The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) established the Hours of Service (HOS) Rule with the intention to limit—even completely prevent—crashes due to driver fatigue. Additionally, the HOS Rule aims to protect drivers from harassment and forced, unsafe driving by their employers. So why would some truckers intentionally violate the HOS rule and edit their Records of Duty Status (RODS) to look compliant?
Simply put, the more hours they drive, the more they can earn, so truckers have a strong incentive to drive more hours than allowed by law.
In this article, we'll talk about where the desire to fudge Hours of Service records comes from, both in terms of trucking culture and the financial incentives that benefit cheaters, and we'll talk about what can be done to keep our roads safe.
Trucking Culture is Partly to Blame for The Rampant Cheating
In general, commercial truck drivers are a very independent bunch. This trait is prevalent, regardless of whether they work independently or for a large corporation, as they often drive their own trucks and set their own hours. And when on the road, a trucker is their own boss. One could easily argue that it's hard to imagine a trucking industry without that model of independent men and women who just weren't cut out for the office or assembly line.
Frankly, there's nothing wrong with that. The last thing we'll ever advocate for is for Americans to lose their independent streak, and the idea of someone being their own boss or master of their own destiny is peak America.
But with freedom comes responsibility. The problem arises when someone wants to have the freedom to do what they want but lacks the self-control to rein in their excesses and bad impulses. Most truckers don't have that problem, but enough do, and that's why the federal government has regulated the trucking industry so heavily.
So there is tension between the needed independent streak of truckers and the US government's desire to regulate the nation's roads.
Some truck drivers feel that the trucking regulations are created by a nameless group of people who have never actually driven a commercial truck even for a short drive, let alone across several state lines. They feel that the federal regulators overstep their bounds when telling the professionals what they can and can't do.
Some of these very independent individuals feel 100% confident that they are capable of driving longer than the HOS limits without posing a safety risk. So, in their eyes, the HOS Rule's cap on driving time directly limits their income without actually making the roads safer.
What has come of all of this is an obstinate streak in many truck drivers wherein they feel compelled to violate federal regulations and drive more hours than allowed. But they don'tusually advertise the fact that they're breaking the law. Rather, it's very common for them to drive as long as they like and then edit their RODS to reflect a false reality.
In fact, we've had more than a few truckers testify in depositions that basically everyone cheats their hours of service logs and risks the penalties. But why?
Good Things Come to Those Who... Willingly Break the Rules for the Benefit of the Company
The HOS Rule says that a driver can operate a commercial truck for a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, with a max of 14 hours during each 24-hour period. Now, you may be thinking, why would they take the risk of, say, driving 15 hours vs. 14 hours? All that risk for an extra hour's worth of pay?
However, that doesn't reflect how truckers get paid. Very few are paid an hourly rate. Most are paid by the job or by the mile, so racking up completed jobs or miles is important to them. Even if they are paid salary, they need to show a high number of completed jobs to justify the pay they get.
Look at it this way, if a trucker gets paid by the job, and each delivery on their route takes 10 hours, then they can basically only ever do one job per day and still comply with the hours of service rules. However, if the trucker is willing to break the hours of service rules, that driver could finish one job and then complete a portion of the next job on the same day. By simply extending the amount of work completed each and every day, a trucker is able to squeeze in an extra job (or two) during each week.
Let's Break It Down a bit More
A hypothetical company hires truckers, Steve and John, for a route and pays them $400 per job to run delivery from Dallas to Galveston and back again.
Steve always follows the Hours of Service Rules. On Monday, he drives from Dallas to Galveston, drops his cargo, and makes the return trip. The total route is 10 hours, so Steve knows he can't make it back to Galveston before going over 14, so he decides to just stay in Dallas. He does the same thing on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. At the end of the week, he earned $2,000.
Now, John doesn't care about the HOS rules. On Monday, he drives from Dallas to Galveston, drops off his cargo, heads back to Dallas, loads up again, and returns to Galveston. He has now made two deliveries in 15 hours on Monday. He sleeps in his truck, wakes up on Tuesday, drives back to Dallas, loads up, and returns to Houston. He then drives back to Dallas and sleeps at home. He wakes up, gets another load of cargo, drives back to Houston, drops the cargo off, goes to Dallas, loads up, and back to Houston, where he will again spend the night in his truck.
At the end of the week, John has completed double the amount of jobs Steve did and has earned $4000. Each day, he only went over the hours of service by merely an hour. In his eyes, he only cheated a little, and look at all the extra money he earned.
Additionally, our hypothetical company is pleased with John's ability to double the work completed each week, so it continually assigns lucrative routes to him. Steve on the other hand gets shorter less profitable routes, or maybe even fired.
So now, we can see that even if a driver doesn't want to cheat, they are often they're pressured to do so.
Here's a Real Life Example
Previously, we had a case where a truck driver was well over the HOS limit when he fell asleep, crashed, and killed his passenger. During his deposition, the truck driver explained that he was over the regulated hours because "dispatch gives routes to drivers who break rules."
Essentially, he needed to complete routes to earn money, he would be given more routes if he could complete them faster, and his company was willing to edit his RODS so it wouldn't look like he had broken any rules.
The federal government has created rules and punishments to try to curb the false reporting of trucker HOS records and cut down on driver fatigue, but it is having mixed results. It is just like how a lock on a door only keeps the already-honest folks honest. If someone really wanted to open the door, they would disregard the law and pick the lock. Likewise, if some truckers and trucking companies really want to squeeze as much profit as possible out of each day/week, then they will disregard the hours of service rules.
This is part of the reason there are so many truck accident lawsuits. Companies and employees that want to earn income at the expense of other people's safety pose a serious safety threat to everyone else—even other truck drivers—on the road. Law firms like those that have been seriously injured by irresponsible drivers and companies achieve a remedy for their losses.