Long hours spent staring down a highway can dull a driver’s reaction times, reflexes, and ability to avoid a crash—especially if he hasn’t had adequate rest between shifts. This hypnotic state is known among truck drivers as drowsy driving, and it results in numerous tractor-trailer accidents every year.
In order to protect truckers and other road users, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created mandatory limits on drive time for commercial truck drivers, known as hours-of-service regulations. Trucking companies are required by law to follow these regulations, and are forbidden from encouraging drivers to forgo breaks in order to make their deadlines.
Federal Hours of Service for Truck Drivers
Hours-of-service regulations place limits on how long a trucker is allowed to drive, when and how the trucker must take breaks, and how many total hours a truck driver can work before he must take a day off.
Maximum duty limits for commercial truck drivers include:
- 14-Hour Daily Driving Limit. Truckers are allowed to be on duty for a maximum of 14 consecutive hours, and can only drive for up to 11 of those hours. Once a truck driver has completed 14 consecutive hours of work, he is forbidden from driving again until he has been off duty for 10 consecutive hours.
- 30-Minute Rest Breaks. A driver must take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of the driving shift. This break can include eating a meal, resting, or performing some other type of off-duty activity. If more than eight consecutive hours have passed since the last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes, a driver must take a half-hour off-duty break before driving. These break times must be included in the 14-hour driving window.
- Weekly Maximum Driving Limits. Drivers are held to a weekly maximum driving limit depending on whether their trucking company operates vehicles every day of the week. If a company makes runs every day of the week, employers may assign drivers to a 70-hour/8-day schedule (drivers may only be on duty for 70 hours in any 8 consecutive days). If a company is not in operation every day of the week, drivers may only be on duty 60 hours during any 7 consecutive days. Once a driver has reached the maximum driving limit, he will not be able to drive again until his total driving hours for the past working period have dropped below allowable limits.
- 34-Hour Restart. If a driver has reached his maximum drive time, there is a way “restart” the 60- or 70-hour weekly clock while complying with hours-of-service regulations. A driver who takes 34 (or more) consecutive hours completely relieved of duty will have the full 60 or 70 hours of drive time immediately available when the off-duty period ends, as long as the off-duty period includes at least two nights of sleep between the hours of 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. This option is not a mandatory provision, but offers an easier way for drivers to restart their driving weeks.
Who Is Required to Follow Trucking Hours of Service Regulations?
Most truckers who cross state lines and drive vehicles with heavy weight ratings will be covered under federal hours-of-service laws. However, some truck drivers—such as those whose vehicles weigh less than 10,000 pounds or who only drive within a single state—may be exempt from federal regulations. While these truckers may be exempt from federal hours-of-service requirements, they can still be required to comply with state trucking safety laws, many of which are similar or identical to the federal regulations. If they are found guilty of violating these rules, trucking companies and drivers can be fined thousands of dollars for each offense.
The laws surrounding truck accident liability are complex, and can greatly impact the amount of compensation you receive for your injuries. If you were struck by a drowsy truck driver, we can help you get the funds you need for your medical costs and other financial losses. Contact our legal team today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.