Skip to Content (custom)

    Hotshot Truck Driving Guide

    drivers unloading a commercial van

    What is hotshot trucking?

    Hotshot trucking is a niche market, steadily growing in popularity, as it allows businesses with smaller, more time-sensitive shipping needs to get things moving without having to engage a larger carrier. It’s quick, cost-effective, and gets the job done with less friction.

    In a nutshell, it involves moving smaller, lighter loads, usually utilizing medium-duty (one ton) trucks with flatbed trailers. Shipping requirements vary, but typically comprise short distances and partial load sizes. A common example might be a construction company needing a piece of equipment moved to a new job site quickly, with as little operational downtime as possible. It's extremely fast-paced but given the time-sensitive nature of most deliveries, it can be extremely lucrative.

    What is a hotshot driver?

    Hotshot drivers are mostly small owner operators with a single truck or micro fleet who get into hotshot given greater flexibility and low startup costs. They usually work within a tight geographic radius, spend more time at home, and circumvent some of the regulations involved with larger vehicles and longer hours on the road.

    Hotshot requirements

    Given most hotshot drivers utilize medium-duty trucks and typically spend less time on the road, there is a lot of confusion surrounding requirements and regulations, including, but not limited to, hours of service (HOS) management and electronic logging device (ELD) compliance. With that in mind, this guide aims to clear up some of the confusion.

    For starters, it’s a widely held misconception that hotshot drivers don’t need to follow HOS regulations or comply with ELD mandates. While there are no all-encompassing regulations for the niche, most hotshot drivers will need to comply, with a few exceptions. So, let’s dive into the details.

    Record of duty status (RODS) requirements

    In general, per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), any driver operating a commercial vehicle must follow HOS regulations. As a refresher, HOS regulations are federal rules dictating driver working hours, including on-duty time, driving, and rest stops.

    Drivers abide by HOS regulations by maintaining RODS, a driving log that serves as a record of duty status for every 24-hour period. When it comes to RODS, not all hotshot drivers must comply, but most do. Hotshot drivers must maintain RODS if they meet any of the following criteria:

    • Haul loads that include hazardous materials and required placards
    • Operate a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of greater than 10,001 pounds. Or a gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross combination weight (GCW) of greater than 10,001 pounds
    • Conduct interstate commerce

    Hotshot ELD requirements

    As of 2017, the FMCSA mandated ELDs to automatically record a driver's RODS in order to simplify HOS management and compliance. Most hotshot drivers should expect to use an ELD, with a few exemptions. Why, you may ask? Even without a load, most medium-duty trucks will reach the 10,001-pound limit that requires RODS as noted above.

    But, even if a hotshot driver's vehicle surpasses the 10,001-pound limit, there are a few exemptions that do not require them to use an ELD. We will outline each of these ELD for hotshot exemptions below: 

    Short-hauls (drivers with a CDL)

    In order to qualify for the exemption, drivers must:

    • Begin and end their workday at the same location
    • Operate their workday within a 150 air-mile radius of their starting location
    • End their workday within 14 hours
    • Spend at minimum 10 hours off duty between each 14-hour day

    If a hotshot driver does not meet even one of the exemption qualifications, they must use an ELD.

    Short-hauls (drivers without a CDL)

    Without a CDL, a driver may qualify for the exemption as long as they:

    • Operate their workday within a 150 air-mile radius of their primary location
    • End their workday at that same primary location
    • Do not drive a vehicle that requires a CDL
    • Do not drive past 14 hours on duty on 5 days over a period of 7 consecutive days
    • Do not drive past 16 hours on duty on 2 days over a period of 7 consecutive days

    Do note, even if a driver qualifies for an ELD exemption, they are still required to keep a log of time in, time out, and total hours per day. Logs should be kept for a period of six months.


    Another ELD exemption involves tow-away drivers. Hotshot drivers transporting commercial vehicles as part of a tow-away enterprise are exempt from the ELD mandate given they do not own the commercial vehicles they may be transporting.

    Vehicles older than 2000

    Hotshot drivers operating vehicles manufactured in the year 1999 or older are not required to comply with the ELD mandate. It's important to mention, however, that this references the engine model number, not the vehicle identification number (VIN).

    8 days or less over 30

    The last exemption for hotshot ELD compliance involves any driver who keeps RODS for 8 days or less over a period of 30 days. Given they operate on such a limited basis, they are not required to use an ELD.

    Frequently asked questions about hotshot drivers

    Do you need a CDL for hotshot?

    No. Not all hotshot drivers need a commercial driver's license (CDL). If a hotshot driver keeps loads under 10,001 pounds, with all proper documentation in order, they do not need a CDL.

    How does hotshot differ from expedited shipping?

    Many confuse hotshot with expedited shipping, which is a little different. With expedited shipping, trucks are specifically waiting on standby to move quickly should a load come in. Conversely, hotshot truckers source their jobs from load boards, making them particularly enticing to owner operators or those just starting a trucking company as they are free to take on as many, or as little, opportunities as they like.

    What kind of vehicles do typical hotshot truckers use?

    Most hotshot truckers use medium-duty trucks in classes 3-5. These include large full-size pickups, vans, and standard delivery trucks.

    Hotshot equipment list

    Any driver looking to get into hotshot trucking will need some basic equipment. With that in mind, we have put together a simple hotshot equipment list. Equipment needs will vary with hauling needs, but drivers should expect these very minimal needs to start:

    • Half-ton or one-ton truck, van, or delivery vehicle
    • Flatbed trailer or enclosed trailer
    • Cargo strips, tie-downs, chains, etc. for load securement
    • Bungees and hooks
    • Towing chains
    • Tarps to protect cargo from weather
    • Moving blankets
    • 60-gallon fuel tank for additional fuel capacity
    • Toolbox with general tools including wrenches, screwdrivers, etc.
    • Flashlights
    • Spare tires
    • Personal protective gear including hard hat, glasses, safety vest, gloves, boots, etc.
    • Road safety equipment including flares, cones, a fire extinguisher, etc.
    • ELD (if required)

    ELD for hotshot

    Given the conditions described above, many hotshot drivers will require an ELD compliance solution in order to meet HOS regulations. A comprehensive ELD solution should come with everything you need to maintain compliance. At the end of the day, it’s not as daunting as it may sound.

    Our FMCSA-compliant ELD solution leverages our intelligent fleet dash cam with engine control module (ECM) connection to seamlessly record driver HOS data. Drivers utilize our streamlined driver app on their mobile device to track hours in order to ensure compliance with federal mandates.

    It really as simple as that. Beyond ELD, there are other opportunities to improve hotshot efficiency for the better, like using fleet management software. Here are just a few ways:

    GPS fleet tracking can be used to:

    • Optimize and track routes given traffic, weather, accidents, and other delays
    • Relay accurate estimated times of arrival and confirm delivery
    • Track vehicle health and performance while assisting with preventative maintenance

    fleet safety program can be used to: 

    • Exonerate drivers from wrongful claims
    • Provide video evidence in the event of an incident
    • Help drivers to self-correct unsafe driving habits

    Contact us or book a demo to learn more about our ELD solution and other ways fleet management solutions can optimize hotshot performance.