Among the highest number of violations each year in the trucking industry are Hours of Service (HOS) violations. And if a reefer driver is cited for exceeding allowed on-duty time by as little as three hours, the personal fine could be $2,750, while the carrier could face penalties up to $11,000.
Understanding federal guidelines for hours of service for reefer truck drivers is the best defense against violation and citation.
Hours of Service Counting as On-Duty
There are two limits to consider in a 24-hour period:
- A reefer truck driver can drive a total of 11 hours straight following 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time.
- A driver’s total on-duty time may not exceed 14 hours in a 24-hour period.
On-duty time is defined as time spent “working,” which aside from driving may include things like waiting, tarping, maintenance calls, vehicle inspections, or generally being available to the carrier for job-related duties.
But driving 11 straight hours trumps the 14 hour on-duty limit. If a driver hits the 11 hour driving limit, they must immediately go off-duty.
Hours of Service Counting as Off-Duty
After eight consecutive hours of driving past their last break, drivers are required to take a 30-minute off-duty break which counts towards their 14-hour on-duty limit. This break is only after eight consecutive hours of driving, and is not optional. This means that during an 11-hour driving leg, drivers must pause for at least 30 minutes of off-duty time after eight consecutive hours, after which they may continue for three more hours to the daily driving limit.
And following the 11-hour driving limit or the 14-hour on-duty limit, drivers must take a 10-hour rest period. This rest period may be in their sleeper berth, outside the vehicle on personal business, catching some fresh air, sleeping or whatever non work-related tasks the driver wishes. Off-duty time may not be used for company or driving related duties such as fueling the truck, checking tire pressures, or administrative work required by dispatch.
But the driving limit is not a daily limit. There is a sleeper berth provision in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations that allow for a modified off-duty rest period of eight hours in the truck’s sleeper berth which may be followed by additional driving—not to exceed the 14-hour daily on-duty limit—which must then be followed by the remaining 2-hours of required off-duty time. And all of this must take place within the same 24-hour period.
60-Hour or 70-Hour On-Duty Hours of Service Limit
FMCSA rules prohibit drivers from operating a CMV after either 60 or 70 hours of on-duty time depending on the reporting period.
If a carrier operates vehicles every day of the week, drivers are limited to 60 hours of on-duty time in seven days. If a carrier does not operate vehicles every day of the week, drivers are limited to 70 hours of on-duty time in an eight day reporting period.
34-Hour Hours of Service Reset
After accumulating their full 60 or 70 hours of on-duty time, drivers are required to take 34 continuous hours of off-duty time to fully reset their on-duty time to zero. But if a driver does not accumulate the full 60 or 70 hours, there is no need to take any number of additional continuous off-duty hours.
This means that if a driver only accumulates 59 hours of on-duty time in a seven day reporting period, no 34-hour reset is necessary.
Logging Hours of Service
The FMCSA requires that drivers keep track of their hours with electronic logging devices (ELDs). This requirement does not apply to drivers who venture less than a 150 miles radius from their reporting location provided their employer maintains accurate records of their driving time.
Commercial truck driving is much more than operating a tractor and pulling a trailer. State and federal regulations abound, and the veteran truck driver has to stay up to date about the rules around hours of service for reefer truck drivers. But the payoff is improved safety records, the satisfaction of on-time delivery, and a view of the country that most people will never see.