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by Jim Park
By the time you read this you'll know for sure, but as highwaySTAR went to press, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia had yet to respond to requests for a six-month stay of its ruling to throw out the new U.S. hours-of-service rules that we've been living with since January. Those rules had been challenged successfully by a so-called safety advocacy group called Public Citizen, which argued the rules should be set aside because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hadn't considered their impact on the health of the driver.

If the court decides not to allow the six-month stay, this article will be meaningless because we would then revert to the old rules. Many folks think that going back to the old rules now would be lunacy. So, presuming the rules remain in place for at least another six months, here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the new U.S. hours regime. They remain confusing, and in many cases the misunderstandings are costing drivers and carriers money.

The 14-Hour Rule

May a driver be on duty for more than 14 hours?
Yes. A driver may remain on duty for more than 14 hours. However, the driver cannot drive after the 14th hour after coming on duty.

If a carrier allows a driver to log meal time as off-duty time, does that permit a driver to extend the 14-hour on-duty period?
No. Off-duty breaks during the day do not extend the work day or permit a driver to drive after the 14th consecutive hour on duty. However, time logged as off-duty is not counted in calculating a driver's 60/70-hour on-duty period.


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Off-duty and Sleeper-Berth time

What's the difference between off-duty and sleeper-berth time?
Off-duty time is off-duty time. The driver is free to come and go as he or she chooses, and has no responsibilities as far as the load or the truck are concerned. The driver may take the off-duty time anywhere, such as a motel, a home, or the sleeper of the truck. For purposes of logging the interval, it doesn't matters where the driver is, as long as he or she is not doing work that would be considered on-duty/not driving.

Sleeper-berth time is a special distinction requiring the driver to be physically resting in the sleeper compartment of the truck. Use of the sleeper berth is required to achieve a lengthening of the work day by combining sleeper time and driving time into intervals that meet the requirements for a split-sleeper operation. In this case, two driving intervals totaling no more than 11 hours may be broken up by two sleeper intervals, providing the sleeper intervals are of at least two hours duration.


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Can a driver combine off-duty and sleeper time to achieve 10 hours off duty?
Yes. A driver may accumulate the equivalent of 10 consecutive hours off-duty only by taking two periods of rest in the sleeper berth. If a driver has two qualifying sleeper-berth periods totaling at least 10 hours immediately prior to taking 10 or more consecutive hours off-duty, the driver may also combine the last sleeper berth period with a 10-consecutive-hour off-duty period.


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The 34-Hour Restart

Will 34 consecutive hours off-duty automatically restart the calculation of the 60/70-hour on-duty period?

No. A driver may restart the 60/70-hour period by taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty provided that, at the beginning of the 34-hour period, he has not accumulated more than 60 or 70 on-duty hours in the previous seven or eight days. If a driver has exceeded the 60/70-hour on-duty limit, the driver may not use the 34-hour restart until he's in compliance with the maximum on-duty hours in that time period.

Time spent regaining compliance with the 60/70-hour limitation may not be counted as part of a 34-hour re-start period. As soon as the driver ends a 24-hour period under the 60/70-hour limit, the driver has the option of either using any available time to drive up to the 60/70-hour limit before beginning the 34-hour period, or remaining off duty for an additional 34-hours, which would then restart the seven- or eight-day period.


Sleeper Berths

Following 10 hours off duty, a driver has recorded driving time and one or more periods in the sleeper berth that do not total 10 hours. In this case, how is the 14-hour rule calculated during a roadside inspection?

During a roadside inspection, the 14-hour rule is calculated by including all time (on-duty, off-duty, sleeper-berth, and on-duty/not driving), except that a single sleeper-berth period in excess of two hours is excluded from this calculation if it may be combined with a subsequent sleeper-berth period to achieve 10 hours off-duty and provide driving time when completed. Any sleeper-berth periods that cannot be used in combination with a subsequent sleeper berth period to achieve 10 hours off duty and provide driving time must be counted toward the 14-hour rule.


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If a team driver goes directly from 10 consecutive hours off duty to the sleeper berth at the start of the duty period, can the sleeper-berth period be excluded from calculation of the 14-hour limit?

Yes. It would be a combination of at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty and sleeper-berth time, as long as the driver does not perform any duties, such as pre-trip inspections, prior to using the sleeper berth.

Note, all of these samples and examples are from FMCSA and/or American Trucking Associations sources.

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