Hours of Service Rules are Meant to Keep Truck Drivers from Driving Fatigued or Falling Asleep at the Wheel
A leading cause of truck accidents is driver fatigue. Drivers on the road for long stretches of time can become dangerously less alert and unaware of the traffic and road conditions around them, and may fail to react to a situation in time or appropriately to avoid a serious accident. Chronic fatigue has been found to create a high risk of crashes due to the dangers of a slower reaction time, the lessened ability to assess situations quickly and respond quickly, and the tendency to fall asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, drivers are often unaware that they are fatigued until it is too late; if you have ever drifted into another lane or onto the shoulder but not realized it until after the fact, then you know what it is like to suddenly experience driver fatigue.
For truck drivers hauling tens of thousands of pounds of cargo with the risk of catastrophic injury or death in the event of an accident, driving while fatigued is simply unacceptable. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has adopted rules to limit a truck driver’s hours of service and ensure they get the rest they need. But sometimes these rules are not enough, and sometimes they are simply flouted. In any truck accident in Kentucky, Indiana or Tennessee, the Louisville truck accident attorneys at the Slechter Law Firm will investigate whether fatigue was a factor, and whether federal laws on Hours of Service were complied with or ignored.
Hours of Service Rules of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Federal trucking rules limit the amount of time drivers can be on duty and behind the wheel in a workday or workweek. A summary of the main FMCSA Hours of Service rules follows:
- A trucker can be on duty for a maximum of 14 hours per day
- Truck drivers must have ten consecutive hours off duty after a 14-hour day
- No more than 11 hours in a 14-day may be spent behind the wheel
- The trucker must take a 30-minute break in any eight-hour shift
- A trucker may not work more than 60 hours in seven consecutive days
- A trucker may not work more than 70 hours in eight consecutive days
- After reaching 60 or 70 hours, the trucker must be given 34 consecutive hours off-duty before beginning another seven or eight-day workweek
- Many exceptions to these rules apply
One might argue that these basic rules are already very generous to the truck driver and trucking company, and there is no doubt that the trucking industry lobby had an influence on how these rules were written. Yet despite the lengthy workdays and workweeks allowed by the rules, many truckers routinely violate the Hours of Service rules and drive longer than allowed, whether under pressure from the trucking companies or out of their own desire to finish a trip as soon as possible. Although truckers and commercial carriers can incur penalties for violating the Hours of Service rules, truckers can drive three hours past the maximum limit before the maximum fine can be imposed, which is currently $2,750 for the driver and $11,000 for the carrier. For some drivers and carriers, risking the penalty and breaking the rules may make economic sense for them, at the risk of public safety.
Use of alcohol and stimulants greatly increases risk of serious truck accidents
Commercial vehicle drivers are subject to a lower blood alcohol content (BAC) legal limit than other motorists, and the Department of Transportation requires periodic drug and alcohol testing of drivers. Unfortunately, a lack of enforcement means truckers can routinely abuse alcohol or drugs without fear of being tested. The dangers of alcohol intoxication and driving are well-known, but many people fail to understand the dangers of over-the-counter medications. Stimulants taken to allow drivers to stay behind the wheel for longer stretches of time actually increase the risk of accidents: they make drivers take more risks; they decrease alertness; and drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel when the effects of the stimulant wear off.
Get help from experienced injury attorneys who understand complex truck accident litigation
After an accident, a trucker will be routinely tested for alcohol or drugs, but there is no test for fatigue. An examination of the driver’s logs for compliance with Hours of Service rules is one way to determine fatigue, along with accident reconstruction. However, paper logs are routinely falsified, and electronic logs are still a thing of the future. If you have been injured in a truck accident, you need an experienced lawyer who knows how to determine the liability of the truck driver and trucking company, and who can handle the complex litigation often involved in truck accident claims.
For help with a truck accident claim in Kentucky, Indiana or Tennessee, call the Slechter Law Firm in Louisville at 502-384-7400, or toll free at 855-598-7425 for a free consultation.