Calculate Sleeper Berth Legally and Understand FMCSA Regulations

Blue semi-truck with sleeper berth cabin and a driver. Image related to FMCSA Hours of Service regulations

In this article, we’re looking at a hot topic for drivers and carriers: trying to understand the sleeper berth exception to the latest FMCSA Hours of Service regulations. When your livelihood depends on driving, it’s crucial to understand when you can drive and when you can’t. Unfortunately, there’s no more confusing topic than hours of service (HOS) and the sleeper berth rules. In addition, some drivers complain that electronic logging devices (ELDs) have failed to update their tracking capabilities that reflect the FMCSA HOS changes enacted on September 29, 2020. This article will provide you with the information and links you’ll need to drive safely.

Sleeper Berth Explained

That said, I have to add a brief disclaimer. First of all, the FMCSA rules are complex, and every driver has certain specific circumstances that this article may not address. This article isn’t legal advice, and you must read and understand the FMCSA section 395 regulations as they pertain to your hours of service situation specifically.

If you’re a driver and ever feel fatigued, pull over at the next safe place and rest—even if you have time left on your driving clock! I recommend you err on the side of caution. And remember, getting caught driving fatigued or in violation of the HOS regulations will result in severe penalties. Don’t risk it.

The Rules of Hours of Service (HOS) 

Sure, it might be inconvenient to be forced to stop. It might even affect your ability to deliver a load, which hurts your pocketbook. But that thinking is short term. Over the long haul, fatigued driving has a way of catching up with all of us. Thus, it’s worth pointing out that the HOS rules are also meant to protect drivers from pressure to drive when it’s unsafe. Coercion and pressured driving could come from well-meaning circumstances—or from yourself! Thus, HOS and the law protect us all from that decision-making moment.

In truth, at the end of the day, and over the course of a driving career, the best thing to do is follow the HOS mandates and get your rest.

That being said, let’s dive in to hours of service so we can get clear on when it’s legal to drive and when it’s not. Let’s answer some FAQs about HOS!

HOS Basic Terms and Definitions

HOS: hours of service. This is one of many pieces that make up a driver’s daily workflow. If you’re looking to streamline your life, I recommend working with Vector. The Vector app provides a cutting-edge digitized document toolkit that integrates with your transportation management system (TMS) and helps drivers simplify their paperwork and schedule. In short, Vector gives back the luxury of time to drivers, office employees, and fleet managers alike.

RODs: record of duty. That means the manner in which a driver records their hours. RODs can be paper, but it’s become more common to track RODs by ELD.

ELD: electronic logging device. This is attached directly to the vehicle. Most of a driver’s reporting is automatic. ELDs allows drivers to identify duty status and make certain edits.

Trip planning: Professional drivers route their trips and calculate their hours ahead of time. Run the miles, locate the rest stops on your route, and form a game plan. Yes, you can’t foresee an accident. But you can prepare in advance for certain variables, such as the weather forecast, rush hour areas, road construction, detours, and speed limits.

Consecutive vs. Cumulative Clock

When you’re trying to understand how hours of service works, it’s critical to understand that there are two clocks:

  • the consecutive clock
  • the cumulative clock

These two clocks track time in different and overlapping ways—and they’re the primary source of confusion surrounding HOS.

How can there be two clocks? Consider these two examples from the world of sports.

  1. Consecutive clock time: This clock doesn’t stop tracking time once you’ve started. The common example of a consecutive clock is the clock timing the Boston Marathon. Once it starts, it doesn’t stop.
  2. Cumulative clock time: This clock can start, stop, and restart many times while tracking time that a driver spends performing specific activities. A common example of a cumulative clock is the the clock timing a basketball game. The game clock for basketball runs only while the game is being played. It stops often—for instance, whenever there’s a foul, a violation, or time out. So while there’s 48 minutes of cumulative game clock, it takes about two or three hours to complete a game.

