Truck Driver Fatigue Laws in 2021

truck driver laws fatigue

By Julia Watts | Content Manager | Updated: February 9 2021

Tired truckers make more mistakes than well-rested ones – so make sure yours adhere to these key laws


Putting in overtime and extra hours might be okay in some lines of work, but trucking isn’t one of them. In fact, when skipping just a single hour of sleep doubles a driver’s crash risk, drowsy driving can be a deadly mistake.

Naturally, laws exist to stop tired truckers from taking to the road, and these truck driver fatigue laws hold employees and employers responsible for compliance. The two key laws you need to adhere to are hours of service (HOS) rules, and the ELD Mandate. You'll also need to think about your approach to hiring truckers.

Read on to find out about these rules as they apply to your fleet…

A trucking driving under a blue sky
Your compliance record should be as clear as this sky

Hours of Service (HOS) Rules

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires truck drivers to take regular rest breaks. Specifically:

  • You can only drive a maximum of 11 hours in a row after taking 10 consecutive hours off
  • You can’t drive beyond the 14th hour after going on-duty
  • You can’t drive for more than 60 hours in one week, or more than 70 hours in eight days

The HOS Final Rule

On June 1 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) updated its HOS requirements with four key changes. This set of refreshed regulations is called the Hours of Service Final Rule. Given that it came into full effect on September 29 2020, all eligible CMV (commercial motor vehicle) drivers and their employers must be compliant with the revised regulations now.

1. Changes to the Short-Haul Exception

X Previously, short-haul drivers could…

  • Drive within a 100 air-mile radius
  • Spend up to 12 hours on duty in one period

✔ Now, short-haul drivers can…

  • Drive within a 150 air-mile radius
  • Spend up to 14 hours on duty in one period

2. Changes to the Adverse Driving Conditions Exception

X Previously, drivers affected by unforeseen adverse driving conditions could drive for up to two hours longer than their usual driving time limits. So, a property carrier could drive for up to 13 hours within a 14-hour on-duty period.

✔ Now, those drivers can still drive for up to two hours longer than their previous driving time limit, but can also now extend their on-duty period by up to two hours as well. So property carriers can drive for up to 13 hours within a 16-hour on-duty period.

The definition of adverse driving conditions has also changed to accept the responsibility of the driver. Previously, adverse driving conditions were classed as adverse weather, traffic, or driving conditions that were not known or foreseen by the motor carrier that dispatched the driver. Now they're classed as adverse conditions that were not foreseen by the dispatcher or the truck driver.

3. Changes to the 30-Minute Break Requirement

X Previously, drivers had to take a 30-minute break after spending eight hours on-duty. Drivers had to spend their break in a sleeper berth, or otherwise off-duty.

✔ Now, drivers need to take a 30-minute break after spending eight hours actually driving. Drivers can spend their break in a sleeper berth, off-duty, or on-duty, but not driving.

4. Changes to the Sleeper Berth Provision

X Previously, property-carrying drivers were able to split their 10-hour off-duty period into…

  • An eight-hour (minimum) period, spent off-duty and in the sleeper berth
  • A two-hour (or less) rest period, spent on-duty but not driving

✔ Now, drivers can split their off-duty period into…

  • At least seven consecutive hours, spent off-duty in the sleeper berth
  • At least two hours, spent off-duty and in or out of the sleeper berth

Both of these periods must add up to at least 10 hours. When paired like this, neither time period counts against the 14-hour driving window.


What is the ELD Mandate?

Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) record the hours of service of your drivers. They do this by using GPS technology to monitor vehicle usage data, and feeding it into reporting software that calculates each driver’s HoS.

The FMCSA requires motor carriers to keep complete records of their drivers’ working hours. Until recently, you were allowed to choose between keeping paper records or electronic records. However, as of 2019, the ELD Mandate requires fleet managers to record this information electronically.

Not every fleet business needs to comply with the ELD Mandate. Find out whether or not it applies to you with our guide to the six exemptions to the ELD Rule.


Negligent Hiring or Supervision of a Truck Driver

Falling asleep at the wheel can have life-altering consequences, and the business risks are far-reaching when you consider that victims of your employees’ recklessness can sue you for compensation. Even if your drivers are insured, the terms of your policy may not extend to cover catastrophic injuries or death. If that’s the case, a plaintiff's attorney can pursue you, the employer, for the full amount needed by an accident victim.

Many states follow section 213 of the Restatement (Second) of Agency, which provides that someone who conducts “an activity that involves a risk of harm through agents” will be liable if they employ “improper agents or instrumentalities”. In relation to the first part of that definition, driving a truck is widely accepted as being one of the most dangerous jobs in America. However, the second part touches upon two aspects of fleet management that are within your control:

  1. “Agents” (read: employees)
  2. “Instrumentalities” (read: tools)

Hire Qualified Drivers

Hiring great people is easier said than done, but it pays dividends in the long run. In order to get around the rules regarding employer liability, some trucking companies treat their drivers as independent contractors. However, experienced personal injury attorneys can often use state or federal law to demonstrate that the driver is actually an employee under the law, even though he or she may be formally designated as an independent contractor.

Onboarding software can automate the driver onboarding process, making background checks and training easier to administer.

Did You Know?

If one of your drivers causes an accident in the course of duty, you can be held responsible under the principle of vicarious liability, even if you weren’t negligent. The data gathered by ELDs improves your chances of successfully defending against claims.


Next Steps

It goes without saying that the cost of a GPS tracking device pales in comparison to the value of human life. And, in business terms, the costs of complacency are too high to even consider – truck driver fatigue laws, FMCSA fines and lawsuits see to that.

Any software that makes your employees jobs safer is worth a look. That’s why we’ve written at length about the

best fleet management software for regulatory compliance. With a bit of comparison shopping and a few quick quotes under your belt, you’re sure to see driver safety scores skyrocket.

All it takes is 30 seconds to request a quote for fleet management software to get started.

Julia Watts Content Manager

Specializing in the complex realms of telephone systems, business energy, vehicle tracking, asset tracking, and fuel cards, Julia writes content that cuts through the noise to help you find the right solutions and technologies for your business. Having spent five years working across the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, she loves helping exciting ventures – big or small – to flourish.

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