The complete guide to the sleeper berth rule

The complete guide to the sleeper berth rule

In 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) amended the Hours of Service of Drivers (HOS) rule. This federal regulation stipulates driving limits for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.

According to a National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) report, approximately 70 percent of the trucks manufactured today have sleeper berths. Today’s berths are big, well-equipped, and designed to be comfortable resting places for career commercial drivers.

Part of the HOS rule addresses the amount of time a driver spends resting in the vehicle.

The sleeper berth provision

One of the changes in the amended Hours of Service of Drivers regulations deals with the sleeper berth provision, which allows drivers to split off-duty time into segments. The regulations for cargo-carrying drivers are slightly different from the regulations covering passenger-carrying drivers, such as bus drivers.

For commercial vehicles that transport passengers, the new rule does not necessarily change sleeper berth provisions but rather reiterates the existing rules. So we will focus on discussing the changes to sleeper berth regulations for cargo carriers.

Cargo carrier sleeper berth rules

The changes to the Hours of Service rules were for the purpose of increasing driver safety. Studies show that long hours of driving can increase driver fatigue and, therefore, the risk of collision. The rate of critical safety events may also increase along with the duration of time behind the wheel.

The revised cargo carrier sleeper berth rule permits a driver to lengthen his or her shift by splitting the required ten consecutive hours of off-duty time into two different periods:

  • One of the shifts must be at least two hours long, either in or out of a sleeper berth.
  • The other period must be inside a sleeper berth and no less than seven consecutive hours long.

All the sleeper berth time period combinations have to add up to a minimum of ten hours. When they are used together, neither of those periods will count against the 14-hour period.

In practice, this means that drivers are now free to modify their schedules for longer hauling situations, even while the regulations mitigate driver exhaustion and the safety problems associated with lack of rest.

How do the sleeper berth rules work?

To look more specifically at the rule, let’s look at the regulation from the FMCSA:

Cargo drivers may split sleeper berth time into two periods if neither period is less than two hours:

  • One shift must be at least two hours and can be spent in the sleeper berth, off-duty, or any combination of the two.
  • The second shift must be at least seven hours long and must be taken in the sleeper berth.
  • Both shifts added together must equal at least ten hours.
  • Drivers can take the two breaks in any order.
  • If the driver completes both the 2+ hour and the 7+ hour qualifying periods, he or she can calculate the 14-hour clock from the end of the first qualifying period.

The new rule gives the drivers a new option. Previously, the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations only had what was called the 8/2 rule, which meant one split had to be eight hours, while the other had to be two hours.

With the new rules, drivers have the option of splitting it into several other segments, e.g., 8/2, 7/3, 7.5/2.5, etc., as long as they all add up to at least ten hours.

Below are some typical scenarios that may occur, along with explanations of how the new provisions apply to those scenarios:

Location of the off-duty period. The location of the off-duty period is not a factor in the calculation of the driver’s day clock. In other words, if a driver takes seven hours in the sleeper berth and, later, an off-duty period of three hours before arriving at home, he or she will then need to take a seven-hour break in the sleeper berth or ten consecutive hours off-duty.

Splitting the off-duty periods. A driver may take five consecutive hours off-duty and later take a seven-hour consecutive break in the sleeper berth. Under this scenario, both the five-hour off-duty period and the seven-hour sleeper berth breaks are eligible and would qualify for the split sleeper berth provision when they are paired together. They are eligible since they meet the two minimum hours off-duty and seven minimum hours in the sleeper berth requirement and total at least ten hours.

Some splits do not qualify. For example, if a driver takes a ten-hour off-duty period, it cannot be paired for the use of the split-sleeper provision. The driver must reset the 11-hour and the 14-hour driving clocks at the end of a ten-hour off-duty period.

Proper pairing of rest periods is critical for compliance. Both off-duty and sleeper berth qualifying rest periods are excluded from the driver’s 14-hour window if the rest periods are correctly paired.

