How Hours of Service Violations Cause Dangerous Truck Accidents
The trucks and 18-wheelers you see on the street every day can weigh as much as 80,000 lbs. fully loaded – the weight of more than 5 elephants. That's a lot of mass to haul around, especially with smaller vehicles sharing the road.
To cut down on truck accidents caused by driver error, the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has strict rules on how long truck drivers can work in a given day. But hard deadlines, narrow profit margins, and performance bonuses often cause truck drivers to break these rules to meet company goals – with catastrophic consequences.
When truck drivers work more hours than they're allowed, they can lose their concentration or even fall asleep at the wheel. These dangerous conditions can lead to devastating truck crashes that put innocent drivers at grave risk.
Of the 4,119 people who died in truck crashes in 2019, only 16% were truck drivers. In fact, 67% of the fatalities from truck accidents were people in cars and other passenger vehicles. The remaining 15% were pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcycle riders.
If you’ve been injured or you’ve lost a loved one in a trucking accident caused by hours of service violations, you could have a legal action against the truck driver and their company. A truck accident lawsuit can help you recover damages to compensate you for your medical expenses, lost wages, and the pain you’ve suffered as a result of the crash. You may even have a claim for wrongful death if a family member passed away because of the accident.
What Are the Trucking Hours of Service Rules?
Truck drivers and trucking companies must follow all federal, state, and local laws and regulations where they operate. If a trucking company transports goods across state lines, its drivers must operate under the following FMCSA hours of service rules:
- Drivers must not drive more than 11 hours in a 14-hour shift.
- Each 14-hour work period allows drivers breaks for naps, eating, or using the restroom.
- A driver’s 14-hour workday begins after they have been off duty for 10 consecutive hours.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break if they have been operating for 8 hours straight.
- Drivers can only work 60 hours over 7 consecutive days or 70 hours over 8 days.
- Drivers can reset their 7/8-day working period by taking off 34 consecutive hours.
These rules ensure that truck drivers are well-rested enough to properly operate their rigs. But some trucking companies still push their drivers past the limits.
A trucking company may break nationwide hours of service rules by:
- Setting ambitious schedules for drivers so they speed or make up the extra miles by unofficially driving past their hours of service
- Giving drivers bonuses based on unrealistic driving goals, incentivizing them to work past their hours even if that means lying on their logs
- Paying drivers by the load so that they want to deliver as many loads as possible, causing them to work off the clock and leave it off their logs
- Having policies that favor drivers who regularly bend the rules over others who don’t
- Threatening retaliation against drivers who refuse to go over their allowed schedule
Research has shown that tired or drowsy driving has effects similar to drunk driving, including:
- Trouble staying focused, keeping your eyes open, or holding up your head
- Disconnected thoughts that wander away from the road
- Tailgating, swerving, or drifting across lanes
- Sudden jerking movements of the steering wheel
- Uneven driving speed and slowed reaction times
- Passing exits, running stoplights, and failing to use turn signals
- Memory loss and inability to remember areas you just passed
These symptoms are bad enough for any driver but especially for truck drivers carrying massive or oversize cargo loads. An 18-wheeler or big rig only worsens the dangers in these conditions.
How Can You Prove an Hour of Service Violation?
In addition to rules around driving, the FMCSA also requires truck drivers and trucking companies to keep detailed logs of their operations. If you suspect your trucking accident had to do with driver fatigue, you can find evidence to back up your claim in these records.
However, finding proof isn’t always easy. Trucking operators know that breaking the rules will get them fined under the law so they might falsify logs or records. This is where a knowledgeable truck accident lawyer comes in. Your attorney can help find the proof you need to back up your claims and establish that an hour of service violation caused the crash.
Evidence could include:
- Driver logbooks – Truck drivers must keep detailed logs of their trips and deliveries. However, these records are easy to doctor and fake to look legitimate. You may have to dig deeper to establish inaccuracies in the logs.
- Electronic records – Truck cabs usually have electronic logging devices similar to airplane “black boxes.” These logs are much harder to fake.
- Cellular data – Cell phone records like calls, texts, emails, GPS, and internet activity can show a driver's actual behavior during the time they were supposed to be resting or driving without distraction.
- GPS systems – Trucking companies track their trucks with GPS systems like Qualcomm, which can show speed and location.
- Receipts and bills of lading – Gas station receipts, food and drink transactions, weigh station records, toll booth tickets, and bills of lading on shipment delivery can all help pinpoint a driver’s exact location at a certain time to compare it to the logbooks.
- Maintenance records and inspections – These records can be compared to the driver logbook for accuracy and to find any inconsistencies in the logs.
If you can prove that your accident was caused by a violation of hour and service rules, the responsibility for the crash will fall on the trucking company for their dangerous actions.
How Do You Recover Damages for Injuries After a Truck Crash?
A personal injury lawsuit helps compensate you for the pain and injuries you’ve suffered after your truck accident. While your crash cannot be undone, a legal action can help you get the medical treatment you need to get better after your accident. If you’re unable to work because of your crash, damages from a personal injury lawsuit can help cover your lost wages.
Call our nationally recognized truck accident lawyers for help pursuing the full compensation you deserve. We have handled truck accident cases from all over the U.S., and we are knowledgeable of both state and federal laws that regulate the trucking industry.