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Maximizing your Hours of Service: 3 Tips for Truck Driver Time Management

February 16th, 2022

Jody King

Jody King

Following 19 years as an over-the-road truck driver, and more than 2 million accident-free miles, Jody joined ATS as a safety specialist in 2019. Today, using his well-rounded knowledge of truck driver safety and safe practices, Jody acts as a driver safety counselor overseeing ATS's newest safety program, ATS Safety Driven University. Jody approaches each day in the transportation world with self-confidence and poise as he helps ATS's many drivers improve their safety knowledge and practices.

If you’re like most truck drivers, you’re looking for a way to make more money. 

Did you know that you can make more money by simply keeping your left door closed and using your driving hours efficiently? 

Groundbreaking stuff, I know. 

The truth is, there are many drivers out there that are looking to find any way they can to maximize their hours and make a few extra bucks — even if that means cutting a few corners here and there. 

The last thing you should do as a truck driver? Cut corners. 

But it’s understandable to want to find a way to make the most out of your drive time; cutting corners just isn’t the way to do it. You can boost your income by making the most of your Hours of Service. And aren’t we all just looking to make a few extra bucks here and there? 

Whether you need to pay off an expensive hospital bill to help out a family member, you’re saving up for your child’s college tuition or you need to pad your savings account, we could all use some spare change — some of us more than others. A steady income provides stability for you and your family that many drivers crave. 

And if you feel like you’re constantly running late, missing delivery windows and never making the most of your drive time, this article is for you.

So, how can you make the most of your Hours of Service? 

Well, as the driver safety counselor at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) and a veteran truck driver myself, I’m going to tell you how.

Below, this article will discuss ways to maximize your drive time, including: 

  • Understanding your Hours of Service.
  • Trip planning to increase efficiency. 
  • Communicating timelines with shippers and receivers.
  • Driving slow and steady.

By the time you finish reading this, you should feel better prepared to take advantage of all your drive time. And when you do this, you’re sure to see some extra money coming your way. 

How to Understand FMCSA Hours of Service

The first step to maximizing your Hours of Service? Understanding Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Hours of Service

Before you can maximize your hours, you need to know how many hours you’re allowed to drive.

You’re legally allowed to work 14 hours each day. You can only legally drive for 11 of those 14 hours. That gives you a three-hour window where you can be on duty but not driving. You can use this time for filling out paperwork, completing your pre-trip and post-trip inspections, securing your loads, fueling up and so on. 

Keep in mind that if you spend more than three hours on duty but not driving, you’ll reduce the amount of drive time you have. For instance, if you spend five hours waiting to get loaded at a shipper, you’ll only have nine hours left to drive that day. 

You have to take a 30-minute break at some point during those 14 hours and you need to take a full 10-hour break when you’re off duty. 

You can only drive 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. Driving more than this will result in an Hours of Service violation. 

Hours of Service violations are serious. You can receive fines and other penalties that can add up quickly. In fact, you may even see your CSA score drop. 

Hours of Service are designed to prevent exhaustion and to ensure you’re safe and alert out on the road. 

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3 Time Management Tips to Increase Truck Driver Efficiency

If you want to use your time wisely, follow these three tips for success.

1. Plan Your Trips

Planning your trip before you get behind the wheel is one of the best practices you can implement to maximize your Hours of Service (and your income). 

I always tell drivers, know before you go. Plan your day so you can make the most of your day. 

Either the night before or the morning of, sit down with a map and plan out every stop you’ll make between your current destination and your final destination for the day. This should include where you will stop for fuel, for a break, for a pickup, for a snack — whatever it may be. 

Any stop outside of this trip plan will not only cost you time but also miles and fuel. 

Keep in mind that you’ll maximize your hours by keeping the left door closed as much as possible. You can utilize your time by taking a break after a fuel stop and picking up a snack at the truck stop or station you’re fueling up at. The fewer trips in and out of the truck, the more time spent out on the road making money. You’ll also avoid driving miles out of route to find a place to stop. 

You’ll also maximize your hours by planning your route to avoid rush hour traffic and high-traffic areas. Try to plan your routes so that you can either drive through large cities during slow traffic times or, if it’s unavoidable, look up routes that will take you around large cities instead of right through them. You may have to drive more miles, but you can save time by avoiding idling in rush hour traffic for hours. 

