The FMCSA requires motor carriers and commercials drivers to comply with hours of service regulations that control how long and how often a driver can operate a commercial motor vehicle.
This is the first post in my four-part series on common FMCSA compliance problems. The following topics are forthcoming over the next three weeks: Part 2, Valid Medical Certificates; Part 3, Drug and Alcohol Screens; and Part 4, Non-English Speaking Drivers.
A common compliance problem area for drivers and motor carriers is hours of service and records of duty status. Logsheets and timesheets have been a source of consternation for drivers, motor carriers, and eventually litigators, for decades. When it comes to determining what kind of record of duty status a driver is required to keep, there are two types of drivers: exempt and non-exempt.
Non-exempt drivers operate property-carrying vehicles and comprise the greatest percentage of commercial vehicles on the roadways. These drivers are subject to 49 C.F.R. § 395.3, which outlines drivers’ hours of service constrictions. Non-exempt drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours within a 14-hour on-duty period, which must be followed by 10 consecutive hours off duty. They may not be on duty and/or driving for more than 8 consecutive hours without taking a rest break of at least 30 minutes. Non-exempt drivers are prohibited from being on duty more than either (a) 60 hours in 7 consecutive days, or (b) 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. Each 7/8 day period most be a followed by a “34-hour restart,” during which the driver must be off duty for a period of 34 or more consecutive hours.
Using either paper logsheets or an electronic logging device (“ELD”), non-exempt drivers must record their duty status for every 24-hour period required by the FMCSA. There are only four types of duty status: (1) on-duty not driving, (2) driving, (3) sleeper berth, and (4) off duty. Every time a driver changes duty status, he must record the city/state in which the change occurs. At all times, a driver’s logsheet must be current up to the time of the last change of duty status, and entries may only be made by the driver himself. Each logsheet must contain the following additional information: date, total miles driven for the day, identity of the commercial vehicle being driven, name of the motor carrier for whom the driver is operating, and the signature or certification of the driver.
If a driver is found non-compliant with the FMCSR, he may be placed out of service. Specifically, a driver will be placed out of service if he has exceeded either his allowable on-duty and/or driving time for either a 24-hr period or 7/8 day period, as described above. A driver may be placed out of service if he does not have a current record of duty status for the day he is examined or the prior 7 consecutive days, except that a driver who is not current for the examination day but is current for the prior 7 days, may be allowed to make current the present-day record of duty status. Both the motor carrier and driver are responsible for ensuring the driver is in compliance before again allowing him to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
Certain property-carrying drivers will be exempt from the hours of duty status restriction described above, the most common of which are as follows. Drivers who operate within a 100-air-mile radius and report/return to a prescribed location within 12 consecutive hours are not required to keep logsheets, but rather must keep a time sheet showing only the driver’s time in/out and the total number of hours worked. Drivers operating within a 150-air-mile radius in a commercial vehicle that requires a CDL to operate, who report/return to the same location, and who are released from duty within 16 hours of coming on duty may once every 7 consecutive days extend their consecutive driving window from 14 hours to 16 hours. These drivers are likewise required to keep a timesheet, rather than a logbook.
Electronic Logging Devices
Beginning on December 18, 2017, most commercial drivers will be required to use electronic logging devices (“ELDs”) to record their duty status. However, fleets and trucking companies that have previously installed compatible automatic on-board recording devices (“AOBRDs”) will have an additional two years to convert to ELD-compliant devices. The FMCSA has expressed the purpose behind the ELD rule is to increase compliance with hours of service requirements.
The key distinctions between approved ELDs versus non-compliant AOBRDs is that AOBRDs are interconnected with and synchronized to the operation of the commercial motor vehicle. AOBRDs use engine data to record driving time, whereas ELDs use GPS data or rely on the driver to input his duty status. Additionally, the software component of approved ELDs must allow for the driver either to print off the necessary log data or hand a visual display device to an officer during a roadside inspection. Approved ELDs allow the driver to enter his own hours of service and either manually or electronically sign the logs at the end of each 24-hour period.
While there are a few exceptions to which drivers are required to have ELDs after the deadline, the rule can be generalized as follows: if a driver is required to keep logsheets, he will be required to have an ELD. An example of a driver who may continue to keep paper logs is a short-haul driver who operates a commercial vehicle 8 or fewer days in a 30-day period. The only vehicles that are exempt from the ELD rule are pre-2000 era commercial vehicles.
More on a recent court decision upholding the ELD rule.
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 49 C.F.R. 395.3(a)(2)-(3).
 49 C.F.R. 395.3(a)(3)(ii).
 49 C.F.R. 395.3(b).
 49 C.F.R. 395.3(c).
 49 C.F.R. 395.8. A driver may record two or more consecutive 24-hr off duty periods on one logsheet, per 49 C.F.R. 395.8(f)(11).
 49 C.F.R. 395.8(a)(2)(ii)(b).
 49 C.F.R. 395.8(a)(2)(ii)(c).
 49 C.F.R. 395.8(f).
 49 C.F.R. 395.8(f).
 49 C.F.R. 395.13.
 49 C.F.R. 395.13(b).
 49 C.F.R. 395.13(c)-(d).
 49 C.F.R. 395.1(e).
 49 C.F.R. 395.1(o).
 The functionality requirements of approved AOBRDs are set forth in 49 C.F.R. 395.15.
 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “What are the differences between automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) and devices using logging software programs?” (link).