Hours of Service Violation Penalties and How to Avoid Them

June 4, 2020

Sometime back in the '80s, the phrase "That rules!" became popular. As we grew up, we learned more and more about the actual rules. Do the rules rule? They totally do.

Case in point, the hours of service (HOS) rules are a huge factor in every trucker's life. The HOS rules were established and are maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The goal of HOS rules? To minimize driver fatigue and improve overall safety on the roads. I'm a believer in safety first, so this is a good thing.

I realize also that it seems like the HOS rules put a cap on driving time and thus limit how much drivers can earn. On the other hand, the HOS rules protect drivers from harassment and forced, unsafe driving.

That said, at the end of the day, drivers and fleet managers should understand and know the HOS rules. After all, knowing and following the HOS rules are the best ways to avoid violation penalties. In this post, we're going to provide the key information every driver needs to know in order to keep rolling—and avoid those costly HOS violation penalties. In other words, you gotta rule at knowing the rules.

The HOS Backstory

The FMCSA has hammered out fair HOS rules seemingly forever. After enacting the first rules around hours of service, records of duty status (RODS) became standard. In turn, that led to the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate. Prior to ELDs, drivers kept paper logbooks. Eventually, the FMCSA realized that paper logbooks can easily be altered by bad actors. Nowadays, the HOS, RODS, and ELD rules all work together.

Be aware. Law enforcement issues a large number of ELD, HOS, and RODS violations every year. ELDs have the potential to make tracking HOS easier and automatic for drivers. But that same automation also makes it easier for law enforcement to penalize drivers who violate the HOS rules.

The FMCSA is aware that there's a fine line between safety and viable drive time, and the organization took into account the many nuances in logistics when creating the HOS rules. As such, the rules have certain exceptions that do their best to address gray areas like adverse driving condition events and emergency circumstances.

Don't Mess With Tech

It's worth noting that ELDs are part of a greater logistics industry trend of building a holistic tech stack that synchronizes every facet of a trucking operation. In my opinion, the technology of digitized documents, automatic billing, and cloud storage for data creates the greatest competitive advantage for the carriers who adopt them. Put another way, the HOS, RODS, and ELD rules have become more nuanced—and enforceable.

Against this galaxy of paperwork, tech is like Obi-Wan and you're Princess Leia. Your only hope to stay organized, remain compliant, and avoid violations is to get help from a tech platform that does all the Jedi mind tricks and heavy lifting for you.

The fact is, ELDs basically track a truck's every move. If you want to avoid HOS violation penalties, the bottom line is simple: you need to know the HOS rules and you need tech watching your back. Let's use the Force and dive into the rule book!

Who Must Comply With HOS Rules?

A driver of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) involved in interstate commerce must comply with HOS rules if their vehicle:

  • weighs 10,001 pounds or more.
  • has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more.
  • transports hazardous materials in any quantity that requires placards.
  • is designed or used to transport 16 (or more) passengers (including the driver) not for compensation.
  • is designed or used to transport 9 (or more) passengers (including the driver) for compensation.

What Are the Hours of Service Violation Penalties?

First of all, if law enforcement finds a driver in violation of any HOS rule, they can shut a truck down. When that happens, the truck will sit on the roadside until the driver accumulates enough off-duty time to be back in compliance. As we'll see below, that could either mean a driver is shut down for 10 hours or 34! While a shutdown isn't a direct fine, it will certainly impact your bottom line.

In addition, law enforcement officials may assess fines according to state and local laws. Along with that, the FMCSA can levy civil penalties on a driver or carrier. These fines range anywhere from $1,000 to $16,000 per violation depending on severity. In general, violations deemed egregious result in the biggest fines. If the violation involves hazardous material, the fine can exceed $75,000.

Note that a pattern of violations can downgrade a carrier's safety rating or a driver's compliance, safety, and accountability (CSA) score. In either case, a downgrade can result in a variety of enforcement actions. Ultimately, federal criminal penalties can be brought against a carrier that knowingly allows (or requires) violations. Federal penalties can also be brought against individual drivers who knowingly violates the regulations.

Get to Know Your HOS Rules

In sports, they say the best defense is a good offense, right? In turn, it's best to be proactive and avoid HOS violation penalties entirely. Avoid violation penalties by staying current on all the HOS rules by checking the FMCSA website regularly for updates. Now let's take a look at each rule.

