Hours of Service: How Long Can Truck Drivers Drive?

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Trucking remains one of the most hazardous industries, with drivers having to maneuver an 80,000-pound vehicle for long hours. Large truck drivers have the highest rate of non-fatal injuries and illnesses, which are caused by overexertion or auto accidents.

Sitting all day and poor food options at truck stops also cause long-term health consequences for drivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said truck drivers face an array of chronic disease factors, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, among others.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) determines the number of hours a trucker can drive in a day. These rules are enforced to ensure the health and safety of the drivers as well as those of other motorists and pedestrians.

General Hours of Service

Drivers who deliver goods or materials within the same state are governed by state regulations. On the other hand, interstate commercial drivers follow federal regulations.

Under federal regulations, a driver’s 168-hour week restarts after a period of 34-hour off-duty. A typical workday lasts 14 hours, but only 11 of those hours should be spent on the road. The remaining three hours are dedicated to non-driving tasks, such as fleet meetings, training, vehicle inspections, and others.

Truck drivers can only work their 14-hour shift if it follows a 10-hour off-duty. Also, they can’t work over 60 hours in a period of seven days or 70 hours in eight days.

Drivers can work a 16-hour shift if the following conditions are met:

16-Hour Shift Conditions

man driving a truck

  • The driver must begin and end in the same terminal
  • The driver may not exceed 11 hours of driving
  • A 16-hour shift is possible only once in a 168-hour workweek
  • The driver can’t use the 16-hour exception with the Adverse Driving Conditions exception (i.e., additional two hours of drive time in case of adverse weather or unforeseen traffic incidents).

FMCSA’s Hours of Service rule also regulates mealtimes and breaks.

Mealtimes and Rest Breaks

Hours of Service entitles truck drivers to a 30-minute break after eight hours of duty. Apart from federal rules, states have their own regulations on the meal and rest breaks of truck drivers.

An example is Washington. Its current law entitles truckers to a meal period of at least 30 minutes every five hours of work. Truck drivers get an additional 10-minute rest period every four hours.

But because the state’s law is incompatible with federal rules, the Washington Trucking Associations filed a petition for a pre-emption of the current meal and rest break rules. The association reasoned that the state laws have no additional safety benefits beyond those provided by FMCSA’s rules.

Truck drivers serving the area can consult a truck labor lawyer in Washington to know how this petition will affect their work hours.

The trucking industry continues to see more changes. These new provisions attempt to reduce the safety risks for employers, promising a more sustainable livelihood. One is the electronic logging device (ELD) truckers use to record their driving time. The ELD ensures that drivers stick to the standard working hours and avoid overexertion.

Truck driving, especially for long hauls, is inherently risky. But these amendments may provide better, safer working conditions for truckers. It’s an assurance that may attract new employees in the industry, addressing the U.S. truck driver shortage.

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