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When Truck Drivers Violate Hours of Service Requirements, Innocent Victims Can Suffer Serious Injuries
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets limits on how many hours per day and per week truck drivers can spend behind the wheel. These are known as hours-of-service regulations, and they apply to drivers carrying cargo and passengers, although there are differences between the two sets of regulations. The hours-of-service regulations, referred to as HOS, are intended to ensure that commercial drivers are sufficiently rested. The regulations apply to any driver of a vehicle that belongs to a business engaged in interstate commerce so long as the vehicle meets any of the following criteria:
- The vehicle has an actual weight of 10,001 pounds or more
- The vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating is 10,001 pounds or more
- The vehicle is designed or is used to carry more than 15 passengers, including the driver, but not for compensation
- The vehicle is designed or is used to carry more than eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation
- The vehicle is used to transport hazardous materials in a quantity large enough to require warning placards
Federal regulations limit driving time, or hours of service, for drivers of any vehicles that fit at least one of these descriptions. Commercial cargo drivers are allowed to drive about an hour more each day than are commercial passenger drivers, but the intent of the regulations for both types of drivers is to reduce driver fatigue. To enforce the regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in June 2015 increased the fines and penalties charged to carriers—and, potentially, their employees—who violate FMCSA regulations, including HOS rules. The maximum penalty for HOS violations rose from $11,000 to $16,000.
The Consequences of HOS Violations go Far Beyond the Fines
Many HOS violations are truly minor. They fall into five categories, only two of which are truly significant. The most common HOS violations found by inspectors are:
- Form and manner violations: Nearly three-quarters of HOS violations fall into this category. Essentially, these violations mean a driver failed to fill in all of the required blanks on the records form. It is purely clerical.
- “Not current” violations: Drivers often wait until the end of the day to complete their HOS records. If they get inspected at a truck scale, they incur a violation for failing to record their last change-of-duty status entry. It is, again, clerical.
- No record of duty status and failing to retain previous seven days’ logs: Like the “not current” violations, this is clerical and ranks among the most common HOS violations. Drivers either have not yet filled out their forms or have but do not have the forms for the last week of driving with them.
- Driving beyond time violations: Truck drivers are allowed to be behind the wheel for 11 hours a day but must do that driving within a 14-hour duty period. Exceeding those limits results in a fine, even if the limit was exceeded by just a few minutes. Among the most common limits violations is when a driver has not driven for 11 hours in a day but exceeds his 14-hour window in which to drive 11 hours.
- False records violations: Falsifying logs is a serious violation and generally results in fines. This often arises from drivers not completing their logs as they drive. Waiting until the end of the week invariably will result in errors.
The main danger from HOS violations is, of course, driver fatigue. If a driver is falsifying records in order to exceed daily driving limits, that driver likely is driving fatigue. This takes a major toll on driver performance. Studies show that being fatigued has a major impact on the driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. Reaction time increases, while the ability to pay attention to the road and surrounding circumstances decreases. Distractibility and confusion increase, consequently raising the likelihood of driver errors.
Federal statistics indicate that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers who were involved in accidents were fatigued at the time of their crash. Further, the National Institutes of Health has documented that fatigue leads to reduced driver performance, including slower responses, inattention, and bad decisions.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that fatigue plays a role in about 100,000 traffic accidents each year, resulting in more than 1,500 fatalities every year. Further, the National Transportation Safety Bureau has estimated that fatigue is likely a factor in up to 40 percent of accidents involving heavy commercial trucks. In one study, 65 percent of truck drivers reported being drowsy or struggling to stay awake while driving, and 13 percent actually admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.
A report by the NHTSA determined that fatigued driving has a significant impact on accident rates. Most accidents in which fatigue is a factor occur at night, in pre-dawn hours or, surprisingly, in mid-afternoon.
When truckers violate HOS regulations, they place themselves at high risk of driving fatigued. The regulations permit a considerable amount of driving each day before requiring rest, allowing 11 hours of driving after 10 hours of rest. The same regulations allow drivers to be behind the wheel up to 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period. The rules permit a considerable amount of time behind the wheel each week. Considering that most people work a 40-hour week in jobs where being tired does not raise the risk of a fatigue-induced on-the-job accident at 65 miles per hour, it could be argued that those limits are high, not too low.
Call Us Today to Speak with a DC Truck Accident Attorney
Truckers’ violations of hours-of-service regulations can have tragic results. If you have been injured in an accident where you believe a truck driver’s fatigue was a factor, you should consult an attorney. The law may entitle you to compensation.
Attorney Michael A. Abelson at The Abelson Law Firm has helped many people recover compensation after sustaining injuries in truck accidents. You can reach him at (202) 331-0600 or through our online contact form.