What Are the Hours-of-Service Regulations for Truck Drivers
Truck drivers work under an immense amount of pressure. Stores need to restock their shelves on time. At the same time, truckers do not always control the conditions on the road. They may end up stuck in traffic and losing valuable time. Alternatively, the truck driver may experience delays in leaving because of maintenance issues with the truck or delays in loading the cargo.
When truck drivers cut corners and drive extra hours, the risk of fatigued driving arises. Federal hours-of-service regulations limit drive time and mandate rest periods to reduce drowsy driving, though drivers and companies do not always abide by these rules. Reach out to a truck accident attorney if you have experienced an accident caused by a truck driver not following hours of service regulations.
Truck Drivers Must Deliver Their Cargo on Time
Regardless of the cause of the delay, the driver is under the gun. The customer will pressure the trucking company for on-time delivery. In turn, the trucking company may pressure the driver, resulting in the driver cutting safety corners. The driver needs to deal with the minute-to-minute stress of the job and how they will get there on time. They know where they stand in terms of their schedules.
To make up time or ensure on-time deliveries, the driver may:
- Drive long shifts
Both of these violate the law.
Speeding is illegal for obvious reasons and you should call a lawyer after a speeding accident. Driving long shifts violates federal hours of service regulations that prevent the dangers of fatigued driving.
Fatigued Driving Puts Everyone Else in Danger
Any motorist is a danger when they get behind the wheel without the proper amount of rest. Drowsy driving kills over 1,500 people on the nation’s roadways each year. A motorist who gets behind the wheel after not having slept for 20 hours will function as poorly as one who drives with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 (the legal limit for drunk driving). Even when truckers get the proper amount of sleep, a long shift can still exhaust them.
Drowsy Driving Dulls a Truck Driver’s Reflexes
Drowsy driving in a truck is far more dangerous than in a car. A truck driver needs all their reflexes to operate a truck safely. A fully loaded truck weighing 80,000 pounds takes 525 feet to stop – almost two entire football fields.
If a driver is a second late in applying brakes, they can rear-end the car in front of them. Therefore, truck drivers need their full reflexes. Even one missed prompt or a split second can make an immense difference for your safety, yet you have no control over what a truck driver does or their decisions.
Rest Rules Are More Than 80 Years Old
Hours of service rules are almost as old as trucks themselves. The first rules date back to 1937. The federal government recognized the dangers of fatigued drivers operating large vehicles from the early days of trucks.
Unfortunately, the rules did not work as intended, and fatigued truck driving remained a significant problem. In 1995, Congress directed the Federal Highway Administration to address fatigue-related motor carrier safety. As a result, lawmakers changed the rules over seven years. After years of court battles (the trucking industry does not like hours of service limitations), today’s rules went into place.
The Current Truck Driver Hours Limitations
Truck drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after a ten-hour rest.
- The 11 hours of driving may spread out over no more than 14 hours.
- If operators drive for eight consecutive hours, they must take a 30-minute break.
- Truckers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in seven/eight consecutive days. A driver may restart a seven/eight consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
- Drivers can extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to two hours when they encounter adverse driving conditions.
- Drivers may spend a certain amount of time in the sleeper berth.
Sanctions and Penalties for Violating Mandatory Rest Rules
Drivers and carriers can face many penalties if regulators catch them violating the hours of service regulations:
- The driver may rack up a poor safety score, which can cost them their job or lead to discipline from their employer.
- The trucking company may face enforcement action from the federal government if there is an inspection.
- The trucking company can be liable for damages the driver causes if they are in an accident when violating the service hour limitations.
Even with enhanced rules and new ways of tracking whether the truck driver has complied with them, you are still not entirely protected by the regulations. There are countless examples of accidents caused by tired truck drivers.
Violating Hours Limits Could Constitute Negligence Per Se
If you can prove that the trucker violated the hours of service regulations, it may be evidence of negligence on its own. In any personal injury case, there is a concept called negligence per se. According to the Restatement (Third) Torts:
“An actor is negligent if, without excuse, the actor violates a statute designed to protect against the type of accident the actor’s conduct causes, and if the accident victim is within the class of persons the statute is designed to protect.”
