Hours of Service Simplified – A Guide For The Road

The hours of service rules for truck drivers weren’t designed to be easily understood.

But let’s face it, the fact that you are looking up these rules means your drivers are at risk of violations, and your current ELD solution isn’t cutting it.

It is nearly impossible to find single resource that we thought would be easily understood and comprehensive.

  • The DOT hours of service DOT (USA) and NSC hours of service (Canada) guidelines are not easily comprehensible

  • All articles we found missed important details, new rules or hours of service exceptions

That’s why we decided to write this article, to simplify the rules without leaving anything out for you.

This resource is broken down into 5 parts (click to jump to section):

United States DOT Hours of Service Rules

*Click on rule to skip to section

Before we get started: Defining a Full Off-Duty Break

In the US, in order to reset their shift and on-duty/driving hours (excluding HOS cycles), drivers need to take 10 consecutive hours off-duty.

14 Hour Rule - Shift Window Countdown

As soon as a driver goes on-duty after a consecutive 10 hour break, the 14-hour rule kicks in.

It doesn’t matter if they are driving, go off-duty for an hour or two, or are on duty not driving – once the 14 hours is up, they can no longer drive until they go off duty for another 10+ hours.

Think of it as a timer that is set as soon as the driver goes on duty. It will continue to count down in the background until:

A) It hits 0 and the driver must not continue driving

B) The driver takes a full 10+ hours off duty before the time is up

This does not mean that they can drive for the full 14 hours. Which brings us to the next rule: the 11 hour rule.

11 Hour Rule - Driving

Within the 14 hour period, a driver can drive up to a maximum of 11 hours.

The driving sessions can be broken up however they like., with breaks in between or on-duty not driving.

Here are some examples:

Start On Duty: 3 hrs driving, 1 hrs off duty, and 8 hrs driving.

Start On Duty: 4 hrs driving, 2 hrs on duty not driving, 3 hrs driving, 2 hrs off duty, 3 hrs driving

Start On Duty: 6 hrs driving, 5 hrs on duty not driving, 5 hrs driving

Did you catch that?

The third example would have given the driver a VIOLATION. Even though they complied with the 11 hour rule, they drove over the 14 hour rule.

If that isn’t enough to remember, there’s one more rule that ensures drivers do not get too fatigued on their shift.

30-Minute Break / 8 Hour On Duty

The mandatory 30 minute break is a commonly forgotten rule.

Drivers must take a 30 minute break after 8 hours of on duty time [changing in September]

Once a driver is on duty for 8 hours, they must not log any more driving time. 

Driving without taking a break after 8 hours  on duty = VIOLATION.

Drivers can continue to perform non-driving duties without taking the 30-minute break

Hours of Service Cycles in the US

There are 2 different HOS cycle types that drivers can pick from in the US. These limit the number of hours a driver is on-duty within the given cycle – both driving as well as on-duty not driving gets added.

The 2 Cycles

70 hours in 8 days – Ideal for drivers who operate every day of the week

60 hours in 7 days – Ideal for drivers who don’t drive every day of the week

Prior to heading out, the driver must select their cycle.

Switching Cycles:

In the case the driver wants to switch cycles, they must take 34 hours off-duty consecutively.

US DOT Hours of Service Rules in Summary

If you want to see an ELD that makes staying compliant as easy as reading the time on a clock, click here. (Tip: It’s $0/month for owner operators)

If you operate in Canada as well, keep reading. Otherwise, click here to skip to the exceptions to the US hours of service rules.

Canadian NSC Hours of Service Rules

*Click on rule to skip to section

Let's Define: Full Off-Duty Break

In Canada, in order to reset your shift and refill the number of hours you are allowed on duty and driving (excluding HOS cycles), you need 8 consecutive hours off-duty.

16 Hour Rule - Shift Window Countdown

Once a driver starts their shift, they have 16 hours before they must go on another full off-duty break.

