The hours of service (HOS) regulations were established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to prevent devastating truck accidents caused by drowsy driving. Unfortunately, driver fatigue has been a serious problem among truck drivers who are under a great deal of pressure to deliver a wide range of goods to customers across the United States. Now more than ever, truck drivers are responsible for delivering much-needed medical supplies to hospitals and health care facilities across the country, which means added pressure to deliver shipments promptly. Changes were made to the HOS regulations to meet the immediate need for medical supplies and other items related to the coronavirus (COVID-19). However, advocates against the HOS changes argue that they will cause an increase in driver fatigue and reduce truck driver safety rather than improving it.
What are the Original HOS Regulations?
Commercial truck drivers involved in interstate commerce must follow the HOS regulations, which include three (3) basic FMCSA rules. The rules limit the number of hours a truck driver can be on duty per day, as well as the number of consecutive days he/she can work. The following is a brief overview of the HOS guidelines for commercial truck drivers:
- The 14-hour work limit: A commercial truck driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty. The trucker may not continue driving unless he/she has been off-duty for 10 consecutive hours.
- The 11-hour driving rule: A commercial truck driver can drive up to 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off-duty within the 14-hour period.
- Rest breaks: Truck drivers may not log driving time if eight (8) hours have passed since their last off-duty period of 30 consecutive minutes. This rule restricts truck drivers from driving. However, they may perform non-driving tasks after eight (8) hours without the need to take a break.
- The 60/70-hour rule: Truck drivers may not drive after 60 hours on duty for seven (7) consecutive days, or 70 hours on duty for eight (8) consecutive days. This applies to carriers who do not drive every day of the week.
- Sleeper berth rules: Truck drivers are allowed to split the required 10 hours of off-duty time as long as one of the off-duty periods is at least two (2) hours long, and the other is a minimum of seven (7) hours spent in the sleeper berth.
What are the Revisions to the HOS Regulations?
On June 1, 2020, the FMCSA made the following revisions to the HOS regulations, which motor carriers were expected to comply with effective September 29, 2020:
- Short-haul exception: The maximum allowable workday increases from 12 hours to 14 hours, and the distance a driver may operate will increase from a 100 air-mile radius to a 150 air-mile radius. In addition, short-haul operators are not required to take a 30-minute break and are allowed to record their hours in a time record instead of using an electronic logging device (ELD).
- Adverse driving conditions exception: This exception extends the amount of time the driver may be on duty when unforeseen adverse driving conditions, such as snow, sleet, ice, fog, or other unusual traffic conditions, affect the driver’s route. The duty day is extended by two (2) hours and applies to both property (a 14-hour driving window), and passenger (a 15-hour on-duty limit) motor carriers.
- The 30-minute break rule: Truck drivers are required to take breaks lasting at least 30 minutes following eight (8) cumulative hours of driving time, as opposed to on-duty time. It also allows an on-duty/not-driving period to qualify as the required break.
- Sleeper berth provision: This allows the truck driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirements by spending at least seven (7) hours in the berth and a minimum off-duty period of at least two hours in or outside the berth, as long as the two periods total 10 hours or more.
What Impact Does the New HOS Regulations Have on Safety?
Although some members of the trucking industry support the new regulations, others have major concerns about whether the regulations are actually going to make the roads less safe for truck drivers and other motorists who are sharing the road. The FMCSA says that the changes to the HOS regulations would provide increased flexibility; make truck drivers’ jobs safer; and ensure that essential products, including COVID-19-related medical supplies, get delivered on time. However, safety advocates are concerned that the opposite will be true, and that the new regulations will increase the risk of devastating truck accidents related to driver fatigue.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), truck drivers who continue to drive for more than eight (8) hours are twice as likely to be involved in a traffic accident compared to truck drivers who do not exceed eight (8) hours behind the wheel. Unfortunately, IIHS studies show that many truck drivers falsify their logbooks and omit logging all their driving hours. In fact, some truck drivers refer to the logbooks as comic books because they are so easy to falsify.
Safety advocates who oppose the HOS changes believe that it will increase the risk of drowsy driving among truck drivers, a problem that has already plagued truck drivers for years. In fact, drowsy driving is one of the top causes of truck accidents in the United States. Highway and auto safety groups argue that current research on fatigue and truck accident data contradicts the FMCSA’s reasoning. The extended shift length and the increase in air-miles will only increase driver fatigue. In addition, the updated regulations put added pressure on truck drivers who are already under a great deal of pressure to meet very tight delivery deadlines. Truck drivers may not feel comfortable driving up to 77 hours in seven (7) days, which companies can expect them to do under these new rules.
Safety advocates are also concerned about the revision that allows truck drivers to stay on the road for an additional two (2) hours during inclement weather conditions. Snow, ice, rain, and fog can make driving conditions treacherous, particularly for an 80,000-pound commercial truck. Truck drivers should avoid driving during these conditions, and not remain on the road longer, according to concerned safety advocates. This jeopardizes the safety of not only the truck driver, but the other motorists in the vicinity if the truck cannot slow down or stop because of poor road conditions.
What are the Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents?
There is no question that truck accidents are among the most destructive and devastating accidents that occur on roads and highways across the United States. In fact, according to the national census on the most dangerous jobs, heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers had the highest number of fatalities from 2016 to 2018 compared with other occupations. In addition, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for up to 40,000 accident-related injuries and 1,500 fatalities. Considering the fact that truck accidents have been steadily rising for a number of years, safety advocates believe that they have reason for concern.
In addition to drunk driving, distracted driving from talking or texting on the phone, driver negligence, improperly loaded cargo, and poorly maintained trucks, drowsy driving is one of the top causes of serious truck accidents. The massive size and weight of a fully loaded commercial truck make it much more difficult for truck drivers to slow down or stop quickly, compared with a smaller passenger vehicle. Unfortunately, if the truck driver cannot avoid hitting a smaller vehicle that is in its path, it is usually the occupants of the passenger vehicles who suffer the most severe injuries and fatalities.
For What Damages Am I Entitled if I Am Injured in a Truck Accident?
If a motorist is seriously injured in a truck accident involving a truck driver who was drowsy at the time of the incident, they may be able to recover compensation for their losses. Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. Noneconomic damages include the non-tangible costs associated with the accident, such as pain and suffering, a reduced quality of life, and loss of consortium. If it can be proven that the truck driver or the truck company acted extremely negligently, the injured party may also seek punitive damages. A skilled catastrophic injury lawyer will assist the injured victim(s) with the claim process and secure the financial compensation he/she is entitled to receive.
Los Angeles Truck Accident Lawyers at ACTS Law Represent Victims of Drowsy Driving-Related Truck Accidents
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a truck accident, and the truck driver was drowsy at the time of the collision or violated the HOS regulations, you are urged to contact the Los Angeles truck accident lawyers at ACTS Law at your earliest convenience. We will determine who is responsible for causing the accident and ensure that you receive the financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
With offices located in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.