The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets rules or guidelines that truck drivers must follow. One such set of rules is hours of service regulations. These rules dictate how long truckers can spend on the road operating their 18-wheelers before being required to take a rest break.
These mandatory rest periods exist because federal regulators have found that truckers who receive inadequate rest are more likely to become involved in accidents due to fatigue. Knowing how many hours a truck driver can drive is key if you have the misfortune of becoming involved in a tractor-trailer crash. This information may impact liability determinations in your truck accident case.
What Hours of Service Rules Must Truckers Abide By?
FMCSA hours of service regulations specify how long truckers can operate their tractor-trailers during a single day or shift and also how much of a break they’re required to take after operating their truck on a multi-day trip.
In terms of daily limits, those federal rules outline how truckers:
- Cannot operate their tractor-trailers for more than 14 hours from the time their shift starts
- Can only drive for a maximum of 11 hours after spending at least 10 hours off duty
FMCSA regulations regarding breaks truckers must take after embarking on multi-day trips include:
- Trucks cannot continue driving past 60 to 70 on-duty hours across respective 7 to 8-day time frames unless they first take 34 hours off duty
Exceptions That Apply to Federal Hours of Service Regulations
Much like any other rules, there are exceptions that apply to FMCSA hours of service regulations, which are codified as §395.8 and §395.11. Those exceptions include:
- Passenger or cargo-carrying trucks can extend their drive time windows by an extra two hours if they come upon adverse driving conditions while on the road.
- Short-haul drivers, which are those operating within 150 miles of their standard work location, are exempt from the FMCSA hours of service rules; however, they are restricted from remaining on duty for more than a 14-hour shift.
Why Hours of Service Regulations Are in Place
Data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that in 2020, there were at least 4,014 people nationwide who died in collisions that involved semi-trucks. While 16% of the decedents of those fatal crashes were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists, an alarming 68% of those fatalities were passenger car drivers.
That same IIHS data reveals that truckers drive an estimated 10% of all miles on highways despite trucks only accounting for 5% of all registered vehicles in our country. FMCSA data attributes at least 13% of all truck accidents to trucker fatigue.
This data makes it clear that even though there are far fewer truckers on the road than passenger car operators, the potential for fatal tractor-trailer crashes is high when these motorists driving their unequally sized automobiles share the road. It’s likely that trucker fatigue, which can include drowsiness or sleepiness as well as mere exhaustion which affects visual acuity, attention span, and reasoning, is to blame for many of these crashes in addition to:
- Mechanical failures, such as brake issues
- Distractions like texting and driving
- Substance abuse, such as alcohol intoxication (drunkenness) or drug use
- Reckless driving, like speeding
Proving That a Truck Driver Drove Too Many Hours Before a Crash
If you are involved in a California truck accident potentially attributable to hours-of-service violations, the evidence you compile will be critical to proving your allegations and, thus, liability for your crash. Some of the most critical pieces of evidence that can potentially prove that a trucker drove more hours than they were allowed to per FMCSA regulations include:
A Semi-Truck’s Black Box
This device operates similarly to an airplane’s black box in that it’s a data recorder device. While it’s not yet mandatory for 18-wheelers to come equipped with these, most do.
This computerized system generally only records and preserves data leading up to an event like a crash; however, some units continuously operate and save data, such as sudden acceleration and deceleration, speed, and braking. These systems may also provide insight into how long a truck was in continuous operation.
An Electronic Logging Device
Truckers are required to keep an electronic log of their drive time. This computer hardware system, which connects to a tractor-trailer’s onboard diagnostic (OBD) port, also collects additional information such as the distance a truck travels, speed, location, and engine condition. This data can be used to shed light on potential trucker negligence that may have resulted in them causing a crash.
Additional information, such as cell phone records, may also come in handy when proving trucker hours-of-service violations. This includes voicemails and texts from fleet companies whereby they request that one of their truckers violate FMCSA drive time limits to make up for lost time due to their tractor-trailer being in disrepair, encountering traffic or a construction zone, or for them having committed to a delivery with a short turnaround.
How Do Lawyers Help When a Truck Driver Is Suspected of Driving More Hours Than They Should Have?
It can be costly when truckers or fleet companies violate FMCSA regulations. It can jeopardize their ability to remain operational. An insurance claim filed against a trucker or trucking company pursuant to a truck-involved accident can make insurance premiums cost-prohibitive. These two factors explain why truckers and fleet companies often rush to destroy evidence and aggressively fight against liability in crash cases.
You must respond to these tactics by being equally expeditious in preserving evidence and building a strong case for liability. A truck accident attorney like ours at Frost Law Firm, PC will know exactly what steps to take to ensure you have access to any necessary evidence to make a strong case.
So, if you’ve been hurt in a California truck accident that you believe is due to a trucker driving more than they should have, reach out to our law firm. Your initial consultation with legal counsel is free and is the most critical step toward preserving your right to compensation if you’ve been hurt in a crash.