Regardless of number of hours driven or on-duty, the 16 hours countdown does not pause.

It doesn’t matter how much time is spent spent on duty, driving, or even off-duty (less than 8 hours);

Once those 16 hours are up they must stop driving.

14 Hour Rule - On-Duty Limit

A driver can log 14 hours of on duty time before you must stop driving.

Once those hours are up, you may either remain on-duty not driving, or go off-duty.

13 Hour Rule - Shift/Daily Driving Limit

In any given day AND shift, a driver can drive for a maximum of 13 hours, regardless of the combination between on-duty not driving, short off-duty breaks, or driving.

If a driver drives for the full 13 hours, they can only be on-duty not driving for 1 hour due to the 14 hour on duty rule.

Seems simple enough? Let’s see some examples:

Start On Duty: 5 hrs driving, 1 hrs off duty, and 8 hrs driving.

Start On Duty: 4 hrs driving, 2 hrs on duty not driving, 3 hrs driving, 2 hrs off duty, 5 hrs driving

Start On Duty: 6 hrs driving, 5 hrs on duty not driving, 6 hrs driving

The third example would have given the driver a VIOLATION. Even though they only drove for a total of 12 hours, not only were they on duty for more than 14 hours, they drove over the 16 hour window.

Hours of Service Cycles in Canada

Similar to the US, there are also 2 different HOS cycle types that drivers can pick from in Canada. However, the cycle options are quite different.

The 2 Cycles

70 hours in 7 days – To reset: 36 Consecutive hours off-duty

120 hours in 14 days – To reset: 72 Consecutive hours off-duty

Prior to heading out, the driver must select their cycle.

Switching Cycles:

In the case the driver wants to switch cycles before their current cycle is over, they must follow the reset rules for their current cycle.

Hours of Service Exemptions

Now for the fun part. The exceptions to the rules.

These generally work in your favor, so make sure you take advantage of them if you meet the requirements for the exception.

Note: Only the last exception is applicable while operating in Canada.

30-Minute Break Exemption

If the driver meets one of the two short-haul operations requirements, they will be exempt from the 30-minute break rule in the US.

Requirements (One of the two below):

100 Air Mile Driver

  • Driver operates within a 100 air-mile radius of their usual work reporting location
  • Is released from work within 12 consecutive hours at their reporting location
  • Property carrying: Has at least 10 hours off-duty between each 12 consecutive hours on duty
  • Abides by the 11 hour rule

    Example:
    Dump truck driver

Non-CDL 150 air-mile

  • Non-commercial drivers license driver
  • Operate within an 150 air-mile radius of where they report for duty
  • Driver doesn’t drive:
    – After the 14th hour after coming on duty on 5 days of any period of 7 consecutive days
    – After the 16th hour after coming on duty on 2 days of any period of 7 consecutive days;
  • Employer of driver accurately retains 6 months of hours of service logs and records.

    Example:
     Pickup truck driver going longer distances

14 Hour Short Haul Exemption

Once per cycle, or after a 34 hour off-duty reset, the driver will be allowed to extend their 14 hour driving window to 16 hours.

Requirements:

  • Must fall under one of the short-haul categories mentioned above (100 air-mile / non-CDL 150 air-mile)
  • Must start and end their workdays in the same location for 5 consecutive work days
  • Driver must be released from duty within the 16 hours since going on duty

Adverse Driving Conditions

Under unexpected adverse driving conditions, drivers may drive up to 2 extra hours (13 hours).

Requirements:

  • Driver cannot have been dispatched after the carrier was notified or should have known about the adverse conditions
  • The additional 2 hours must still fall within the 14 hour window

Emergency Conditions

With this exception, during the occurrence of an emergency condition, all rules could be waived.

Although the definition of an ‘emergency condition’ is not made clear, the rule of thumb is that under normal circumstances, the driver could have completed their run without any violations.

