Falling Asleep at the Wheel of a Big Rig: What are the Hours of Service Regulations for Commercial Truck Drivers?

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    All it takes is a split second for any one of us to divert our attention from the road and cause an accident. Unfortunately, when this happens to commercial truck drivers due to driver fatigue it can have catastrophic results. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has promulgated regulations for tractor-trailer divers to help curb accidents due to overworked and tired drivers. The FMCSA regulations mandate that a driver of a commercial motor vehicle, such as a semi-truck, tractor-trailer, or 14-wheeler must comply with certain rules and regulations to operate their vehicle legally to minimize truck accidents.

    A commercial motor vehicle would be one that is “used as part of a business and is involved in interstate commerce” and fits any of the descriptions mentioned below:

    • Weighs 10,001 pounds or more.
    • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more.
    • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation.
    • Is designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation.
    • Is transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards.

    [Source: FMCSA]

    What most people do not know is that this definition also includes private business owners where vehicles are used to tow backhoes, bull dozers, skid-steer loaders and other heavy equipment when their work requires them to travel across state lines. This would also implicate small car haulers, dump trucks and other businesses that operate between two states and the weight of the vehicles exceeds 10,000 lbs, which is not a very high threshold.

    One of the rules commercial truck drivers must comply with are the hours of service regulations. Hours of service regulations stipulate the maximum number of hours these types of drivers can be behind the wheel to ensure they aren’t driving for too long and become a risk to themselves and others on the roadway. As we have all seen from news reports and other sources, these heavy vehicles have the potential to cause massive property damage and loss of life, so the FMCSA has promulgated these rules to ensure that the public is kept safe. A trucker that is responsible for transporting property is subjected to the following hours of service rules:

    • Truck drivers are limited to driving a total of 11 hours after spending 10 consecutive hours off duty.
    • Truck drivers may work a total of 14 hours, however, of those 14 hours, 11 can be spent driving and mentioned above.
    • A truck driver may only drive if eight hours or less have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper birth period that lasted at least 30 minutes.
    • A truck operator may not drive after having been on duty for 60 hours in seven consecutive days. A truck driver who works eight consecutive days may not go over the 70-hour mark.

    [Source: FMCSA]

    The truth is, many truckers have fallen asleep at the wheel because they worked beyond the number of hours they were legally permitted to drive. Some truckers even find themselves dozing off at the wheel because they struggle with sleep apnea or their circadian rhythm (sleep pattern) is affected by irregular sleep and wake cycles common to long-haul driving Sleep apnea and circadian issues can make it difficult for a driver to stay awake during the day and cause drivers to have trouble staying asleep at night. Symptoms can be similar to being hung over after the big game, or if you are like me, drinking coffee after 4 P.M. and not being able to fall asleep.

    Aside from the hours of service rules, companies are now required to install ELD’s or Electronic Longing Devices on newer vehicles to help ensure truck drivers abide by these regulations. According to the FMCSA, “an ELD synchronizes with a vehicle engine to automatically record driving time, for easier, more accurate hours of service recording.” This way, drivers cannot go over the 11-hour driving limit otherwise it will be recorded, and the company risks being fined for violating the rules. However, there are many exemptions to this new mandate, including the following:

    • Drivers who use paper RODS for not more than 8 days out of every 30-day period.
    • Drivers of vehicles manufactured before 2000.
    • Drivers who are required to keep RODS not more than 8 days within any 30-day period.
    • Drivers who conduct drive-away-tow-away operations, where the vehicle being driven is the commodity being delivered, or the vehicle being transported is a motor home or a recreation vehicle trailer with one or more sets of wheels on the surface of the roadway.
    • Drivers of vehicles manufactured before the model year 2000. (As reflected on the vehicle registration).

    In the event you have been involved in a truck collision in Greenville or Spartanburg, South Carolina whether you were the operator of the truck or another motorist whose vehicle was hit, contact Greenville, SC auto accident attorney Paul Hammack. If you are entitled to collect compensation for your damages and/or injuries, Hammack Law Firm is capable of recovering the maximum compensation your collision permits you to collect.

    Our Client Bill of Rights offers a 30-day unconditional satisfaction guarantee —no costs and no fees. We serve our Greenville clients in all areas of personal injury, including auto and motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, and boating accidents.

    To get started with our Greenville personal injury law firm, please simply contact us online or call 864-326-3333 for a free consultation.

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