The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cites truck driver fatigue as one of the leading factors contributing to commercial trucking crashes. While tired driving does not always cause a crash, it can dramatically increase the likelihood that one will occur.
Despite the FMCSA’s best efforts to implement rules and regulations to curb fatigue-related truck crashes, truck drivers are often forced to meet unrealistic scheduling expectations imposed by their employers. These tight deadlines can result not only in fatigued driving, but also speeding – a potentially deadly combination.
What is Driver Fatigue?
Driver fatigue is the combination of sleepiness and driving. The risks associated with drowsy driving are alarming—thousands of crashes and hundreds of deaths occur each year in fatigue-related traffic accidents.
According to federal statistics, driver fatigue is a factor in roughly 13 percent of large truck accidents in the U.S. each year. Truck drivers are also more likely than the general population to drive fatigued, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making the issue a common topic of discussion among trucking safety advocates.
Truck Driver Sleep Requirements and Truck Driver Hours of Service Regulations
Commercial truck drivers are required to follow hours of service (HOS) regulations set by the FMCSA. HOS rules are essentially truck driver fatigue laws designed to keep tired truckers off of public roads and to reduce fatigue while driving.
The truck driver HOS requirements place limitations on when and how long truckers are allowed to drive and work. Truckers are supposed to follow these duty limits at all times (unless exempted, see the FMCSA HOS Guidelines for more details):
14-Hour Driving Window: This is typically thought of as a trucker’s “daily” limit even though it is not based on a 24-hour period. A truck driver is permitted a period of 14 consecutive hours in which they may drive up to 11 hours after being off-duty for 10 or more consecutive hours. The 14-hour driving window begins the moment a driver starts any kind of work, not just driving. Off-duty time, including naps or lunch breaks, do not stop the clock on the 14-hour driving window. Once a driver has reached the end of the 14-hour driving window, they are not permitted to drive again until they have been off duty for another 10 consecutive hours, or the equivalent of at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- Real World Example: Joe Trucker starts work at 6:00 a.m. after being off-duty for 10 consecutive hours. Joe Trucker may not drive after 8:00 p.m. that evening (once he reaches14 hours on duty). He may still work after 8:00 p.m., but he cannot drive his truck again until he has been off-duty for 10 consecutive hours.
11-Hour Driving Limit: As described above, a truck driver may only drive for 11 hours within the 14-hour driving window. However, no further driving is permitted, if more than 8 hours have passed since the driver’s last off-duty or sleep period of at least 30 minutes.
- Real World Example: Jane Trucker comes to work at 6:00 a.m. after 10 consecutive hours off-duty. She drives from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., then takes a required 30-minute rest break (more on the 30-minute rest break below). Jane then drives another four hours until 6:30 p.m., at which time she is required to stop driving until she 10 consecutive hours off-duty have passed. She may continue to work so long as she is not driving commercially.
30-Minute Rest Break: A truck driver must take a 30-minute rest break if more than eight consecutive hours have passed since their last off-duty (or sleeper-berth) period of at least half an hour. Meal breaks or any other off-duty time of at least 30 minutes qualifies as a break. This time does count against the 14-hour driving window, as allowing off-duty time to extend the workday could allow drivers to continue to drive long past the time when fatigue becomes extreme.
- Real World Example: John Trucker started driving immediately after coming on duty. He can drive for eight consecutive hours, take a half-hour break, and then continue to drive another three hours for a total of 11 hours behind the wheel.