Among the many trucking industry regulations that may be relevant in a truck accident investigation, the rules that govern how long a truck driver may legally stay behind the wheel are often the most important.
The limits on driving time were created because fatigued driving is rampant among commercial truck drivers. A few seconds can make all the difference in recognizing a hazardous traffic situation and avoiding a crash. Fatigued driving slows reaction time and clouds a driver’s decision-making ability. It is often a contributing factor in tractor-trailer and other big rig truck accidents.
If a truck driver has violated Hours of Services regulations and caused a crash that left others injured, the driver and the driver’s employer may be held accountable for the harm suffered by the accident victims. If you or your loved one has been injured by a fatigued truck driver in Nevada, the Las Vegas truck accident lawyers at Sam & Ash, LLP will fight for you to receive full compensation. We are committing to demanding What’s Right for you. We offer free case evaluations, so call us or contact us online. We want to help you move forward after a difficult ordeal caused by someone else’s negligence.
The FMCSA’s Truck Driver Hours of Service Rules
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulate the number of hours commercial drivers can be behind the wheel without a break and how long they may drive each day and over the course of a workweek.
The Hours of Service (HOS) regulations are meant to balance the need to minimize driver fatigue with the needs of interstate commerce. Drivers’ time behind the wheel must be recorded. Drivers can be taken off of the road for violating the regulations. Because a commercial driver’s time behind the wheel is tracked, truck accident investigators can check the record when fatigue is suspected as a contributing factor in a truck accident.
Hours of Service (HOS) regulations (49 CFR § 395) impose mandatory rest breaks, and a section of the law requires trucks to be equipped with electronic logging devices (ELDs) to record time behind the wheel.
Highlights of HOS regulations for cargo-carrying commercial drivers include:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit. A driver may drive a total of 11 hours during a 14-hour work shift.
- 10 Hours Off Duty. Before driving for up to 11 hours in a 14-hour shift the driver must have spent 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- 30-Minute Driving Breaks. A driver must take a 30-minute break after driving for 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. A driver may be fully off duty or may remain on-duty but not drive.
- 14-Hour Limit. A driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
- 60/70-Hour Limit. Truck drivers can only be on duty for 60 hours in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period. A driver 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.
- Sleeper Berth Provision. A driver may split their required 10-hours off duty if they spend at least 7 consecutive hours in their truck’s sleeper berth and one other portion of the off-duty period is at least 2 hours long. All sleeper berth pairings MUST add up to at least 10 hours.
- Adverse Driving Conditions. A driver may extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to 2 hours when adverse weather or driving conditions are encountered.
- Short-Haul Exception. A driver is exempt from certain requirements to log their duty status if they operate within a 150 air-mile radius of their normal work reporting location and do not exceed a maximum of 14 hours on duty. Drivers using the short-haul exception must stay within a 150 air-mile radius of the work reporting location and return to the normal work reporting location within 14 consecutive hours.
FMCSA’s HOS Regulations Carry Weight of Law, Impose Penalties
The FMCSA requires all commercial motor vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds – large trucks – and vehicles transporting hazardous materials requiring placards to be equipped with electronic logging devices (ELDs). Drivers input duty status data and the ELD records some data, such as date, time, vehicle miles, and locations, automatically.
Trucking companies must maintain their drivers’ Hour of Service logs for up to six months. A motor carrier has a duty to track their drivers’ hours and take a driver off of the road if he or she has exceeded the limits for time behind the wheel.
DOT officials at mandatory weigh stations may inspect truck drivers’ hours-of-service logs and, in investigations prompted by accidents, may audit records held by motor carriers. Police may request access to logs if they stop a truck driver in traffic or while interviewing a truck driver after an accident.
If the DOT or police catch a driver violating HOS limits, the driver and truck may be placed “out of service” until the driver has spent enough time off duty to be back in compliance. A truck driver could also be ticketed and fined by law enforcement officials.
Violations of HOS rules could hurt the driver’s and motor carrier’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program scores, which are like points against a driver’s license. CSA scores are based on crash reports, roadside inspections, registration details, and investigations and are used to assess compliance and prioritize trucking companies in need of FMCSA intervention.
If a trucking company knowingly allows hours-of-service violations, the FMCSA may impose fines and/or order the carrier to shut down.
How Hours of Service Violations Can Lead to Truck Accidents
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says a driver who is fatigued can experience:
- Nodding off
- Slower reactions to changing road conditions, other drivers or pedestrians
- Making poor decisions
- Drifting out of their lane
- Tunnel vision
- Microsleep (sleeping for a fraction of a second to as long as 30 seconds)
- Forgetting the last few miles driven.
Federal regulations explicitly say (49 CFR § 392.3) that drivers are not allowed to operate commercial vehicles and trucking companies cannot allow them to drive “while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe to operate the commercial motor vehicle.”
The FMCSA dedicates a portion of its website to driver tips for avoiding driving while fatigued. The agency points out that the Large Truck Crash Causation Study found that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers – truckers – were fatigued at the time of collisions.
How We Identify an Hours of Service Violation in a Truck Accident
The tell-tale sign of a truck accident caused by a drowsy or fatigued driver is the lack of skid marks, indicating no braking or late braking. Some accident scenes show that the driver has made an inexplicable error, such as drifting out of their lane on a straight stretch of road into an oncoming lane. These situations give us reason to want to examine the driver’s Hour of Service logs.
During an accident investigation, we may obtain and examine:
- Event data recorders. A truck’s “black box” data provides information such as when and for how long braking occurred, acceleration, speed, steering trajectory (whether the driver tried to swerve to avoid the crash), and a variety of other data about the vehicle’s operation just before a collision.
- Bills of lading. Time-stamped cargo records can identify the trip’s time frame from pickup to delivery.
- Cellphone data. Calls, texts, and emails all have date and time stamps. The location (cell tower) they were sent from can be identified, as well.
- Receipts. Receipts for food or gas may indicate when and where the trucker stopped.
Eventually, a picture emerges, and the prospects for a successful accident claim increase. Drivers may push HOS limits just to get home sooner, or to get ahead of bad weather or traffic. Sometimes, motor carriers push drivers to meet unreasonable delivery deadlines that require driving while dangerously fatigued.
Regardless of the reason for a drowsy truck driver’s fatigue, if it causes an accident, the trucker and his or her employer can be held accountable. With the help of an experienced Nevada truck accident attorney from Sam & Ash, you can pursue a successful claim for an accident in Las Vegas, greater Clark County, or Western Nevada.
Contact Our Nevada Truck Accident Attorneys If You Suspect an Hours of Service Violation After an Accident
If you have been injured in an accident caused by a commercial truck driver, it’s possible the trucker was on the road illegally. At Sam & Ash, LLP, our Las Vegas truck accident lawyers can investigate to determine why a truck accident occurred. We have the knowledge and experience to help you, just as we have helped thousands of people.
Call us or contact us online now for a free review of your case. We’re available 24/7 and charge no fees upfront or out of pocket. You’ll only pay us after we recover money for you.