New year coming, new HOS rules looming
As the Jan. 4, 2004, deadline to comply with new hours-of-service regulations nears, truck drivers and others are grappling with the implications, and at times, the meaning of the regulations — the first substantive changes since the 1930s.

by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Some HOS requirements are straightforward — drivers are allowed 14 consecutive hours on-duty with 11 hours maximum driving time, after they take at least 10 consecutive hours off. The 14-hour clock starts when work starts.

In other words, with few exceptions, drivers will be limited to working within a 14-hour window. Eleven of those hours can be behind the wheel. Drivers can still work after 14 hours, but they can’t drive.

And there’s a wrinkle or two to consider.

For example, if drivers perform a vehicle inspection first thing in the morning, then take an hour off for breakfast, the time spent eating eggs and sausage will be included in the 14-hour limit. So eat first, then inspect the truck.

When it gets down to such details, police, DOT officials and drivers are often left scratching their heads, trying to grasp in the “ins” and “outs” of other provisions of the rule, such as split sleeper berth requirements. Even the regulators, it seemed, didn’t fully understand what they had done.

As one trucker put it on OOIDA’s chat Web site: “Read the frequently asked questions (on FMCSA’s Web site), and they contradict themselves. In one paragraph, they say you can extend the 14 hours with a sleeper berth, and in another they say you can’t. Which is it?”

The answer: Going off duty for two hours for lunch will not stop the clock. The only way a driver can extend the 14-hour window is to spend two periods of time in the sleeper, each of which is at least two hours long and when combined will equal a minimum of 10 hours total. A single period of time in the sleeper of less than 10 hours will not extend the 14-hour day, unless followed by another sleeper berth period, and the two add up to a total of 10 hours.

A lot of confusion
Another driver summed up his frustration: “A bunch of pencil-pushing, desk-driving suits dreamed this up without any real over-the-road experience.”

In response to the confusion, FMCSA recently made some clarifications.

On Sept. 30, the agency posted changes it said were not substantive, but added to “improve clarity and correct editorial errors.”

FMCSA told Land Line: “Specifically, these amendments clarify sleeper berth rules, correct language to allow the 16-hour short-haul exception once every seven days, and reinstate the ability of oil-well servicing drivers to obtain rest at sleeping accommodations provided at oil-well sites.”

Here are some questions from OOIDA members and some answers:

Will drivers still be able to split the sleeper berth time?
Yes. Drivers may split on-duty time by using sleeper berth periods. These drivers may accumulate the equivalent of 10 consecutive hours off-duty by taking two periods of rest in the sleeper berth, provided: Neither period is less than two hours; driving time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not exceed 11 hours; and the on-duty time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not include any driving after the 14th hour.

Can sleeper berth time be split when at home?
You can do it if you sleep in your truck while it’s in your driveway, but you’re not permitted to sleep in your nice comfortable bed. Go figure.

Suppose I take a 15-minute break after driving four or five hours. Does that count toward the 14-hour limit?
Yes. Even if you catch an hour’s nap while waiting to load or unload, the time will cut into the 14-hour limit.

When isn’t off-duty time included when calculating the 14-hour limit?
“ The only exception is sleeper berth time,” according to the FMCSA. “When taken in two periods, each of which must be at least two hours long, sleeper berth time does not count toward the 14-hour limit.” Drivers and motor carriers are required to count on-duty time, off-duty time not spent in a sleeper berth and sleeper berth time of less than two hours toward the 14-hour limit.

Moreover, any two sleeper berth periods a minimum of two hours each and totaling 10 hours may be used in calculating the 10-hour limit, and sleeper-berth periods not used in calculating the 10-hour limit will be included in calculating the 14-hour limit.

What happens if a driver is on-duty for 14 hours, but not driving?
A driver may remain on-duty more than 14 hours; however, a driver cannot drive after the 14th hour after coming on-duty. The additional on-duty time will reduce subsequent on-duty time available under the 60/70-hour rule. That rule says a trucker may not drive after being on-duty more than 60 hours in seven days, or 70 hours in eight days.

Will waiting time in line at a terminal, plant or port, be considered “off-duty” or “on-duty, not driving”?
On-duty, not driving.

How do I calculate off-duty time not spent in the sleeper berth?
Two areas not covered clearly early on were off-duty time out of the sleeper berth and sleeper berth periods of less than two hours. These time periods must be counted when calculating the 14-hour limitation.

The agency clarified situations where the driver takes three or more sleeper berth periods, each of which are at least two hours long.

