How Long Can Truckers Legally Drive in Texas?

how long can truckers drive

Do you have questions about how long can truckers drive for? The answer may be more complicated than you’d think. Both federal and state “hours of service” laws govern the length of time Texas truckers can legally drive. Semi-trucks hauling tons of cargo–some of it hazardous–can make it dangerous to share the road with these big rigs. Trucking laws regulating how long truckers can drive and how much rest they have to take are meant to reduce these hazards and protect everyone.

Differences Between Federal and State Trucking Laws

Federal trucking laws enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) apply to commercial vehicles engaging in interstate commerce. State laws apply to trucks engaging in intrastate commerce. “Commerce” refers to the buying and selling of products or services, with transporting products from one place to another or traveling somewhere to perform a service.

Interstate Commerce

The FMCSA Interstate Truck Drivers’ Guide to Hours of Service describes interstate commerce as occurring “when the shipper intends to have cargo transported to another state or country.” From the time the cargo leaves the shipper until arriving at its destination, it is part of interstate commerce.

Even if a trucker is one of a series of drivers to carry that cargo and only travels within one state, the cargo is still interstate commerce, and the trucker is bound by FMCSA rules while hauling it.

Intrastate Commerce

Intrastate commerce means cargo or services remaining within one state’ borders. Truckers handling this cargo are not bound by FMCSA regulations. Truckers in Texas, however, must uphold Texas trucking laws.

Special Considerations

After dropping off cargo, truckers are left with empty trucks, and even these empty vehicles are subject to federal or state laws. According to the FMCSA guide, truckers who operate in interstate commerce are under FMCSA laws for the next seven or eight days, depending on which federal hours-of-operation rules apply to their interstate travel.

Texas Truckers’ Hours of Service Under Federal Law

FMCSA “Hours of Service” rules work to prevent truck drivers from driving while fatigued or falling asleep at the wheel, creating safer roads for everyone. Under these regulations, drivers:

  • Must have 10 consecutive off-duty hours before starting a shift
  • Can only stay on duty for 14 consecutive hours after their 10 hours off duty
  • May not drive more than 11 hours continuously during the allowed 14-hour on-duty shift
  • Are entitled to a 30-minute break for every eight hours of consecutive driving
  • Cannot be on duty for more than 60 hours over a seven-day period or more than 70 hours over an eight-day period, with resets happening after 34 consecutive off-duty hours

Interstate truckers following the 60-hour and seven-day schedule must follow that schedule for the seven days after finishing an interstate job. Those using the 70-hour and eight-day schedule must maintain that schedule for eight days following the completion of an interstate job.

Texas Truckers’ Hours of Service Under State Law

The Texas Administrative Code expands hours of service shifts for Texas intrastate commerce drivers slightly, while following a similar structure to the FMCSA schedule. Under Texas law, truck operators:

  • Must have eight consecutive hours off duty before starting a driving shift
  • Cannot stay on duty for more than 15 consecutive hours
  • Cannot drive more than 12 consecutive hours at a time
  • Cannot drive more than 70 hours over 7 consecutive days

Drivers must log 34 consecutive off-duty hours before starting a new shift.

Regulations for Off-Duty Rest Periods

Truckers are “on duty” any time they are working for their employer, whether loading, unloading, driving, or completing other work-related tasks. Both FMCSA and Texas regulations specify “how” truckers rest during their off-duty hours. FMCSA allows operators to split their 10-hour off-duty period provided they meet both of the following criteria:

  1. One off-duty session, spent either in or out of the truck’s sleeper berth, is two hours long (at minimum)
  2. The other session involves a minimum of seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth

Regulations further specify that “all sleeper berth pairings MUST add up to at least 10 hours.”

In Texas, drivers can satisfy rest requirements in two ways. They can take “a combination of at least 8 consecutive hours off duty and sleeper-berth time.” Alternatively, they can take two rest periods in the berth as long as:

  • Neither period is less than two hours long.
  • The combined driving time immediately before and after each rest period is not more than 12 hours.
  • The combined on-duty time immediately before and after each rest period does not include time on the road after the 15th hour.
  • The driver takes at least 8 consecutive hours off duty, 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, or a combination of those options before returning to normal hours of service requirements.

Hours-of-Service Exceptions

how long can truckers drive

Some conditions force drivers to drive beyond their legal hours of service, and both FMCSA and Texas regulations include exceptions.

FMCSA allows Texas drivers hauling interstate commerce to extend the maximum 11-hour driving limit and 14-hour driving shift up to two hours when experiencing adverse driving conditions. The Texas Administrative Code also provides this extension to allow drivers to reach a safe stopping place in adverse weather situations, heavy traffic, or unsafe road conditions the driver was unaware of before beginning their shift.

Electronic Logging Devices

Since 2017, FMCSA has required most truck operators to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) to track their hours of service and rest periods. In the past, truckers kept hand-written log books of their driving hours. ELDs record these periods automatically and are intended to help truckers save time and avoid being pressured into exceeding safe hours of service by their employers. Texas has the same requirement for intrastate truckers.

The Devastating Effects of Trucker Fatigue

Federal and state regulations for limiting hours and recording hours of service highlight the serious dangers of truck driver fatigue. A study referenced by FMCSA and completed before implementation of the ELD rule, found 13% of commercial vehicle drivers were fatigued when involved in a crash. Fatigued driving results in slower reaction times, diminished attentiveness to the road, and reduced ability to make good driving decisions, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

If a trucker dozes off, the momentary lapse of attention can affect their ability to steer or brake in time to avoid a collision. It can result in an over-correction that sets the truck off balance, causing it to jackknife or tip over.

In Texas, the maximum gross weight for a semi-truck is 80,000 pounds. It is easy to see the damage this vehicle can do upon impact with a passenger vehicle, which typically falls within 2,600 – 4,400 pounds. Truck accident injuries can be serious and even deadly. Hours-of-service regulations exist to keep truckers mentally and physically alert and others sharing the road safe from fatigue-caused crashes.

For Attorneys Experienced in Navigating Issues Related to How Long Truckers Can Drive, Contact Liggett Law Group

A truck operator or company’s failure to uphold federal and state laws puts truck drivers and all other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians at risk for serious, even deadly, accidents. Liggett Law Group is here to help if you have been injured or someone you loved has been killed by a fatigued trucker. Our team of Lubbock truck accident lawyers has the resources and experience needed to investigate your accident, identify the at-fault party or parties, and hold them accountable. Contact us today with a call or a message, and schedule a free case review with a compassionate, knowledgeable Texas truck accident attorney.