A Day In An Owner Operator’s Life And A Constant Fight To Optimize Driving Hours

A Day in Owner Operator Life

With no boss nagging over your shoulders, a heavy 40-ton machine, and open roads to the horizon on all sides, the life of a trucker looks like that of a permanent vacationer who also gets paid for it. While it has another side which has them working very hard and having to be extremely patient every day, as a wonderful side of it, they also get to see the country.

For many teenage boys and girls, driving big machines sound like a natural career of choice for the freedom and ownership of your time it gives you. After acquiring your license, you can start making good at a young age and realize your dreams after becoming an owner-operator that comes with its own freedom and controlling your own time and business.

But as most truckers will tell you, the biggest incentive – the freedom of owning your time – can also be the biggest challenge in the life of an owner-operator, trying to maximize their income per mile. As per the hours of service regulation by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a trucker can be on duty for 14 hours in a row before he has to take a mandatory break of 10 hours to rest.

Since 2003, FMCSA has issued many new regulations and modifications in the total hours of service including the duration of total breaks a driver can take. In 2010, FMCSA proposed to keep the 11-hour limit while it also said it would consider cutting it to 10 hours. In 2013, the D.C. Circuit dismissed the requirement for short-haul drivers to take a 30-minute break but upheld the 2011 rule in all other respects. And further in 2015, the use of the ELD was mandated owing to the mandate of the regulated number of hours of service.

In July 2022, the most significant change put a new limitation on drivers to one 34-hour restart per week and required that every restart include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. In view of these changes, the maximum number of hours that a driver can work in one week has been cut down from 82 to 70.
Hours of Owner Operator Service
Total on-duty time: 14 hours (840 mins)
Driving hours: 11 hours (660 mins)
Mandatory break: 0.5 hours (30 mins)
On duty, but not driving: 2.5 hours (150 mins)

In addition, if a driver has not taken at least a 30-minute break by the end of his or her eighth consecutive hour of driving including any breaks of less than 30 minutes and any other work, the driver must take a break for a 30-minute break before driving again. It can be a lunch break or time off to rest in the truck’s sleeper berth. This break is not required If a driver will be working but not driving after eight hours.

Out of these 14 hours, they can utilize a maximum of 10 hours driving or hauling loads when the wheels of their truck are rolling. But are they able to utilize these 10 hours for driving? Let’s understand a real-world breakdown of a trucker’s day on the road, including the total miles they manage to drive and the unproductive activities that consume their time.

Beginning The Day With Early Mornings To Avoid Traffic

Waking up:

Although the actual waking time of an owner-operator depends on individual routine and work requirements, their day can start as early as any time from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Usually, the earlier to wake up and start, the less likely you are to face traffic which is a priority for each driver.

Morning routine and breakfast:

The morning routine includes freshening up, taking a shower, and having breakfast. Some drivers leave to take a shower at home while others prefer it later when they pull up to take a break. Usually, the truck stops have shower facilities and you can avail of them for free under the reward programs. Drivers check the weather as they eat their breakfast and have their coffee.

Pre-trip inspection:

Later they do a routine pre-trip checking of their truck for any faults like a flat tyre or major leaks. They usually fuel their vehicle before hitting the road.

Hitting the road:

Once they are on the road, owner-operators are held with a tight schedule. This means they have to try their best to stay ahead of potential delays like slow vehicles, accidents on the road, weather problems, and so on. In spite of this, they are expected to deliver the load right within the schedule. Federal regulations limiting the amount of time to 11 hours put further pressure on the driver to complete their route in a limited window.

Taking a much-needed (mandated) break:

Owner Operator In-between Round Trip Timing
Typically, drivers take their 30-min break in the middle of the day when they get off the truck and stretch and grab some lunch or snack at a truck stop.