The amended rule states that any two sleeper berth periods totaling 10 hours may be used in calculating the 10-hour off-duty period. Any remaining sleeper berth periods of two hours or more must be included in calculating the 14-hour limitation.

Officials provided this example: A trucker is off-duty for 10 hours before driving four hours, followed by two hours in the sleeper berth. Then the driver drives for another three hours, spends three more hours in the sleeper berth, then is on-duty for five hours and then spends seven hours in the sleeper berth.

The amended rule spells out that the second and third periods in the sleeper meet the requirements of the sleeper berth exemption. The remaining first sleeper berth period would have to be counted against the 14-hour limit; however, it would not be counted against the 60/70-hour limit.

What does the short-haul amendment say?
The amended rule is intended to allow short-haul drivers one 16-hour on-duty limit in a seven-day period. When the final rule was published in April, it erroneously said the provision was permitted as long as it had not been used in the “previous seven consecutive days.” The FMCSA is correcting that reference to read “the previous six consecutive days,” making the exemption available once a week, as originally intended.

The changes also address off-duty sleeper berth time in operations at natural gas or oil well locations. A 40-year-old rule allows them to accumulate the currently required eight hours off-duty in two shifts, as long as both shifts are at least two hours long in sleeper berths or “other sleeping accommodations at a natural gas or oil well location.”

The final rule clarified that these drivers must take 10 rather than eight hours off-duty and may continue to accumulate their off-duty time in two periods. The amended rule explains that these periods may be taken in sleeper berths, other sleeping accommodations or both.

Can I log off-duty during the 14 hours?
Yes, you can. It won’t stop the 14-hour clock, but it won’t be counted against the 60/70.

What are the exceptions to the hours-of-service rule?
Vehicles used in oil-field operations, ground water well-drilling operations, utility service and transporting construction materials and equipment retain the current 24-hour restart provision. However, except for drivers of vehicles that are specially constructed to service oil wells, these drivers are required to comply with the new 10-hour off-duty and 11-hour driving limitations, as well as the prohibition on driving after the 14th hour after coming on-duty.

Drivers of specially constructed vehicles that service oil wells are not required to log wait time as on-duty time. Agricultural operations retain their current exemption from driving time requirements in the planting and harvesting season as determined by the state.

Are electronic on-board recorders required?
No. FMCSA has decided not to mandate EOBRs at this time. The agency plans an expanded research initiative on EOBRs and other technologies, including evaluating alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for their use.

What are the penalties for violating the hours-of-service rules?
Drivers or carriers who violate the hours-of-service rules face serious penalties:

1. Drivers may be placed out-of-service (shut down) at roadside until the driver has accumulated enough off-duty time to be back in compliance;
2. State and local enforcement officials may assess fines;
3. FMCSA may levy civil penalties on driver or carrier, ranging from $550 to $11,000 per violation depending on severity;
4. The carrier’s safety rating can be downgraded for a pattern of violations; and
5. Federal criminal penalties can be brought against carriers who knowingly and willfully allow or require hours-of-service violations.

Does the new hours-of-service regulation apply to Mexican and Canadian drivers and carriers?
Yes. Starting Jan. 4, 2004, Mexican and Canadian drivers must comply with U.S. hours-of-service regulations at the time they enter the United States and while operating in the United States. They must also maintain a current record of duty status for the previous seven/eight consecutive day period.

If a driver is on call, but has not been called for 34 hours, may those 34 hours be counted as a 34-hour restart?
Yes, provided the carrier has not required the driver to report for work until after the 34-hour period has ended.

May a driver be called after eight hours off-duty to report to work two hours later?
The final hours-of-service rule does not control communication between the driver and the motor carrier during the driver’s off-duty time, so the call may occur. However, the driver cannot, in addition, be required to do any work for the motor carrier during the 10 hours of off-duty time.

How does the new hours-of-service rule affect the adverse weather exception?
The adverse weather exception permits a driver to exceed the current 10-hour driving limit by no more than two hours. The new rule permits a driver to exceed the 11-hour driving limit by two hours. The adverse weather exception does not permit a driver to exceed the 14 consecutive hour limit.

If a driver is put out-of-service for a violation of the 60/70-hour rule, does taking 34 hours off-duty give the driver an automatic restart?
An off-duty period of 34 consecutive hours will restart the 60/70-hour clock, provided the off-duty period required to restore compliance with the 60/70 hour rule is less than or equal to 34 consecutive hours. However, if the out-of-service period is more than 34 consecutive hours, then the driver must remain off-duty for that longer period.

Dick Larsen can be reached at