeping requirements, electronic tracking, and frequent inspections ensure that regulators identify and punish HOS violations, so compliance is about more than safety—it’s essential to staying in business.

This blog covers the history of hours of service rules, what the rules entail, the consequences of violations, and the benefits of scheduling your fleet with Syntelic’s Route Planning software.

The History of DOT Rules for Hours of Service

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees the nation’s transportation system—from seaborne shipping to railroads, airplanes, and everything in between.

The first hours of service rules for truckers were established by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1937, but when Congress did away with the ICC in 1995, driver hours fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Operating under the DOT, the FMCSA is “responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).” To carry out this task, the FMCSA issues regulations for passenger and freight trucking companies and their drivers.

The FMCSA hours of service rules—codified in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 49, Part 395—were left unchanged between 1962 and 2003. Since 2003, the FMCSA has updated the rules several times “to provide greater flexibility for drivers subject to those rules without adversely affecting safety.

In 2016, the FMCSA updated the hours of service rules to require trucking companies to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) on all vehicles to track driver on-duty hours. Unless drivers qualify for exemptions from the ELD rule, they no longer track their hours of service using paper records. The FMCSA’s purpose in making this change was to “improve compliance with the HOS rules” by shifting from paper-based HOS records to electronic ones.

The most recent changes to the DOT hours of service regulations took effect on September 29, 2020. The current regulations are summarized below.

FMCSA Hours of Service Rules

Although the FMCSA hours of service regulations are lengthy and include several exemptions, we can summarize them in eight fairly simple rules:

  1. The 11-hour rule: After taking 10 consecutive hours off, a trucker can drive for up to 11 hours.
  2. The 10-hour rule: All of a trucker’s driving (up to 11 hours) after taking 10 consecutive hours off must be completed within 14 hours after coming on duty.
  3. The 14-hour rule: After driving for 11 hours and/or reaching 14 hours after coming on duty, a driver must go off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours.
  4. The 8-hour rule: After driving for a cumulative total of eight hours, a trucker must take a break from driving for at least 30 minutes. The break can include on- or off-duty time as long as it doesn’t include driving.
  5. The 60-hour/70-hour rule: A trucker cannot drive more than 60 hours in seven days or more than 70 hours in eight days. A driver restarts the seven- or eight-day period by taking 34 consecutive hours off.
  6. The adverse driving conditions rule: In poor driving conditions, truckers can add up to two hours to the 11- and 14-hour limits on driving time. “Adverse driving conditions” include things like inclement weather or roads blocked due to accidents—not daily, rush-hour traffic.
  7. The sleeper berth rule: A trucker can split their 10 consecutive hours off each day between time spent in a sleeper berth (at least seven consecutive hours) and time spent outside the sleeper berth (at least two consecutive hours).
  8. The short-haul exemption: Drivers who report to a regular work location each day and do not drive beyond a 150 air-mile radius around their reporting location are exempt from using an ELD to record their HOS (CFR Title 49 Section 395.8) and certain recordkeeping requirements (CFR Title 49 Section 395.11).
FMCSA Hours of Service Rules
Driving Limits Mandatory Breaks Special Conditions
No more than 11 hours of driving each day 30 minutes off after 8 hours of driving Extend the 11- and/or 14-hour limits by 2 hours for “adverse driving conditions.”
No driving beyond 14 hours after coming on duty 10 hours off once each day Split the 10-hour break between time in and out of a sleeper berth.
No more than 60/70 hours of driving each 7/8 days 34 hours off once each 7- or 8-day period Exemption from ELD and some recordkeeping rules for short-haul drivers.

Penalties for HOS Violations

DOT regulations for driver hours are rules with teeth—the FMCSA has the power to levy stiff fines to both drivers and their employers for HOS violations.

CFR Title 49, Part 386, Appendix B spells out the fines for violations of all FMCSA regulations. The following penalties apply to drivers and/or companies cited for HOS violations:

In 2022, the third-most-common driver violation at FMCSA roadside inspections was “False report of driver’s record of duty status” (5.55% of all violations). Nearly two-thirds of these violations resulted in driver out-of-service orders.

If you want to keep your trucks on the road and revenue coming in, hours of service rules are clearly something you can’t ignore.

DOT Hours of Service and CSA Scores

The FMCSA tracks seven categories of data under its Safety Measurement System (SMS) and compiles the data into a Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) rating for every commercial motor vehicle carrier. Hours-of-service compliance is one of these seven important metrics.

The FMCSA uses the CSA program to target transportation companies for interventions, such as:

  • Warning letters
  • Roadside inspections
  • On- and off-site safety investigations
  • Civil penalties
  • Operation Out of Service Orders (OOSOs)—shut-down orders

Carrier CSA scores are publicly available on the FMCSA website, so a company’s score affects its reputation and its relationship with the FMCSA.

FMCSA Resources for HOS Compliance

Software like Syntelic’s Route Planning help trucking companies comply with HOS rules, but your operation may also benefit from FMCSA resources that help employers and drivers understand the regulations.

The Educational Tool for Hours of Service (ETHOS) website takes driver duty status as input and outputs potential violations of four of the primary HOS rules. Enter an actual or hypothetical duty log to learn how to spot violations in various scenarios.

FMCSA guidance documents, such as the Interstate Truck Driver’s Guide to Hours of Service or the Hours of Service Examples, can also help carriers and their employees learn the nuances of the FMCSA hours of service.

Syntelic Route Planning: Simplifying DOT Hours of Service Compliance

If you want to keep your transportation logistics operation profitable, efficiency is a paramount concern. If you run a trucking business, planning optimal routes for your drivers is an obvious point of focus in maximizing efficiency.

But hours of service requirements can easily throw a wrench into the works. For example, suppose a planned route can be completed on time if the driver leaves by 6 a.m. But the route is inadvertently assigned to a driver whose 10-hour off-duty period doesn’t end until 8 a.m. Unless you can reshuffle the drivers, the deliveries on that route are late before the driver even starts.

On-board diagnostics (OBD) companies may be able to tell you when your drivers’ logs aren’t in compliance with HOS rules, but they can’t solve your scheduling problem. Syntelic’s Route Planning software simplifies the process of driver scheduling because we’ve built the DOT hours of service requirements into the application.

Sure, the flexible reporting in Syntelic’s Transportation Analytics lets you keep tabs on errors in driver logs and potential HOS violations. But the dispatch scheduling module in Route Planning also automatically prevents you from assigning a driver whose 10-hour off-duty period ends at 8 a.m. for a 6 a.m. shift—in fact, that driver wouldn’t even show up as a possible assignee for that route.

You can use the resource planner in Route Planning to:

  • Track driver HOS
  • Avoid HOS conflicts and violations
  • Track driver leave time—personal days, sick days, vacation time, etc.

Syntelic’s three applications allow you to optimize your transportation operation:

  1. Route Planning: Dynamically optimize routes and driver assignments, taking HOS rules into account.
  2. Load Planning: Optimize loads for the best use of available trailer space, efficient loading and unloading, and spot-on weight distribution.
  3. Transportation Analytics: Optimize fleet utilization, calculate customized driver scorecards, and gain big-picture insights into your overall operations.

When you choose Syntelic software for your trucking company, we tailor the software to meet your requirements. Contact us today to start the conversation about your company’s unique needs.

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