Truck and 18 Wheeler Accidents: Driver Fatigue and the Federal Hours of Service Regulations
Everyone knows it’s dangerous to drive while fatigued, but what many don’t realize is just how dangerous (and prevalent) drowsy driving really is.
According to recent studies by AAA and the National Safety Council, a fatigued driver is just as impaired as a drunk driver with a Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) of .10.
When you combine that level of impairment with a 60,000 + pound truck or 18 wheeler, the consequences are deadly.
Despite these statistics, fatigued related deaths are one of the leading causes of truck and commercial motor vehicle accidents in the United States every year, with over 55,000 last year alone.
Unfortunately, these statistics are only expected to get worse due to the Trump Administration’s efforts to repeal Federal Safety Regulations designed to prevent truck and bus drivers from getting behind the wheel while fatigued.
Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations: the “Hours of Service Regulations”
Commercial trucking companies (and their drivers) are required to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) – a comprehensive set of safety rules that govern everything from maintenance that trucking companies are required to perform on their vehicles to the training they must provide to their drivers.
Titled the “Hours of Service” Regulations, Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is specifically designed to prevent fatigued driving by limiting the number of hours a truck driver can drive within a 24-hour period.
The 14-Hour “Driving Window” Limit
The Hours of Service Regulations prevent commercial truck drivers from driving more than 11 consecutive hours over the course of a 14 hour “driving window.”
To comply with this rule, truck drivers have to spend at least 3 hours of that 14 hour window “off-duty” (which means not driving) and no more than 11 hours behind the wheel.
Once those 14 hours have passed, the driver is required, by federal law, to take a “10-hour break.”
The problem is that since the Hours of Service Regulations don’t actually require the driver to sleep during that 10 hour break, he or she could technically stay awake for a full 24 hours, then get back into their trucks and start driving without violating federal law.
70 Hour Duty Limit
The Federal Hours of Service Regulations also limit the average work week for a commercial trucker to 70 hours of “on-duty” time.
The definition of “On-Duty” time is extremely broad and not only includes time spent driving, but also extends to any time spent:
- at the trucking company’s dispatch yard (where truckers wait to get dispatched onto their next run)
- fueling, inspecting, servicing, or washing their truck or trailer
- loading or unloading their trailers
- completing paperwork like bills of lading, freight documents, or driver logbooks (see explanation of “logbooks” below)
- any time spent inside or with the truck while parked, broken down, or at a rest-stop (this would include any time spent inside the truck while it’s parked in a parking lot or broken down on the side of the road)
Once the driver has accumulated a total of 70 hours of time “on-duty,” they’re required by federal law to spend the next 34 consecutive hours “off-duty.”
After 34 consecutive hours “off-duty,” the clock resets, and the driver can accumulate another 70 hours “on-duty” before they’ll have to take another 34 hour break.
Federal Law Requires All Truck Drivers to Track their “On-Duty” and “Off-Duty” Time in Logbooks
Drivers are required to log every 15 minute interval of time spent on-duty or off-duty in electronic logbooks in order to maintain their driving privileges.
While it’s the driver’s responsibility to actually fill out the logs, the Hours of Service Regulations place the responsibility of actually enforcing and auditing the driver’s logs on the trucking company.
If a driver is involved in a collision or pulled over in connection with a traffic violation, the officer will request a copy of the driver’s logs. If the logs are not up to date, the driver is immediately taken off the road and the trucking company is fined.
Trucking Companies are Known for Destroying Driver Logbooks, Blackbox Data and Other Important Evidence After Collisions
From hiding and destroying the truck’s GPS, speed and “blackbox” data to falsifying their driver’s logbooks and vehicle maintenance records, there’s just about nothing a trucking company won’t do to avoid responsibility for injuring or killing another driver on the road.
The trucking company knows that the less evidence that exists, the easier it is for them to fabricate defenses and the harder it is for the victim to prove the company and its driver were at fault.
Regardless of what the trucking company or its insurance adjusters promise you after a crash, it’s critical that you immediately take steps to protect your rights and prevent the company from destroying important evidence that proves that its driver was at fault for the crash.
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