The 14-Hour Window Rule

According to the 14-hour rule, a property-carrying driver can't be on duty for more than 14 consecutive hours. Once the 14 hours have been reached, a driver can’t resume driving until they've taken 10 consecutive hours off duty. For passenger-carrying motor vehicles, the driver can't exceed 15 cumulative hours. In adverse driving conditions, an exception can be made by extending the maximum drive time window by two hours.

The 11-Hour Rule

The 11-hour rule states first that a driver must be off duty for 10 hours. Then a driver can begin their 14-hour driving window. Within that 14-hour window, a property-carrying driver can't exceed 11 hours of driving. For passenger-carrying drivers, the driver can't exceed 10 hours of driving after eight consecutive off-duty hours. There are two exceptions to this. First, during adverse weather conditions, the 11-hour driving limit can be extended by two hours. Second, HOS restrictions can be lifted if emergency relief orders have been declared at a national, regional, or state level.

The 30-Minute Break Rule

After a 10-hour off-duty period, drivers can’t then exceed 8 hours of driving time without a break of 30 consecutive minutes. Drivers can perform non-driving tasks after 8 hours without taking a break, but they cannot drive. An exception is that non-driving tasks (like stopping for gas, doing a pre-trip inspection, or doing paperwork) can be considered part of the 30-minute break. This is satisfied when a driver annotates their ELD. They must declare on-duty/not-driving status, rather than mere off-duty status.

The 60/70-Hour Rule

Truck drivers can only be on duty for a maximum of 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period. A driver may restart a new seven- or eight-day period after they've taken at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.

The Sleeper Berth Rule

Drivers must spend at least seven hours in their berth and another three hours either in-berth or out-of-berth. A driver's total off-duty time must be a 10-hour period, which doesn't count against the 14-hour driving window.

Something of note is that drivers were previously required to arrange their off-duty period as an 8/2 split. The final HOS rules of service allow a 7/3 split, to provide a driver more flexibility.

Short-Haul ELD Exception

This rule is more about ELDs but is worth noting. The short-haul exception states that drivers do not need to use an ELD if they start and stop their driving day at the same location and never leave a 150 air-mile radius of that location. Short-haul drivers are subject to the same maximum on‑duty period of the 14-hour rule. In other words, even though ELDs aren't required, HOS and RODS rules are still intact. Additionally, if the driver exits the 150-mile radius, they must turn on their ELD. An exception is that a short-haul driver may extend their driving hours to 16 hours twice in a given seven-day period.

Personal Conveyance Rule

The personal conveyance rule is entirely an exemption to the HOS rules. In short, the rule outlines the ways a driver may drive their CMV (including while loaded) legally while off duty. Appropriate use of a CMV for personal conveyance is allowed. The one caveat is that the driving must not be for the commercial benefit of the motor carrier at that time. This includes activities like driving to and from a restaurant, motel, truck stop, or home.

Paperwork Rules

A driver must have the required load documents for every shipment of freight, but HOS RODS requires specific paperwork. Although ELDs operate automatically, there is a host of support documents a driver must produce in the event of a law enforcement inspection. For example, the ELD tracks the mileage involved in personal conveyance. A driver must annotate their ELD, specifying those miles as off-duty, personal conveyance.

Furthermore, the driver will be penalized for not having the following ELD support documents:

  • a user's manual for operating the ELD
  • an instruction sheet describing how to make ELD data transfers and troubleshoot malfunctions
  • an eight-day supply of blank driver's RODS graph-grids

Be aware that all these documents can be in digital form. This underscores what I mentioned above about the heavy trend toward technology in logistics. A carrier and driver must keep track of so many documents. Your best bet is to fight fire with fire. Look for a tech company that can eliminate the paperwork from your workflow.

On Your Way Out

In summary, the penalties associated with HOS, ELD and RODS violations are increasing. Your best bet for avoiding costly penalties is to know the rules. The FMCSA rules about HOS can be a bear to read and may seem to put a cap on a driver's income. But keep in mind that the HOS rules are in place to protect drivers from harassment. So, in conclusion, I can't force you to do anything. But if you want to rule the logistics galaxy, you should study the FMCSA website, then find and partner with the best tech platform the 21st century has to offer.

This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.

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