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How Do Truck Driver Hours of Service Work?

How Commercial Truck Driver's Hours of Service Work

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver fatigue is estimated to be a factor in over 100,000 roadway accidents per year in the United States. Unfortunately, quite of few of those accidents involve the drivers of 18-wheelers. Within the commercial transportation industry, the fact that many are paid by the number of miles they drive creates a natural temptation for truckers to drive well past the point of exhaustion. This can be an incredibly dangerous behavior, because the exhaustion created from driving such a large vehicle can cause catastrophic accidents if the driver falls asleep at the wheel.

Furthermore, truck drivers can feel a lot of pressure from employers to get freight delivered on-time, or even early, because the more loads that are delivered, the more money the trucking company can make. The pressure trucking companies often exert on their drivers to skimp on sleep as a result has led to many exhausted drivers being involved in accidents that could have been avoided.

As a result, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency that monitors and regulates the trucking and busing industries, has placed limits on how long a truck driver can stay on the road without a rest break.

Questions Answered In This Article:

  • What are the current Hours of Service rules for truck drivers?
  • What are the penalties for failing to comply with the Hours of Service rules?
  • Are there any exceptions to the Hours of Service rules?
  • How do the Hours of Service rules apply to a truck accident case?

Current Hours of Service Rules for Truck Drivers

When the FMCSA first started regulating trucker service hours, drivers were permitted to drive as many as 16 hours in a given day. However, safety concerns brought that number down to 14 hours and eventually to 11, but with stipulations. The FMCSA continues to periodically evaluate hours of service regulations to ensure the safety of all drivers on the road.

"The goal of this rulemaking is to reduce excessively long work hours that increase both the risk of fatigue-related crashes and long-term health problems for drivers. A rule cannot ensure that drivers will be rested, but it can ensure that they have enough time off to obtain adequate rest on a daily and weekly basis. The objective of the rule, therefore, is to reduce both acute and chronic fatigue by limiting the maximum number of hours per day and week that the drivers can work..."

-Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration

As stated above, the rules cannot always ensure a driver will be rested, but if drivers follow the rules set by the FMCSA there is a high possibility of eliminating accidents due to fatigue. Unfortunately, the rules are not always followed. Here are the current hours of service rules for commercial drivers:

  • A commercial driver can only drive 11 hours in one day after 10 consecutive hours off duty, of which eight must be spent sleeping. However, the sleeping can be done in the sleeper cab of the truck and doesn't have to be eight hours continuously. For example, the driver could sleep four hours, watch TV for an hour, then sleep four hours more and read a book for an hour, then drive 11 hours.
  • A commercial truck driver must take at least a 30 minute break for every eight hours of continuous driving.
  • A commercial truck driver can only be on-duty for 14 hours in a given 24-hour period. Essentially, a driver can work a 14 hours shift because there are times during the shift when he will be loading or unloading materials. The 11 hour rule only applies to driving time only.
  • A commercial truck driver is not permitted to drive more than 60 hours within a week. The driver can restart the 60-hour period once per week by spending 34 consecutive hours off duty.
  • A commercial truck driver is not permitted to drive more than 70 hours within 8 days. The driver can restart the 70-hour period every 8 days by spending 34 consecutive hours off duty.
  • All truck drivers are required to track their driving and resting record with a daily log book or an Electronic On-Board Recorder (EOBR). The log book must have carbon copies, so the driver can retain one and the employer can have the other. The log book or EOBR must track the date, time, and location of all duty status changes, the name of the driver, the total miles driven for each leg recorded, and the truck and trailer number.

Exceptions to the Rules

There are a few exceptions to the hours of service rules for truck drivers, including:

  • During times of inclement weather, drivers may exceed the 11-hour daily driving time maximum but only by a two hour maximum.
  • Truck drivers who are traveling within a 100-mile radius of the place where they report to work are not required to keep a log book.
  • Retail store drivers who are traveling within a less than 100 air-mile radius are allowed to surpass the daily driving limits from December 10 through December 25 in order to make the delivery demands for Christmas.
  • Due to the size of the state, truck drivers in Alaska are permitted to drive 15 hours following 10 consecutive hours of being off duty.
  • Drivers in Hawaii do not have to keep log books because their employers must maintain a record of the driver's total number of hours each day, along with the employees start and end times.

To read about other laws that govern semi-truck accident cases, click here.

How Failure to Comply With Hours of Service Rules Affects Your Case

Any trucking company who commits egregious violations of any of the the Hours of Service rules may face the maximum penalties for each violation. However, violations of the rules are only considered egregious if the hours exceed the mandated limits by three hours. For violating any of these rules, trucking companies can be fined $11,000 for each offense, and truck drivers can be fined $2,750 for each offense they commit. Disturbingly, if a driver only drives two hours over the limits, he may not even face penalties. While on paper these rules should prevent driving too many hours, actually catching drivers who spend too much time on the road is a whole different story. State highway patrol make random checks of drivers at truck stops, where they require the trucker to show his driver logs, but that can only catch a certain percentage of violators.

If a victim is in an accident with an 18-wheeler driver who is in violation of hours of service regulations, it is legally considered negligence. As a result, both the truck driver and the trucking company can be held liable for any harm caused if a crash occurs as a result. After an accident, the patrol officer is supposed to request to see the driver's logs, and this information is important to the victim's case. Unfortunately, truckers have a reputation of "doctoring" their logs to avoid getting caught, but an attorney can help a victim overcome the impediments this creates for their case.

Ultimately, if you've been injured or a family member has been killed in an accident with a truck driver who appeared to be over-tired or had flat-out fallen asleep at the wheel, then you need to discuss your case with a knowledgeable and experienced 18-wheeler accident attorney immediately to begin building your case. You will need to act fast, so that your attorney can obtain evidence the truck driver had exceeded their permitted hours of service before the trucking company makes it disappear. Call Grossman Law Offices today for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 (toll free) and find out how we can help.

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