Calculating Sleeper Berth According to HOS Limits

Before we get into sleeper berth and other exceptions of HOS, it’s important to understand the four primary governing limits on a driver’s time. They are:

  1. 14-hour on-duty limit: A driver may not drive more than 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. It’s important to note that the 8/2 or 7/3 split-sleeper exception can satisfy the 10 hours. So while the FMCSA regs clearly say you need 10 consecutive off-duty hours, the split-sleeper exception technically makes it 10 cumulative hours. The 14 hours are therefore cumulative, and will thus pause during the time that the split-sleeper exception is in use (more on that below).
  2. 11-hour driving limit: A driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. In other words, if you’ve been off for 10 hours, your 14-hour drive window resets.
  3. 60/70-hour, 7/8-day on-duty limit: This means that a driver can’t drive after 60 or 70 hours of on-duty time in 7 or 8 consecutive days. A driver is allowed to restart a period of 7 or 8 consecutive days after taking at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.
  4. 30-minute break/8-hour driving limit (also called the mandatory interrupt provision): Drivers are required to take a 30-minute break after 8 consecutive hours of driving. The 30-minute break can be logged in the sleeper, logged as off duty, or even considered as on duty. But there has to be 30 minutes of anything but driving!

The Split Sleeper Berth Rule Exception

OK, here we are. The split-sleeper berth exception is part of a driver’s 10 hours of required off-duty time. Drivers may split their 10-hour off-duty period into either 8/2 or 7/3 hours. The split-sleeper exception turns your off-duty 10 hours from a consecutive clock into a cumulative clock.

All hours of off-duty time (8, 2, 7, or 3) stop your cumulative 14-hour drive time window clock. In other words, off-duty time pauses the 14-hour on-duty driving window. Be aware that the longer 8-hour or 7-hour section of time must be spent in the sleeper. The shorter 2-hour or 3-hour section doesn’t necessarily need to be in the sleeper. But all combined split-sleeper berth pairings must add up to at least 10 hours. When you reach a combined 10 hours of off-duty time, a new 14-hour window begins.

Split-Sleeper Berth FAQs

Let’s open the mailbag and tackle a few frequently asked questions:

  • “I am wondering, if I drove for 9 hours and have 2 hours of drive time left, does that mean if I take an 8-hour break, that I’d I still have 2 hours of driving left?” Yes. But to clarify again—after you wake up and drive the next 2-hour leg, you must stop for another 2 hours off duty to bring your total to 10 hours. This will then reset your 14-hour window. 
  • “When you take a split sleeper break, after the second break, do you get all of your 14 hours back?”  Yes. After your second break brings your total off-duty time to 10 hours, then your 14-hour driving window will reset.
  • “Here’s my current problem. I drive a rental truck, no sleeper. I took 3 hours off while waiting to load. I’ll take 10 off in a hotel tonight. Does that 3 still extend my 14 hours?”  If you started with a fresh 14, loaded for 3, and drove less than 11 hours total, you’re good. And 10 hours off duty in the hotel will reset your 14-hour drive window tomorrow. 
  • “How much drive time gets reset after 8 hours in sleeper berth?” It depends on how many hours you have already driven. Is this 8-hour stretch your first break or second break? Remember, you can drive for no more than 11 cumulative hours inside a 14-cumulative-hour window, after 10 cumulative hours of off-duty time.  

Other Common HOS Exceptions

Like any rule, there are exceptions to the HOS regulations. Knowing whether you’re eligible for an HOS exception can help you avoid a penalty. HOS has many exceptions, but these are the most common:

  • Air-mile radius/short haul: A short-haul driver must begin and end their workday at the same location. While driving throughout the day, the driver must stay within a 150-mile radius (an increase from 100 miles) of their starting location. The drive time limit is 14 hours. And you must receive a 10-hour period of off-duty time before starting your workday.
  • Adverse driving conditions: Drivers get an additional 2 hours of drive time during adverse driving conditions. These include snow, ice, fog, or unusual traffic conditions that were unknown to the driver immediately prior to that driver’s day.
  • Passenger-carrying drivers: This pertains to bus drivers and carries its own entire column of HOS regulations on the FMCSA website. These regulations are similar to the HOS regulations for property or freight drivers, with slight adjustments of time.
  • Personal Conveyance: This exception allows drivers to get home or otherwise drive their truck while considered off-duty. For example, you’re out of hours at the end of a long day, but now you need to drive to a restaurant to get a meal, and the only vehicle you have is your truck.

Parting Thoughts

The split-sleeper exception is complex, but you can learn the ropes. And once you understand how to stay legal with your HOS, you’ll turn that flexibility into productivity.

Carry on and keep truckin’!

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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