Regulations are in place for all commercial truck drivers to ensure they are not being overworked. A tired or worn out trucker is a danger to his or herself and everyone else on the road. The main restrictions on drivers are the hours they can drive and mandatory breaks. These rules are set by the United States Department of Transportation.
The DOT breaks the time a driver is working into work and duty periods. A work period is like a work week, whereas a duty period is like a work day. Because drivers do not always work conventional hours, DOT regulations are based on the actual hours worked and not specific hours during the day. So, for example, a work week could start at 5:00 pm on a Tuesday or 3:00 am on a Saturday and can be different for every trucker.
There is a seven-day work period for truck drivers. Drivers can work seven days in a row but must have a break of at least 34 hours in a row before starting a new seven day work period. To understand this better, consider this schedule:
- Bert ends his seven day work period on Sunday at 6:00 pm. Following the 34 hour rule, his start up time would be 4:00 am on Tuesday.
The work period runs from the start time and date to that date and time the next week. For example:
- If a driver begins the work period at 6:00 am on Sunday, then it ends at 6:00 am the next Sunday.
To begin a new work period, a trucker must have ten hours off work. The total number of hours that can be worked in a work period is 60.
Each duty period lasts 14 hours, which is known as the 14-hour rule. Drivers can drive for up to 11 hours during the duty period. However, after driving for eight hours, the driver must take a break of at least 30 minutes. Breaks of any kind count against the 14 hours duty period time. Here’s an example of a daily schedule that follows this rule:
- Bert starts his work day at 6:00 am.
- Bert takes a 30 minute break after eight hours at 2:00 pm.
- He then drives from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
- He takes another break to eat dinner from 4:00 pm until 5:30 pm.
- Bert only has one more hour that he can drive, so he drives from 5:30 pm until 6:30 pm, at which time he reaches his destination.
- Bert may then work unloading the truck or doing other non-driving duties until 8:00 pm when his 14 hour period is over.
So, the driver can drive for 11 of the 14 hours and do other things for the 3 remaining hours, such as getting fuel or unloading. At the 14 hour limit, though, the driver can no longer drive and must take 10 hours off before starting a new duty period.
As with most things, there are exceptions to the basic rules. If a driver is starting and ending at the same location for a one day assignment, then the driver may work 16 hours. The actually driving time, though, is still limited to 11 hours. If there is a lay-over, then this exception cannot be used. This can only be used once in a period and requires a 34 hour break before it can be used again.
Bad weather can slow a truck down, so this can also cause an exception to be allowed. If road conditions are bad, a driver can take up to two extra driving hours during his or her duty period. The 14-hour duty period limit, though, still stands. This exception can only be taken when the extra driving hours are needed to reach a safe place to stop and get off the road.
If a driver does not comply with DOT rules on breaks and work hours, there are penalties that will be assessed. These include:
- Revocation of driving privileges until a rest break is complete
- Fines at the state and federal levels
- Reduction in carrier’s safety rating
A carrier may face even stiffer penalties at the federal level, especially if it is found to have knowingly made drivers break the law.
It can be tough for drivers to maintain the hour and break requirements, especially when under pressure to get loads to their destinations on time. Many find the 14-hour rule to be especially difficult when break times are included against it.
Because of this, some lawmakers think there is a need for changes in the DOT hours of service. A bill, called the REST Act, is currently being proposed to change the ruling on breaks counting against the 14-hour limit. The act seeks to give drivers up to a three consecutive hour break period that does not count towards their 14 hours. The Act also aims to use this new three hour break to eliminate the 30 minute break requirement.
Regardless of whether changes occur or not, DOT is strict about the hours a trucker can drive. This is to help prevent them from driving when tired or otherwise unable to pay proper attention to the roadway, thus keeping everyone on the road safer.