Therefore, one of the first things your truck accident lawyer may investigate is whether the truck driver violated federal rules, such as the hours of service limitation.
How to Know if the Driver Violated Federal Regulations
In the past, drivers tracked hours of service compliance on a manually written log. As an injured driver, you never knew if the log reflected reality, as drivers could simply adjust the records to keep going past the time limits.
Thankfully, all newly built trucks must contain electronic recorders to monitor compliance. In addition to steering and speed, the black box will record the truck’s hours of service. The driver or the trucking company cannot alter these records. Therefore, if you were in an accident with a truck driver who broke these rules, you can know it.
You Must Quickly Lock Down and Obtain Truck Accident Evidence
However, you must move quickly to obtain the black box data. The trucking company will not hand it over to you on their own or they may not preserve it. After time passes, they can overwrite it. If the truck driver breaks the rules, you might find that this data will disappear sooner rather than later.
Thus, hire an attorney as soon as possible after your accident. Once you hire them, one of the first things that your lawyer will do is to send the trucking company a letter that directs them to preserve data in anticipation of litigation. If the trucking company then overwrites or destroys the data, they can be in serious trouble if your case goes to court.
You can also get evidence from any federal investigation into the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board investigates major truck crashes on U.S. highways. Depending on the severity of your impact, the federal government may launch its own investigation. Your lawyer will monitor the other investigations to see what they can learn about the crash. Then, they can get additional information in the discovery phase that can help with your case.
Your Truck Accident Attorney Can Obtain Evidence During the Litigation Process
If you file a lawsuit, your lawyer will ask for certain information from the trucking company. You can seek information that bears on the particular accident or the driver in the crash. It can be that the driver has a poor safety record and a history of violating hours of service restrictions or other federal trucking regulations.
The company may have an abysmal compliance record with a long history of breaking federal rules. While your lawyer may not be allowed to go on a “fishing expedition,” they can learn whether the trucking company has a pattern of behavior in breaking the rules, especially the ones governing hours of service.
If you can prove either rule violations in your case or a long history of noncompliance with safety regulations, you may be in a stronger legal position. The trucking company may not want to challenge you because a jury does not hesitate to hold them accountable. Many angry jurors have hit trucking companies with massive verdicts when their careless or reckless behavior led to severe injuries.
Trucking Companies Do Not Make Records Easy for You to Get
Compliance information and corporate records are not something that you will know how to get on your own. The trucking company will have no reason to worry that you will get your hands on damaging information. That all changes when you hire an experienced truck accident lawyer.
When a lawyer represents you, they may get their hands on information damaging to the trucking company.
You do not necessarily have to prove the truck driver broke the hours of service rule to win your case. All you need to show is that they did something the ordinary truck driver would not have done under the circumstances. For example, if the drowsy driver drifted out of their lane, the drifting alone could prove their negligence.
Proving they violated the hours of service rule will strengthen your bargaining position if your case goes in front of a jury. Breaking rules will not be something that a trucking company will want a jury to know because they will instantly be at a considerable disadvantage.
Your Truck Accident Lawyer Can Understand the Bigger Picture in Your Case
A commercial truck accident may have severely injured you. You might have medical bills and cannot work. In that scenario, enlist an experienced personal injury attorney.
You might not even consider whether the truck driver violated a federal rule if you try to deal directly with the insurance company. Your truck accident lawyer, however, will work through a checklist based on their knowledge and experience. Their investigation can rule out some accident causes while discovering other focus points.
You cannot easily focus on a legal claim when you deal with truck accident injuries. Truck accident cases involve complex, moving pieces that you need an attorney to track.
Ultimately, your goal is to maximize your financial compensation once you prove that someone else was to blame for your accident. Truck accident damages can be significant, and your lawyer will fight for you to receive the highest possible compensation for your injuries. Contact us to receive your consultation.