Understanding DOT Driving Hours
Many people drive a vehicle every week, if not every day. It’s an activity that’s functional and gets passengers where they need to be. But for property-carrying and passenger-carrying drivers, this venture is a means to receive a paycheck. For truck drivers, there’s an extra layer of responsibility that comes with getting behind the wheel, making it necessary for rules and regulations to dictate daily driving habits and tasks.
According to the American Trucking Association, about 3.36 million people are employed as truck drivers, and those drivers move roughly 72.5% of the nation’s freight weight. With that knowledge, it’s vital these professional drivers are aware of the Department of Transportation (DOT) driving hour limits and regulations — both for their safety and the protection of everyone on the road.
Continue reading to learn more about DOT driving hours and how these rules benefit truck drivers all over the nation.
What are DOT Driving Hours?
To ensure all drivers are taking proper care of themselves as well as the necessary safety precautions, the DOT created hours of service guidelines. The rules came into effect in the 1930s as a combination of labor and economic regulation intended to bring some stability to the trucking industry and protect workers from overly demanding employers. These laws have changed over the years to enhance the safety of this high-intensity occupation even further.
These rules are split into two different categories: property-carrying drivers and passenger-carrying drivers. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, under the DOT, these are the important driving hours of service all professional drivers are legally required to follow.
A property-carrying driver is defined as any part of a commercial motor vehicle combination used to transport property, including a trailer, semi-trailer or the property-carrying section of a single unit truck. Under the property-carrying ruleset, truck drivers must follow several vital limits:
Property-carrying drivers may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period. For example, if a driver drives eight hours, takes a one-hour break for lunch, then drives another two hours followed by an additional three hours of off-duty time, that driver has hit their 14-hour limit and must take a long break.
11-Hour Driving Limit
During the 14-hour on-duty shift, a truck driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
The 70-hour in eight days rule (60 hours in seven days) is the total time spent driving and on duty, which cannot exceed 70 hours in any eight-day period. Whether operators work seven or eight-day work weeks, they cannot exceed that maximum amount of driving without taking a 34-hour off-duty restart time.
Sleeper Berth Provision
Drivers may split their required 10-hour off-duty period, as long as one off-duty period is at least two hours long and the other involves at least seven consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth — the compartment of a truck’s cab which generally contains a bed, desk, TV and refrigerator.
Rest time is a required break for any driver after a certain number of hours driven. For example, if a property-carrier drives for eight consecutive hours, they are required to take a 30-minute break.
Adverse Driving Conditions
Drivers are allowed to extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to two hours only when adverse or dangerous driving conditions are encountered.
For drivers who are operating within a 150 air-mile radius of the normal work reporting location (and if the driver does not exceed a maximum duty period of 14 hours), they are exempt from the above requirements. These drivers must report to their work location within 14 hours, or this service rule isn’t applicable.
Passenger-carrying drivers are operators of motor vehicles that are constructed solely for the carriage of passengers and not drawing a trailer. Regulations for this style of driving are similar to that of property-carrying, but there are a few notable differences:
Drivers may not drive after having been on duty for 15 hours, following eight consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time isn’t included in the 15 hours.
10-Hour Driving Limit
During the 15 hours, passenger-carrying drivers can drive a maximum of 10 hours after eight hours of consecutive off-duty hours.
Sleeper Berth Provision
Drivers must take at least eight hours in the sleeper berth and may split the sleeper berth time into two time periods, provided neither is less than two hours. All sleeper berth pairings must add up to at least eight hours.
Adverse Driving Conditions
Drivers may extend the 10-hour maximum driving time and 15-hour on-duty limit by up to 2 hours if they encounter adverse or dangerous weather conditions.
Now that you’re aware of the established DOT driving hours and rules for truck drivers, it’s important you understand why these regulations are in place and what makes them important.
Why Are Driving Hours Limited?
Commercial driving hours of service rules were first published by the DOT in 1937 and have undergone many changes since then. Before the 1930s, few regulations protected truck drivers, which left the industry workers at risk of fatigue and exploitation.
The earliest written rules regarding driving hours let truck drivers work for 12 hours within a 15-hour period, with nine hours of rest and three hours of breaks required within a 24-hour day. This rule also established a weekly maximum of 60 hours on duty over seven consecutive days, which is extremely similar to the rule that currently controls how long a commercial driver is allowed to work. As the interest in highway safety grew, DOT driving hours shifted to accommodate the rising number of cars in the 1960s.
In the 1970s, several safety groups conducted scientific studies that linked driver fatigue with truck crashes, resulting in more awareness of the potential harm commercial drivers may experience if necessary breaks and sleep aren’t available to them.
Lastly, the DOT established a new set of driving guidelines in 1995 that incorporated the latest scientific findings about human alertness and driver fatigue. Although the rules have evolved a bit since then, the laws commercial drivers adhere to currently have been derived from a deeper understanding of well-being and driver health — aspects at the forefront of all regulations created by the Department of Transportation.
Benefits of DOT Driving Limits
The main benefit of DOT driving hours is healthier and safer working conditions for commercial drivers. Driving limits serve a purpose, even if taking mandatory breaks and resting may be seen as a burden or a factor that reduces productivity. If DOT driving limits weren’t in place, some of the most regular issues that affect truck drivers would make the roads too dangerous. Common problems commercial drivers face include:
- Driver fatigue: When vehicle operators do not get enough quality sleep, they can become extremely tired. This can impair driving performance and increase the risk of distraction.
- Lack of home time: Since drivers are on the road most of the time, it can be difficult to make it home often. Commercial carriers may experience extreme loneliness or feelings of disconnect when they’re not able to see friends and family.
- Poor health: Both property-carrying and passenger-carrying drivers sit for the majority of their time on the clock. Without parking and getting out of the truck, major health concerns could arise.
- Vehicle accidents: Although a truck accident isn’t very common, it still happens. They’re caused by a wide range of factors, primarily a driver’s lack of focus. When a driver isn’t concentrating or drifts off, they can seriously injure themselves and others on the road.
These are just a few of the most common and dangerous issues facing truck drivers, and the main problems the DOT driving hours focus on combating. By giving operators several breaks and ample time to sleep, they’re less likely to be affected by the above issues.
Because commercial driving is one of the most demanding jobs on the market, truck drivers are largely affected by the DOT rules and service regulations. Let’s look closer at how these rules impact them both on and off the road.
How These Rules Affect Drivers On and Off Duty
Unlike most jobs, truck driving is a 24/7 gig. While a business professional may take their computer home in the evenings to finish up emails or finalize the next day’s tasks, it’s different for a driver. Even when commercial operators are off duty, they are most likely close to their freight and able to take off at a moment’s notice.
That’s why DOT driving hours are so vital to the well-being of each commercial driver. They allow both on and off-duty times to come at a regular pace to ensure both rhythm as well as establish a set schedule for every day, which are factors that can help a driver feel more connected to loved ones and less strained or overworked.
If you own a trucking company or work closely with the trucking industry, then understanding these driving limits and service regulations is vital for the health and productivity of your entire staff.
Although the rules can be confusing, you don’t have to learn them on your own. Online, video-based training can help your team understand driving limits and DOT hours from anywhere in the world. Having a library full of useful resources on hand could be the differentiator between a healthy and dangerous working environment for your commercial drivers.
Find online classes and resources to ensure your team is adhering to DOT driving hours and regulations.