Operating a large truck or big rig is an immense responsibility. A truck driver has the power to significantly injure or potentially kill fellow road users. One of the risks associated with the trucking industry is truck driver drowsiness or fatigue. To solve this problem, federal hours-of-service laws have been passed to limit how many hours a truck driver can drive without taking a rest break.
Federal Hours-of-Service Regulations for Truck Drivers
The size and weight of an 18-wheeler make it an extremely dangerous vehicle. For this reason, unlike other motor vehicles, large trucks come with federal laws, rules and regulations. One is the hours-of-service rule, which is defined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) as limitations on the number of hours a truck driver can drive without taking a break, as well as the number of hours he or she can drive in a workweek.
Under this federal rule, property-carrying truck drivers have an 11-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive hours off duty. They also have an overarching driving time limit of 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. No amount of off-duty time will extend the 14-hour cap. These driving limits are changed to 10 hours after 8 consecutive hours off duty with a 15-hour limit for passenger-carrying truck drivers.
In general, truck drivers have the flexibility to split their required 10-hour off-duty period, as long as one is at least 2 hours long and the other is at least 7 hours spent in the sleeper berth. In addition, all truck drivers must take a 30-minute driving break after having driven for a period of 8 cumulative hours (not necessarily consecutively) without at least a 30-minute interruption. This break requirement can be satisfied by any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes. Finally, there is a limit of 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
The Dangers of Truck Driver Fatigue
Fatigue can be just as dangerous for a motor vehicle driver as drunk driving, according to research. A tired or drowsy driver may suffer from wandering attention, distraction, reduced reaction times, poor judgment, bad decision-making, blurred vision and physical weakness – many of the same issues as an intoxicated driver. In addition, a drowsy driver could potentially fall asleep behind the wheel – rendering him or her incapable of safely operating the truck.
Many factors and elements that are unique to the trucking industry make truck drivers more likely to drive drowsy than standard drivers, including:
- Long hours on the road
- Extended work hours
- Pressure to continue driving to meet a deadline
- Driving alone
- Reversed days and nights
- Overnight trips
- Strenuous work or nonwork activities
- Lack of adequate sleep
- Sleep apnea and other sleep problems
- Being expected to sleep in strange places
There is no substitute for sleep. A truck driver cannot make up for lost sleep with coffee, sugar, stimulants or energy drinks. In fact, these substances can lead to a significant drop in energy or a “crash” later, potentially causing the truck driver to fall asleep behind the wheel. If a truck driver is feeling drowsy, it is his or her responsibility to pull over and rest. Abiding by the legal hours-of-service regulations can help a truck driver prevent drowsy driving.
How Can You Prove That a Truck Driver Broke the Hours-of-Service Rule?
If you get involved in a truck accident where you believe the truck driver was drowsy or fell asleep behind the wheel, hire a truck accident attorney to help you prove driver fatigue. An attorney can search for evidence proving that the truck driver violated his or her hours-of-service restrictions, such as driver logs, the truck’s black box and electronic recording devices. Then, your lawyer can demonstrate that the accident would not have happened but for the truck driver’s drowsiness or lack of rest prior to his or her driving shift.
For more information about this type of injury claim, contact The Fine Law Firm for a free consultation.