In order to accomplish this, according to the FMCSA, the pairing that should be used is the one that results in no violations or the fewest violations, in the order shown below, per the FMCSA:

  • Nominal violations (less than 15 minutes in violation)
  • Violations
  • Out-of-Service (OOS) violations occurring during a roadside inspection
  • Egregious (more than three hours) HOS violations during an investigation
  • If all options result in violations, and there is no clear advantage, choose the qualifying rest period that gives the driver the greatest amount of available on-duty and driving time moving forward.

Roadside inspections. If a driver is stopped for a roadside inspection after having taken only one rest period that qualifies for the split sleeper berth provision, the roadside inspector should not cite a violation of the related HOS rules.

Which rest periods qualify? Drivers who use the split sleeper berth provision under the HOS rule can take one period in the sleeper berth (at least seven consecutive hours) and one period of at least two consecutive hours off-duty. Remember that the two periods, when paired together, must add up to at least ten hours.

How to get the required off-duty time? A driver can attain the required off-duty time by accomplishing any of the items below:

  • At least ten consecutive hours off-duty
  • At least ten consecutive hours of sleeper berth time
  • Combine consecutive sleeper berth and off-duty time provided the total amounts to at least ten hours
  • A combination of sleeper berth time of at least seven consecutive hours and up to three hours riding in the passenger seat, as long as both add up to at least ten consecutive hours
  • At least ten consecutive hours off-duty using the split sleeper berth provision (or the equivalent)

Adverse driving conditions. Depending on the time of year, the time of day, and the location, drivers may encounter adverse driving conditions. The FMCSA has addressed situations that may occur under these conditions and how they apply to the new provisions.

Under the adverse driving conditions exception, drivers may extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to two hours.

A qualifying rest break or sleeper-berth period under the definition of adverse driving conditions is either a sleeper berth period of at least seven hours or a rest period of at least two hours in the sleeper berth or off-duty. It also includes any break of ten consecutive hours or more. A 30-minute break does qualify as a rest break or sleeper-berth period.


The new provision permits drivers to lengthen an on-duty shift. As we mentioned earlier, this is accomplished by splitting the required ten consecutive hours of off-duty time into two different shifts.

Let’s look at how this plays out in a real-world situation.

In this example, we’ll assume that a driver begins their day at six in the morning with an hour of non-driving on-duty time. That’s when this driver’s 14-hour working window would start.

At 7 a.m., the driver actively drives for five hours until noon. That means the driver has used five hours of drive time (11 hours) and six hours of the driver’s total 14-hour time.

Let’s say that at this point, the driver takes a break in the sleeper berth for eight hours. That, in effect, pauses the 14-hour clock. When the driver resumes driving at eight in the evening, there are still six hours of remaining drive time and eight hours left on the 14-hour clock.

The driver can drive for six additional hours before taking two hours of off-duty time. When the driver completes the two-hour break, the 14-hour window completely restarts.

The rules are clear, but manually or mentally tracking hours requires quite a bit of the driver’s attention. Now, more than ever, drivers need to use a robust ELD solution and a user-friendly electronic logbook app to make things easier for themselves.

ELDs can help drivers track sleeper berth time

ELDs are the best way to help drivers comply with the amended sleeper berth rule. A good ELD will audibly warn drivers when an Hours of Service limit is near, or when it’s time for a required 30-minute break.

KeepTruckin’s ELDs can notify drivers when they are close to their limit. The driver can choose to receive an alert 60 minutes, 45 minutes, 30 minutes, or 15 minutes before a required break, or never. When enabled, text-to-speech alerts will read out the notification so that the driver can focus on the road.

Request a free demo of the KeepTruckin ELD to learn more about it.

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Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is an award-winning writer in the energy and transportation industries, a playwright and actor/director, and the author of an Amazon Top 100 book. He is certified by the Department of Homeland Security and Michigan State University in Incident Management and Crisis Communications. He and his wife Beth (also a writer) live in Texas.

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