Afternoon: Waiting To Get The Trailer Loaded/ Unloaded:

In the afternoon, a truck driver spends most of their time driving the load from origin to destination. The time a driver spends at a dock supervising, assisting, or simply waiting on freight to be loaded or unloaded is a lot and deducts from their on-duty time. When considering the 150 minutes allocated to all activities other than driving, it’s clear that a driver who averages two hours (120 minutes) each at a pick-up and delivery is not operating at peak efficiency. The driver has to extend beyond the 150 minutes allocated as non-driving time and use portions of their total 660 minutes of driving time to accommodate this stretch.

Evening: Parking, Post-Trip Inspection, And Paperwork

As the evening approaches, a driver may find them close to home or far away from family. If they are far away and going back home is time-consuming, they choose to find a safe parking spot and finish their paperwork including submitting proof of delivery documents and completing their post-trip inspection. A driver on average spends about 60 mins every day looking for a safe and legal parking spot where they can spend the night.

Wrapping Up The Day: Bedtime In The Truck Or Home

A driver often has a small bedding setup in their truck. It can be a compact bed set or a comfortable mattress hammock. And thus they call it a day, hoping to wake up early the next morning, haul good loads and get back home for some relaxing time with family if possible.

Major Challenges That Eat Up The Productive Behind-The-Wheel Hours:

On average, an owner-operator covers 400 miles or drives for 525 mins. He is expected to stop driving and take a break of 30 mins which can generally exceed 45 mins to a whole hour allowing them to park safely, fill out the necessary paperwork, and fuel up their truck. BB&T recently found that, in relation to the required 30-minute break, they “have yet to find a fleet whose drivers average fewer than 42 minutes.

Pickup And Delivery (Loading/ Unloading):

Waiting for the freight to get loaded and unloaded is one of the biggest pains for a truck driver who has to wait for up to an hour both at pickup and delivery, resulting in the wastage of an hour he could have spent driving a loaded truck.
Owner Operator Pickup and Delivery Time
Thus, a driver ends up having at least 50 miles wasted each day which translates to a minimum of $130 wasted per day if the driver makes $2.6 per mile on average. Aa an average owner-operator drives 300 days a year. This means at the rate of 50 miles wasted each day, it amounts to 15,000 miles forfeited in a year and a loss of a minimum of $39,000.

This one hour can easily go up to 1.5 or 2 hours on more challenging days which just doubles the number of forfeited miles and loss to a staggering $78,000 a year.

Looking For Parking:

As per official sources, when a driver’s hours of service run out, they simply pull over and go to sleep calling it a day. But this is far from the ground reality. In fact, a driver can end up spending over an hour searching for a safe, legally compliant location to shut down.

If a driver spends 60 minutes every day looking for parking while he drives 50 miles per hour, it means he loses 50 miles per day. For a driver spending 300 days on the road per year, that’s 15,000 miles lost per year.
Owner Operator Time Spent on Spoting Parking

Deadhead Miles:

When a driver goes to a location from his original location to deliver a load, he might wander off a bit far from home where it might not be possible for them to get a backhaul every time. And they end up driving an empty trailer for miles spending fuel and their hours of service.

If on average, an owner-operator drives 60 miles hauling an empty load, it means they are losing 75 mins of their drive time from their 11 hours of total service. Losing 75 mins means losing more than 11% of their total hours of service.
Owner Operator Average Empty Miles
If a driver drives 639 miles per load, 18,000 empty miles in a year means the loss of 28 loads and $46800 per year.


While minimizing the wait time at the warehouse at the time of loading and unloading is not under the driver’s control, other spills of hours of service can be taped by leveraging the latest logistics technology. A driver can stay ahead of these major challenges that consume their driving hours by using advanced tech apps like TruckBook that empower owner-operators with the latest technological tools to overcome wasteful activities. TruckBook’s GPS navigation tool helps drivers find safe parking spots in advance while offering them route optimization for each loaded trip to help them avoid slow routes and traffic jams. Its Trip Board features to create multiple round trip options with available backhauls for each load and helps them minimize their empty miles and loss of earnings per mile.

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