When you’re looking at your GPS, keep in mind that time estimates and recommended routes are based on passenger vehicles, not commercial motor vehicles (CMV). It may take a passenger vehicle four hours to get somewhere but it’ll take a CMV five hours on the same route. You must also carefully check which roads the GPS is recommending you take. Can a CMV drive on that road? Look at the satellite view of the route to familiarize yourself with the roads. 

When you have the choice between a back road or the main highway, you should almost always take the main highway, even if it says it’ll take you an hour longer to get there. You’ll have less stop-and-go (which means you’ll burn less fuel and save on fuel costs) and you’ll be less likely to get into an accident compared to on a back road.

As you make your driving plan for the day, open your weather app and check the forecast. What are the weather conditions like in the areas you’ll be driving through? You may need to adjust your route to miss a storm. You may need to plan for an early stop if the conditions are too poor to drive in. 

I strongly recommend aiming to drive 10 hours per day and no more. When you plan for 10 hours, this gives you plenty of time to stop for the night and find a safe parking spot. Rather than scrambling to find a parking spot with five minutes left on your clock and resorting to parking on an off-ramp somewhere (which many trucking companies have strict policies against), you’ll have plenty of time to find a spot and settle in for your 10-hour break.

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2. Communicate, Communicate and Communicate Some More

As someone who used to be a truck driver myself, I know that it’s never fun to have to sit and wait to get loaded up or unloaded at a shipper or receiver. You can spend hours waiting, just watching as the clock ticks by and your driving hours for the day dwindle. 

If you have the time and you’re waiting in detention, now might be a good time to complete your trip plan if you haven’t already. Or, you can take your 30-minute break during this time period.

However, if you could prevent long hours spent in detention, wouldn’t you try?

While you can’t completely prevent this from happening, you can schedule appointments for your deliveries. Updating your fleet manager and shippers/receivers on your ETA can help you get loaded and unloaded in a timely fashion. 

Call shippers/receivers if you think you’re going to arrive early. See if they can accommodate an early delivery. If they can’t, you can arrange to take your break or fuel up before you get there to use your time productively instead of just twiddling your thumbs waiting. 

If they can, you’ll quickly be on the road again. Call your dispatcher to see if they can quickly get you on another load. On-time or early deliveries are a great way to increase your revenue; you’re legally getting in more hours by maximizing your efficiency. 

The same goes for if you’re going to be late on a delivery. Whether you’re late because something came up on the road or you were in detention for hours on your last delivery, let your dispatcher know. They can work with the shipper/receiver to adjust delivery and pick-up times.

3. Take it Slow and Steady

You may think that it’ll naturally take you less time to arrive at your destination if you drive faster and drive aggressively. While you may arrive at a destination quicker if you drive faster, the time is insignificant. Countless studies have shown that driving over the speed limit will save you maybe a few minutes each day. 

Do you know what driving over the speed limit will actually do though? Increase your chances of getting into an accident. 

You don’t need me to tell you that getting into an accident is a great way to lose money. You may need truck repairs and you may need to go to the hospital to recover. Even the most minor accident can result in hours of downtime spent dealing with police reports and paperwork. 

All of that results in a lot of downtime where the wheels aren’t rolling — which is to say, the money won’t be rolling in either.

Follow the rules; don’t try to game the system. When you make safety one of your top priorities, you not only protect yourself but the motoring public and the load. 

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Maximize Your Hours of Service — Maximize Your Income

You don’t have to cut corners to be more efficient. You don’t have to burn yourself out to maximize your Hours of Service, you just need to work smarter. Taking advantage of your drive time by preparing — whether that means trip planning or calling shippers/receivers ahead of time — will help you move more loads and boost your miles. And it’ll help you keep more money in your pocket.

Say goodbye to being late and missing delivery windows and hello to making the most of your time! These tips helped me when I was a driver, and I’m confident you’ll find success with them too. 

Being more efficient with your hours each day is just one way you can boost your income out on the road. There are tons of other strategies you can implement to ensure you’re not only making the most of your time, but also stretching your dollars and making your money work for you. 

If you’re looking for other great ways to boost your income out on the road, these nine tips will help you.