If a commercial truck driver falls asleep at the wheel, it could have devastating effects. Because of this, the agency that regulates the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), established limits on how long a driver can be behind the wheel of their truck before the driver has to take a rest period and/or clock out. This is called the Hours-of-Service (HOS) Rule. Essentially, FMCSA believes that by limiting the number of hours a trucker can drive, they also reduce the likelihood that drivers will be tired behind the wheel.
But how does FMCSA know that drivers are actually following these limits? Well, this is why the agency also requires truck drivers to fill out Records of Duty Status, commonly known as "hours of service logs" or "RODS."
A truck driver’s RODS is a written or electronic log of how many hours the driver has been on the clock, driving, resting, and off the clock.
In general, all drivers that operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) across state lines must follow the HOS Regulations, and the authorities periodically check that drivers adhere to these rules by looking at drivers’ RODS during roadside inspections.
How Do the Records of Duty Status Work?
A commercial truck driver is responsible for maintaining a log of every single route/trip that they take to show they are following the HOS regulations.
A driver must choose between one of the 4 duty statuses during their shift:
- Off-Duty - When a driver is not working.
- Sleeper - When a driver is sleeping in the truck’s sleeper berth.
- Driving - When a driver is behind the wheel.
- On-Duty - When a driver is working, but not driving. Think loading, unloading, inspections, etc.
Truckers used to fill out their hours of service logs by hand in a physical, paper logbook, but now almost all trucks have been fitted with an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) that tracks the hours the truck is running for the drivers.
Here’s an Example of a Records of Duty Status Printout:
The chart starts at midnight, counts in 15-minute increments, and shows what a driver did during one 24-hour day.
In the example above, the driver is sleeping in the sleeper berth until 9:45 AM when he is then on the clock, but not driving. Most likely this is when the driver is completing his pre-trip inspection. Then from 10 AM to 3:30 PM, the driver is on the clock and driving. At 3:30 PM he takes a 30-minute lunch break and then begins driving again at 4:00 PM. From 6:45 to 7 PM, the driver is again on the clock but not driving. Finally, at 9:45 PM the driver ends his day by going to sleep in the sleeper berth.
Records of Duty Status Aren’t Always Accurate
The federal government has the HOS rule which limits a driver's total hours and the means to periodically check that drivers are actually following the rule, so the problem is solved right? Well, this unfortunately only if people are 100% honest 100% of the time.
A truck driver's income is directly tied to completing routes; if they drive more routes, they make more money. This has led to a culture of drivers violating the HOS rule and then editing their logs to show compliance. Of course, now that most trucks have an ELD, fudging a driver's RODS has become more artful, but it hasn't stopped. It is only harder to spot.
Think about that for a second. If RODS can be faked and altered, that should lead to some concerns. What happens when a driver breaks the HOS Rule? What if a driver does fall asleep while driving? How are RODS used during an investigation?
Hours-of-Service Logs Are Useful in Investigations
As I mentioned before, during a roadside inspection the FMCSA and/or selected officials can examine a driver's log, but that is sort of it. Basically, the agency is a hall monitor. They can check logs all day long, but they aren't in every single driver's cab looking over their shoulders.
So, how do truck drivers get busted if the authorities can't at a glance tell whether the RODS have been faked? Usually, something happens, like an accident where someone is injured, and this causes interested parties to dig into the RODS, look for inconsistencies, and compare and contrast the RODs with other electronic data.
For example, our firm had a case where a truck driver's hours of service logs showed that he was well within his hours when he rear-ended a car and caused a fatal accident. When we were hired by the victim's family, we examined the truck's Qualcomm device (a type of communication tool truckers use to talk to their dispatcher) and grabbed the GPS data from it. The GPS data showed that the truck was zooming down the highway at 65 mph during periods of time that the RODS showed that the trucker was allegedly sleeping at the time. This led to the obvious conclusion that he was fudging his logs.
Driver fatigue is a common cause of large truck accidents, so FMCSA created both a rule that limits how long commercial truck drivers can operate between rests, and it created a rule that requires drivers to keep records of their driving time and rests. However, editing RODS is essentially an open secret in the trucking industry, and trucking companies know that RODS are very valuable pieces of information during a case.
As such, anyone who is injured in an 18-wheeler accident needs to work with an attorney who understands how such records are to be used and how important it is to take possession of them for use in the ensuing case.