Hours of Service Rules for Truck Drivers to Help Prevent Fatigue-Related Accidents

by Paula A. Wyatt | October 25, 2022 | Blog, Truck Accidents | 0 comments

Hours of Service Rules for Truck Drivers to Help Prevent Fatigue-Related Accidents The federal government heavily regulates the trucking industry. Given the danger that trucks pose to all other drivers and passengers on the road, it makes sense that the government should have the ability to prescribe rules that apply to practically every aspect of the trucking industry. One of the most important rules that truck drivers must follow is the one that requires them to spend a certain amount of time off duty.

Fatigued Driving Factors in Many Truck Accidents

Fatigued truck driving is one of the greatest dangers to the public at large. One study that looks into the causes of truck accidents found that 13 percent of commercial truck drivers were fatigued at the time of their accident. Not only are fatigued truck drivers more likely to be involved in an accident, but the crashes they cause may also be worse because the truck driver does not take the appropriate action to mitigate or avoid the crash. Hours of service regulations have been around for almost as long as commercial trucks. The federal government recognized early that fatigued truck drivers cannot safely operate their trucks. Although these rules have changed several times to reflect current realities, some form of them has been in existence for over eight decades.

Restrictions on Truck Driver Hours of Operation

Unqualified Truck Drivers Endanger Us AllTrucking companies can face harsh penalties when their drivers break these rules. The federal government inspects both trucks and trucking company records, either on a spontaneous basis or in response to specific concerns. If the Department of Transportation learns that a trucking company routinely violates these rules, it may levy harsh enforcement actions. Currently, these are the restrictions with which truck drivers must comply:
  • Truck drivers may drive no more than eleven hours after ten consecutive hours off duty
  • Drivers cannot spread those eleven hours out over a period that is longer than 14 hours (they can extend the eleven hour axmimum driving limit and 14 hour driving window up to two hours when adverse driving conditions are encountered)
  • Operators cannot drive for more than eight hours straight without taking at least a 30-minute break
  • Truck drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty
  • Drivers may split their required 10-hour off-duty period as long as one off-duty period (whether in or out of the sleeper berth) is at least two hours long and the other off-duty period involves at least seven consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth (In other words, drivers must be somewhere that is conducive to sleeping for part of their break)
  • Short-haul drivers may fall into an exception to these rules, depending on how far from their home base they work and how long they are on duty
Hours of service regulations do not just cover the actual driving of the truck. A truck driver’s duties involve many tasks they may perform for the truck’s safe operation. Even things like inspecting their truck and doing paperwork count toward the time limitations.

Trucking Companies May Violate the Rules Due to Their Own Pressures

In theory, trucking companies seem to have every incentive to follow these rules closely. They do not want a driver to cause an accident when they are fatigued because it can put their entire business at risk. However, trucking companies have a number of competing incentives, and following federal law may fall by the wayside. Truck drivers may face many pressures on the job. One of the major stressors at their job is to make deliveries on time. Clients and stores expect timely deliveries on schedule. Otherwise, they may shift their business to a different trucking company. If the truck driver operates a vehicle for a company like Walmart or Amazon, their performance evaluation may suffer if they are late. However, truck drivers do not always control the conditions on the road that might delay them.

Truck Drivers Could Violate the Rules on Their Own

One temptation a truck driver may have is violating the hours of service rules to compensate for the time they previously lost. For example, if they were stuck in traffic and did not make as much progress as they hoped, they may keep driving when laws dictate that they need to take a rest. Regardless of why the truck driver may be violating the rules, the hours of service regulations exist to protect the public from fatigued truck drivers. Even with the proper rest and under the best circumstances, trucks are difficult vehicles to drive. Fully loaded, they weigh up to 80,000 pounds, and drivers must have all of their reflexes and wits about them to operate the vehicle safely.

The Many Risks of Fatigued Driving

Fatigued truck drivers may make the following mistakes that can raise the risk of an accident:
  • Missing the prompt to begin breaking to bring the vehicle to a stop
  • Losing control of the vehicle because the driver under or oversteered
  • Not checking into the blind spots what properly seeing into them when they do
  • Making poor judgment decisions because they are not thinking clearly
  • Falling asleep behind the wheel (or even nodding off for a second or two)

Trucking Companies Bear Responsibility for What Their Drivers Do

When you have suffered an injury by the actions of an individual truck driver, the trucking company should also be legally responsible for paying. A truck driver is an agent of the company that employs them, so long as they were acting within the scope of their employment when the accident happened. The trucking company provides you with a deeper pocket to pay for all of your accident damages. The first thing that your truck accident attorney can do is investigate what happens with your particular accident and gather the evidence that is necessary to prove liability. You might be in a position to win a truck accident lawsuit even if you do not prove that the driver broke the hours of service regulations solely on account of the driver’s negligent actions. Any mistakes drivers make that we discussed above can be grounds to find the truck driver negligent. Of course, it will help your case if you have smoking gun evidence that shows that the truck driver violated federal regulations. However, it is not an absolute necessity.