From the FMCSA guidelines:

“The term “in any emergency” shall not be construed as encompassing such situations as a driver’s desire to get home, shippers’ demands, market declines, shortage of drivers, or mechanical failures.”

8/2 Split Sleeper Berth USA

This exemption allows drivers to pause their 14 hour clock (14 hour rule) for 8 hours, by splitting their 10 hour mandatory break.

That’s why it is sometimes referred to as the 8/2 split sleeper berth exemption.

Requirements:

Within the driver’s 14 hour window between two full 10 hour breaks, a driver can actually choose to split their 10 hour break into 2 shifts:

  • One shift must be at least 8 hours spent entirely in the sleeper berth
  • The other shift must be 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off-duty, or a mix of the two

The order in which the driver takes the sleeper berth shifts does not matter, however only the 8 hour+ sleeper berth shift can pause the 14 hour clock.

This exception can be extremely useful in situations where a driver finds themselves waiting for hours at a loading dock – however due to its complexity, manually tracking split sleeper berth hours can easily lead to a mistakes and violations.

Split Sleeper Berth Canada

This exemption allows drivers to pause their 16 hour window by splitting their mandatory off-duty time into 2 shifts. 

However, the rules vary depending on whether they are driving alone or with a team.

For individual drivers:

Total sleeper berth hours must total 10 or more hours, with an 8/2 split.

For teams (2 or more drivers):

Total off duty time of 8 hours, split into 2 sleeper berth shifts:

– Both shifts must be a minimum of 4 hours (4/4)

– Shifts must be spent entirely in the sleeper berth

Switchboard’s on-screen split sleeper berth option automatically tracks the pause in the 14 hour countdown, while ensuring the second shift of 2 hours is taken. Set up a free 5 minute demo here.

Off-Duty Deferral Canada

Due to the daily 10 hours off-duty rule, drivers have the option of deferring 2 of the hours to the next consecutive day.

However, there are quite a few requirements that need to be met:

  • The deferred hours do not eat into the 8 consecutive hours of off-duty time to reset rules (8 consecutive hours off-duty, defer < 2 hours)
  • On the next day, the driver must take 10 hours off-duty + hours deferred from previous day (20 hours off-duty in 2 days). Cannot defer hours 2 days in a row.
  • Total driving time does not exceed 26 hours in the 2 days
  • Driver cannot be splitting their off-duty hours with the split sleeper berth exemption mentioned above

Crossing the US/Canada Border

If your drivers operate between the United States and Canada, unfortunately that means they will need to abide by each set of hours-of-service rules, while they are in that specific country.

None of the rules overlap, so you will need to make sure you plan ahead before you cross the border to ensure you don’t violate any hours of service rules when you do cross.

Many ELDs don’t make it easy to keep track of how much time is left for each rule, and even less so when crossing the border.

To make things easier, we’ve put together this table to show the Canadian and US rules side by side:

Staying Compliant - The Easy Way

We believe that ELDs should make compliance simple for drivers and safety officers. Not only should it be easy to use, it should allow users to feel confident that they will be safe from violations.

That’s why Switchboard has created an ELD app that can be learnt in minutes, with little to no guidance or training. 

All that’s required to stay compliant in both Canada and the USA is:

1. Click on-duty when they start their shift

2. Make sure the timers don’t hit 00:00

3. Click off-duty when they complete their shift

On Duty GIF

It’s really that simple.

Each rule is right there on screen with a countdown timer.

Leveraging the GPS technology in combination with odometer tracking allows our ELD to automatically:

1. Switch to driving mode once the driver is on-duty and begins driving

2. Detect border crossing to switch between US and Canada hours of service timers to ensure compliance on either side

 

On Duty GIF

Switchboard started with one mission

To protect drivers and trucking companies from nasty hours of service violations by simplifying compliance.

That’s why we will always keep our ELD $0/month for owner operators, and extremely affordable for fleets.

Say no to violations. Simplify hours of service.

Book a free 5 minute demo and we’ll show you just how simple it is to use.

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