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What is the split sleeper berth rule?



One of the more confusing aspects of the federal hours-of-service rules, at least for some drivers, is the so-called “split sleeper berth” rule. Used correctly, this rule offers some decent flexibility to drivers whose trucks are equipped with a sleeper berth, particularly when it comes to times they are detained at shipper or receiver facilities. But the rule isn’t all that intuitive, unfortunately, so in this article, we will break down the split sleeper rule. But generally speaking...


The split sleeper berth rule allows commercial drivers to split up their mandatory 10-hour rest breaks into two non-consecutive segments and still reset their substantive time limits as a result. The shorter of the two segments must be at least 2 hours long and the longer of the two must be at least 7 hours long, and the must equal at least 10 hours combined.



What does it mean to split your sleeper berth time?

First things first. You can’t really understand the split sleeper berth rule without understanding the broader hours-of-service rules. We won't discuss those in detail here, but if you need a refresher, be sure to check out our detailed hours-of-service course through Trucksafe Academy.


Sufficed to say, the rules generally set substantive limits on the number of hours that commercial drivers can drive within certain time frames. For example, under the federal rules, property-carrying drivers are prohibited from driving more than 11 hours between each 10-hour off-duty break…essentially 11 hours a day. But notice that a 10-consectuvie hour off-duty break resets the driver’s available hours, so once he/she gets 10 consecutive hours off-duty, then he/she has 11 hours available to drive again.


As it turns out, it’s this 10 hour off-duty break that’s the key to understanding the split sleeper berth rule. In essence, the split sleeper berth rule is a limited exception to the requirement that drivers obtain a full 10 consecutive hours off duty to reset their substantive time limits. It other words, the split sleeper berth allows drivers to split up that 10-hour off duty break in a couple of different chunks of time throughout the day and still reset their substantive hours of service limits.


Who benefits from split sleeper berth time?

As we said at the start, the split sleeper rule only applies to drivers whose trucks are equipped with a sleeper berth, which should make sense given its title. But beyond that, the rule really works to the benefit of drivers whose schedules can’t really accommodate a full 10-consecutive hour off-duty break each day. The prime example is a driver who is detained at a shipper’s or receiver’s facility for long periods of time during the day, which necessarily cuts into his/her available hours.


Let’s say a driver starts driving at 5 AM in the morning. Now under the substantive limits, that driver would normally have until 7PM (14 hours later) within which to drive up to 11 hours before he/she would have to stop and obtain 10 consecutive hours off duty. But let’s say the driver arrives at a shipper’s facility at 11AM and is detained for 3 hours while his/her trailer is being loaded until 2PM. So, here, the driver has driven for 6 total hours (from 5AM to 11AM), but because of the 3 hours he/she was detained at the shipper’s facility, now only has 5 hours left (from 2PM to 7PM) to use the rest of his/her available driving time before having to take 10 consecutive hours off duty. That big chunk of detention time has eaten a significant portion of time out of this driver’s day, and will likely prevent him/her from taking full advantage of available hours for the day.


Without Splitting Sleeper Berth Time

Why is this the case? It’s the case because that 3 hours of off-duty detention time is essentially lost time…it does nothing to reset or extend the driver’s available hours because it is not a full 10 hours. And therein lies the problem that the split sleeper berth rule seeks to fix.


The split sleeper rule allows drivers to use those interim off-duty breaks to their advantage by combining them with longer breaks to achieve the “equivalent of a 10 hours off-duty break” and thereby reset their available hours. So here’s how it works...


The mechanics of split sleeper berth

Section 395.1(g) of the federal hours of service rules says that drivers whose trucks are equipped with a sleeper berth can obtain the “equivalent of a 10 hour off duty break” by taking 2 separate non-consecutive breaks that together equal at least 10 hours. Now there are some limitations to this.


First, neither of the two periods that count towards this calculation can be fewer than 2 hours in length. So in other words, if you have an hour long break in the middle of your day, that can’t be used for this purpose. Each qualifying break must be at least 2 hours long. Second, the two periods together must at least equal 10 total hours. So if you have a 2 hour break and a 7 and half hour break, that won't work because those only equal 9 and half hours. And third, the longer of the two breaks must be at least 7 hours long and must be completely in the sleeper berth. In other words, you can’t have two separate 5 hour periods, since neither of those breaks is at least 7 hours long. So essentially, we’re talking about off-duty breaks of 2 and 8, 3 and 7, or somewhere in between those two limits. Those are the types of breaks that will qualify as the “equivalent of a 10 hour off duty break” and reset your substantive hours of service limits.


Now I mentioned that the longer of the two breaks must be entirely in the sleeper berth, but what about the shorter of the two breaks. Does that have to be in the sleeper berth? The answer is no…the rule says the short break can be spent either in the sleeper berth, in off-duty status, or some combination of the two. So, for example, that shorter break can be spent in off-duty status grabbing lunch, and then taking a short nap in the sleeper berth.


Okay, so now that we know that a shorter off-duty break of between 2 and 3 hours and a longer sleeper-berth break of between 7 and 8 hours can be combined to achieve the equivalent of a 10 hour off-duty break, how does that actually work to the driver’s benefit? Well that takes us to the important part of the rule, which is how we calculate the driver’s available hours when he/she takes advantage of the split sleeper rule. The rule says that when a driver achieves the equivalent of a 10 hour off duty break by combining two shorter breaks, the driver’s available hours are to be “re-calculated from the end of the first of the two qualifying periods,” and that the qualifying periods are excluded from the calculation.”


So let’s go back to our previous example to see how this works in practice. Recall that the driver started driving at 5AM, arrived at the shipper’s facility at 11AM and was detained for 3 hours until 2PM. Let’s continue with that example to say that the driver now proceeds to drive for another 5 hours until 7PM and then stops for a 7 hour sleeper berth break.


Split Sleeper Example

Now under normal circumstances, that 3 hour detention break would have been lost time, and the driver would have had to have stopped for a full 10 hours at 7PM in order to reset his/her available hours for the next day. But here, under the split sleeper berth rule, the driver can use that 3 hour break to his/her benefit as a qualifying split sleeper break and combine it with his/her subsequent 7 hour sleeper berth break to achieve the equivalent of a 10hour break. This means that his/her substantive time limits reset 3 hours earlier than normal at 2AM the following morning rather than 5AM. And now we start our calculation at the end of the first qualifying break or 2PM (right after the detention break).


So what that means is that starting at 2PM, the driver now has 14 hours within which to drive 11 hours, and remember that neither of the two qualifying split sleeper breaks count against these available hours. So if we start at 2PM and count up to the driver’s 7 hour off duty break at 7PM, that means the driver has driven 5 total hours and has only used 5 hours of his/her available time window. So once the driver completes that 7 hour break, he/she still has 9 hours left of his/her 14-hour window within which to drive 6 more hours on his/her 11-hour driving limit.


Now the magic really comes when drivers start to string several days worth of split sleeper berth use together by taking a short break, long break, short break, long break. The split sleeper rule essentially allows them to utilize the shorter off-duty breaks (assuming they are at least 2 hours long) to their benefit, whereas normally, that would have been lost time. So the split sleeper berth rule is extending their available work hours and increasing efficiency by taking advantage of interim rest breaks. And again, this is particularly useful when drivers start to string together multiple days’ worth of split sleeper use.


Conclusion

So that's the split sleeper berth rule in a nutshell! For more in-depth training on the hours-of-service rules and other topics like driver qualification and DOT enforcement, be sure to check out our comprehensive online courses through Trucksafe Academy.

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