Your Attorney Would Want Information About the Truck Driver and the Company

However, your attorney will not want to stop at just getting the evidence that proves responsibility in this particular accident. In many cases, verdicts against the trucking company are much larger when you can prove that the truck driver violated a specific rule. Then, your attorney can get additional evidence in the discovery process to show that the issue was a systemic one in the trucking company. When that happens, juries are likelier to award a larger damages verdict. Trucking companies often face nuclear verdicts when there are company-wide rule violations and a culture of non-compliance with federal regulations. When one truck driver violates the hours of service regulations, there may be a company-wide pattern of breaking the rules. Though past verdicts against trucking companies are not a guarantee of what you might obtain in your case, your truck accident lawyer will look into all possible ways to hold the trucking company fully responsible for their negligent actions. This not only helps your family but can prevent the trucking company from violating safety rules in the future if they face high verdicts.

Trucking Companies Must Preserve Necessary Records

Trucking companies have to preserve records of their operations for a certain amount of time. In the past, trucking companies kept track of compliance with hours-of-service regulations through written logs. These records were subject to falsification and manipulation, and they were not as effective in documenting compliance. Although trucking companies can face serious penalties for altering records, they often calculated that the risk was worth it to increase deliveries and profits. Now, nearly all new trucks have electronic devices that log and monitor the hours in which the truck is in operation. These data points get tracked using the truck’s electronic logging data system (otherwise known as the black box). Now, trucks will automatically record the operating information, and trucking companies cannot alter it. The data from the black box should be automatically preserved and available to use as evidence in a truck accident case. However, in practice, obtaining black box data may be more difficult than it initially seems. Although the trucking company is legally responsible for preserving this data for a certain time, crucial evidence may “disappear” when the trucking company realizes that it can make them liable. Your truck accident attorney will need to move quickly to lock down this evidence, sending the trucking company a litigation hold letter directing them to preserve evidence in advance of litigation.

Your Damages in a Fatigued Driving Truck Accident

If you have suffered an injury in a truck accident, you are legally entitled to receive compensation for all of the damages you have suffered. Generally, damages break down into two categories:
  • Economic damages pay you for the money you needed to spend because of your injuries and the wages you cannot earn.
  • Non-economic damages compensate you for the subjective and intangible cost of your accident that results from the injuries and harm that you have suffered.
Punitive damages are a third-class of damages, but they do not depend on your own injuries. Juries use these damages to punish trucking companies for dangerous practices. Even when the trucking company’s legal responsibility for the accident is crystal clear, it does not mean that the insurance company will gladly pay you everything you deserve. You might still need to go through a considerable amount of fight before you can get a fair settlement check, if you can even get one at all. Part of the insurance company’s strategy is to make it as hard for you as possible. They are banking on the fact that you need money sooner rather than later, and you may take less than you deserve just to get the settlement check.

Hire an Attorney to Increase Your Chances of a Better Settlement

To get a fair and reasonable settlement, you should have an experienced truck accident attorney working on your case. It is virtually impossible to get the amount of money that you are legally entitled to if you are attempting to handle your claim on your own. Insurance companies welcome self-representing claimants because they are an opportunity for them to make money at your expense. When they see an experienced truck accident lawyer on the other side of the table, they realize that they must treat you with more respect. An insurance company will use far fewer tricks when they know that they cannot get away with them. Your truck accident attorney knows how much your case is worth and will do everything in their power to get you that amount of money, whether they settle with the insurance company or take your case to court. You need an attorney who is not afraid to fight large companies on your behalf.

You Should Retain a Lawyer as Soon as Possible

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San Antonio Truck Accident Injury Accident Attorney, Paula A. Wyatt
The important thing is that you get the legal help you need as soon as possible after the accident. Even if you did not intend to file a claim immediately, it helps your case to have a lawyer on the job and not be unrepresented. So long as you do not have a personal injury attorney, you are vulnerable to tricks that the insurance company may use to reduce the amount you can recover. It may even increase the chances that they deny your claim entirely. Hiring an attorney is an investment (even though you do not need to pay money out of your pocket) that can benefit your family’s financial future. You have nothing to lose by learning more about the truck accident claim process today.


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