Driving Hours, Breaks & Rest: Your Rights

Posted on 13th April 2021 By Charlotte Haye

Driving for a long time might be fun, but it’s also pretty tiring. While you might be sitting in one place, your mind is keeping track of dozens of things happening around you at all times, and your body is always on alert, ready to react quickly if something were to happen. But unlike normal drivers, HGV drivers often don’t have the option to just stop whenever they want during their journeys. You have a schedule to stick to after all. So instead, there are laws in place that dictate how long you can drive for in one go, when you need to take breaks, and how long those breaks have to be. All to make sure you are rested enough to be safe behind the wheel. And today, we’re going to share them with you.


Driver Hour Limits

The legal rules around river hours, and how long you can drive for, were actually set by the EU a long time ago. They were designed to keep HGV drivers safe and protect other road users from accidents caused by driver fatigue. And even though it was an EU directive, the UK Government saw the value in it and has enshrined them in UK law as well (so you don’t need to worry about Brexit). That mean the key rules for HGV driver hours include:

  • A 9-hour daily limit on driving. This can be increased to 10 hours, but only twice a week, no more.
  • Drivers may only drive 56 hours in any given week.
  • 90 hours is the maximum fortnightly limit.

These limits have been carefully designed to take into account things like shift patterns and night work, which is why they roll over a number of weeks as well as days. So as long as you’re not going over any of these limits, you should be able to keep driver fatigue at bay.



Hand in hand with how long you’re allowed to drive comes breaks. Specifically, when you have to take breaks, and how long those breaks have to be. There are lots of slight variations you can do, but the crux is that after you’ve driven for 4.5 hours, you have to stop and take a 45-minute break. To clarify, you don’t have to have driven for 4.5 hours all in one go – you could have taken one or more small breaks in that time. But once your total active time behind the wheel hits 4.5 hours, you need to take a longer break to rest. You can also split up your breaks if you like – but each one needs to be over 15 minutes, or it isn’t legally counted as a break. This is mainly because the human brain isn’t designed to focus for that long, and so it needs a decent amount of recovery time before you put it back into focus mode. 45 minutes is about the right time for your brain to relax and reset properly.


Rest Periods

Speaking of rest, on top of your breaks you will be required to take longer rest periods. These are designed to give you a full break from driving for 11 hours at a time, preventing burnout, fatigue and some of the physical problems that can plague drivers. You are required by law to take a daily rest period of 11 hours, which again you can take all in one chunk (like an overnight break), or split down into shorter ones. However if you do split it, the first period needs to be an uninterrupted 3 hours, and the second an uninterrupted 9 hours – which means you actually end up taking a minimum of 12 hours rest. That 9 hours is essential – because if you want to shorten your rest period for a day or two, then 9 hours is the minimum you can take. This is also known as a reduced daily rest period, and you can only do this three times a week. And you can sometimes do it accidentally too – since any rest you take that’s over 9 hours but under the required 11 automatically falls into this category – so watch out!

There is also a rolling weekly rest requirement, to make sure you’re not missing out on vital rest. You have to take a total of 45 rest hour per week – but again this can be reduced to 24 hours occasionally – if at least one full, 11-hour rest is taken in any fortnight, with no more than 6 consecutive 24-hour periods between rests. Confusing, isn’t it?


All of these rules apply to any professional driver of a vehicle and trailer over 3.5 tonnes – which makes up most of the professional HGV driving community. At Surrey & Hampshire Training Services, we specialise in providing thorough training for all aspiring HGV trainers – including guidance around the break, rest and drive time laws, and how to ensure you’re not breaking them. If you would like to know more, please just get in touch with the team today.

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