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What is the Split-Sleeper Berth Exception?

The sleeper-berth exception is one of the most confusing rules in the FMCSA regulations. Walk through an example of how to properly use this exception.

J.J. Keller Senior Editor J.J. Keller Editor

Mark Schedler - Sr. DOT Editor - J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

February 26 , 2021

The sleeper-berth exception found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours-of-service rules is one of the most confusing in the regulations. The rule, found in 49 CFR §395.1(g)(1), applies to drivers of property-carrying CMVs equipped with a compliant sleeper berth (§393.76). 

Two separate qualifying break periods can be combined to obtain at least 10 hours off duty, and both periods will pause the 14-hour clock, which is a game-changer for some. One of the qualifying periods must be at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth instead of eight hours. The other break must be at least two consecutive hours period of off-duty time, sleeper-berth time, or both.

The two qualifying breaks can be taken in either order. For example, a 7-hour sleeper period taken first, and a 3-hour off-duty period taken second or vice versa.

Sleeper-Berth Exception Example

How Can I Use It?

To use the split-sleeper exception, you need to take at least a 7-consecutive hour break in the sleeper berth and a minimum 2-consecutive hour break that is off duty, in the sleeper berth, or any combination of the two, for a total of at least ten total hours in two qualifying breaks. 

The best way to understand the split-sleeper berth exception and how to use it is by example. Consider Juan’s logs below.

Sample log using the split-sleeper berth exception

After 10 hours off duty, on day 1 Juan drives for 5 hours and then enters the sleeper berth.

After 7 consecutive hours in the sleeper, he drives for 6 hours, reaching the 11-hour driving limit and hour 11 out of his allowed 14 (see the explanation of the calculations below). To do any more driving, Juan has a choice to make:

  1. He can go off duty or in the sleeper for 10 consecutive hours, which gives him a full 11 available hours of driving time within 14 hours; OR
  2. Because he already had a minimum 7-hour sleeper period (one of the two required breaks for the split-sleeper option), he can choose to go off duty or in the sleeper for just 3 hours for at least 10 hours combined. This option will NOT give him back a full 11 hours of driving time, nor a full 14-hour window.

He chooses option #2, a 3-hour break. At this point, he has accumulated the necessary 10 hours off duty using the two separate qualifying breaks, so he can start driving again.

As mentioned, he does not have another 11 hours of driving time available. He must subtract from 11 the number of hours driven since the end of the first of the two breaks (6 hours), leaving 5 hours of driving time.

How much time is available under the 14-hour rule?

Juan must again count forward from the end of the first two breaks (the 7-hour sleeper period, which ended at noon) and subtract that from 14. Remember, Juan can exclude both qualifying breaks from the 14-hour limit. That means he has 8 hours remaining (14 minus 6).

After driving 5 more hours, Juan has reached the 11-hour driving limit and has used 11 out of his allowable 14 hours. To do any more driving, Juan again has the same choice to make:

  1. He can go off duty or in the sleeper for at least 10 consecutive hours combined, to get a full 11 and 14 hours back; OR
  2. He can go back into the sleeper berth for at least 7 consecutive hours. This minimum sleeper-berth period can combine with the prior 3-hour break (6 PM – 9 PM on day 1) to form another valid “split.”

He chose option #2 and got 8 hours in the sleeper. At the end of this break (10 AM on day 2), Juan must recalculate hours available to drive and hours left on the 14-hour clock.

How much time does he have available?

He must count forward from the end of the first break in this pair (9 PM on day 1) and subtract all driving time from 11. So he has 6 hours available (11 minus 5). For the 14-hour calculation, he must subtract all time from the end of the 3-hour break at 9 PM from 14 and can exclude a qualifying break of at least 7 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, or the 8-hour sleeper-berth period on Day 2 in this scenario. So he has 9 hours remaining (14 minus 5).

After driving for his remaining 6 hours, he must again choose how much time to take off:

  1. Either 10 consecutive hours or,
  2. To return to driving as quickly as possible, at least 2 consecutive hours off duty or in the sleeper.

Juan chooses option 1 and goes off duty for 10 hours to regain a full 11 and 14 hours.

Note that Juan did not reach 8 total hours of driving, so he was not required to take a minimum 30-consecutive minute break from driving (read on for details). The two qualifying split-break periods can serve as a minimum 30-minute interruption from driving after 8 total hours of driving, so there is no loss of productivity taking the break from driving in this manner.

Sleeper-Berth Benefits

More Flexibility

One noticeable impact of this change is the added flexibility the rules give to drivers who have access to a sleeper berth. They can decide how to split their breaks — whether it’s 8 and 2, or now 7 and 3. While there is enhanced flexibility, the split-sleeper exception can cause drivers to be behind the wheel when they would typically be sleeping. This can be especially dangerous between midnight and 5 AM.

More Productivity

More importantly, drivers can “stop the clock” on the 14-hour rule for at least two hours, gaining back that productive time under the prior 8/2 split-sleeper exception. Given that benefit, in particular, more drivers and motor carriers will probably want to start using the split-sleeper option, especially if they either know the ins and outs of how to calculate compliance or, better yet, have an ELD that can calculate compliance for them.

Team Driving Flexibility

One other change worth mentioning is that team drivers will no longer need to spend 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper in order to combine sleeper and jump-seat time to get 10 consecutive hours. They can do 7 and 3 instead. Up to 3 hours in the passenger seat of a moving commercial motor vehicle, immediately before or after 7-consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, can be logged as off-duty time for a 10-consecutive hour break.

Comply with HOS Exemptions with J. J. Keller ELogs

The Encompass® ELD mobile app makes compliance with hours of service easier for your drivers and other employees that use sleeper berth, exempt, or other unique driving rulesets. The driver-friendly app is 100% compliant with FMCSA regulations, alerting drivers to pending violations. Talk with a compliance specialist to learn more about the J. J. Keller ELDs and Encompass.


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