A truck accident claim involves a number of complex issues. One of the most important considerations is whether the truck driver abided by the hours of service rules.
The hours of service rules are federal regulations that govern how long truck drivers can stay on duty. Although implemented to reduce truck driver fatigue and cut down on accidents caused by drowsy driving, the unfortunate reality is that commercial truck drivers and their employers often ignore the hours of service in an effort to meet unrealistic delivery deadlines.
In handling your truck accident claim, Colombo Law will investigate to determine if the truck driver and the trucking company violated the hours of service rules. Call (304) 599-4229 today for a FREE case review.
Understanding Hours of Service Rules
Hours of service regulations are determined at the federal level by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These rules apply to all commercial vehicles, including school buses, bus drivers, and commercial trucks.
For property-carrying drivers (such as the operators of 18-wheelers), the hours of service rules include:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit: Truck drivers can only drive up to 11 hours after they have been off duty for 10 consecutive hours.
- 14-Hour Limit: After coming on duty, a truck driver cannot drive past the 14th consecutive hour.
- 30-Minute Driving Break: Truck drivers cannot drive 8 cumulative hours without taking a 30-minute break.
- 60/70-Hour Limit: Truck drivers cannot drive after 60/70 hours on duty over the course of 7/8 consecutive days.
There are some exceptions to these rules, including how drivers can split up their off-duty time, how they can extend on-duty hours during adverse weather conditions, and how drivers operating within a 150-mile radius can extend their on-duty hours.
While these rules govern interstate travel, most states – including West Virginia – also have intrastate rules that are similar to the FMCSA’s regulations. This speaks to the importance the federal government and individual states alike assign to combating fatigue and drowsy driving.
How Big of a Problem Is Truck Driver Fatigue?
Drowsy driving is a well-documented issue among all drivers nationwide. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 633 drowsy-driving-related crashes in 2020 alone.
Fatigue negatively impacts multiple aspects of driving. These include:
- Awareness: Drivers are less aware of the road and changing conditions when they are fatigued.
- Reaction time: According to the National Safety Council, “going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08%.” Intoxicated drivers and drowsy drivers alike have worse reaction times, making it difficult to avoid an accident.
- Attention: Fatigue makes it difficult to focus. Drowsy driving is often indistinguishable from distracted driving.
Although any motorist can become drowsy or fall asleep at the wheel, the issue is most pronounced among commercial drivers. Trucking accident lawyers can hold truck drivers and commercial carriers accountable for hours of service violations.
What Happens If Truck Drivers Violate the Hours of Service Rules?
It is not uncommon for truck drivers and trucking companies to try to hide violations of the hours of service regulations. Drivers might alter paper logs, and their employers might look the other way.
If a driver is caught violating the hours of service rules, the first step is usually for them to be put out of service. That is, they must stay off-duty until they have satisfied the off-duty requirement before they can begin driving again.
However, if a driver is cited multiple times for violations, it could result in fines and an impact on their motor carrier safety rating. This is publicly available information your attorney can use to build a truck accident claim against the truck driver and, potentially, his or her employer.
Can You Sue If a Truck Driver Violates the Hours of Service?
When truck accidents are caused as a direct result of hours of service violations, truck accident victims have definite grounds to sue for the damages caused by the accident. This may include medical bills, pain and suffering, lost income, and more.
Unfortunately, the costs associated with truck accidents can be very high. You need to work with a truck accident attorney who can perform a full investigation to determine the cause of the accident.
If the cause is determined to be related to the truck driver being on duty longer than he or she was allowed under the hours of service regulations, you may be entitled to compensation from the negligent party or parties.
Who Is Liable for Hours of Service Violations?
Truck drivers are responsible for abiding by hours of service rules. If they violate the regulations, they can be sued for damages from an accident stemming from the decision to drive while fatigued.
Read More: Are Truck Drivers Liable for Accidents?
While the truck driver may be directly responsible for the accident, he or she may not be the only liable party. Trucking companies have been known to force their drivers to stay on the road longer than allowed. If the evidence shows that the trucking company pressured its employees to disregard the hours of service rules, the carrier may also be held liable for the accident.
Proving negligence on the part of a trucking company is no small task. Thorough investigation, comprehensive evidence, and compelling testimony from expert witnesses may all be necessary to establish that the company failed to enforce the hours of service regulations and this failure led to the accident.
Get Help with Your Truck Accident Claim
Dealing with the aftermath of a truck accident can be immensely difficult. Beyond the trauma associated with the accident, there are usually significant costs as well. It is in your best interest to entrust your truck accident claim to a law firm with the knowledge and experience to represent you effectively.
Beyond understanding how to gather evidence and prove negligence, the laws are also often changing. In 2020, the FMCSA updated the hours of service rules to include the 30-minute break requirement and the adverse driving conditions exception (among other changes). While seemingly small updates, these changes can have a significant impact on the outcome of a truck accident claim.
Staying on top of these changes while fighting for the rights of truck accident victims is our main focus at Colombo Law. We are here to do everything in our power to ensure you recover the compensation you need and deserve for the damages you have sustained.
Contact Colombo Law today for a FREE case review. Our attorneys handle truck accident claims in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia.