hours of service truck driver rules

A fatigued driver may be just as much of a hazard on South Carolina’s roads as a drunk motorist. Truck drivers who spend too many hours behind the wheel can become tired, “zone out,” or even fall asleep.

As much as 13% of truck drivers are described as being fatigued at the time of a truck accident, making driver fatigue a significant factor associated with truck accidents, according to a federal study of large truck crash causes.

Fatigue can slow down a driver’s reaction time, making it more challenging to respond promptly to unexpected situations on the road, such as other vehicles suddenly braking or swerving. Additionally, fatigue can cloud judgment, leading to misjudgment of speed and distances and failure to assess risks accurately. Overall, a fatigued driver is more likely to experience lapses in concentration and alertness, as well as microsleeps (brief episodes of involuntary sleep), jeopardizing their safety and the safety of others on the road.

There are strict rules in place to limit the number of hours truckers can drive in order to reduce the risk of fatigue-related crashes. Unfortunately, truck drivers do not always obey these rules. When the maximum hours-of-service rules are disregarded, truckers and/or their companies may be held responsible for crashes that result from operator fatigue.

If you have been involved in a truck accident in South Carolina, it is critical to find out if drowsiness or fatigue was a factor, and to determine whether the driver followed the rules on the maximum drive time.

At Joye Law Firm, we have a fast-response truck accident team that can help you obtain all the necessary records to determine if the driver broke the rules. We’ll leave no stone unturned as we aggressively pursue a legal claim for monetary compensation after a truck crash caused by an overtired driver.

Hours-of-Service Rules and Truck Accidents

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets hours-of-service (HOS) rules to keep truckers from driving when they are too tired. The HOS rules impose limits on the number of hours a trucker can drive in one day, the number of hours a trucker can drive without a break, and the number of hours a trucker can drive over the course of a week.

The FMCSA recently changed the hours-of-service rules. The new limits are:

  • Drivers can drive for a maximum of 11 hours total per day, and can drive for this long only after 10 hours off duty. The 11 hours of driving must be completed within 14 hours of the time when the driver first went on duty for the day. If drivers are transporting passengers, they are limited to 10 hours of daily drive time.
  • Drivers may not drive for more than 8 consecutive hours without taking a 30-minute rest break.
  • Drivers are allowed to drive for a maximum of 60 hours over a period of 7 days, and are allowed to drive for a maximum of 70 hours over a period of 8 days. Once a driver has reached the limit, he or she must take a break and spend a full 34 consecutive hours off-duty before the weekly clock resets. The off-duty time must include at least two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. home terminal time.
  • Drivers who use a sleeper berth need to spend at least 8 consecutive hours in the berth, and must also take a separate 2 consecutive hours either off-duty, in the sleeper berth, or some combination of the two.

Drivers must maintain logbooks of time spent on-duty in order to prove compliance with HOS regulations. Trucking companies must also enforce the rules, and should never permit or encourage drivers to drive for longer than the rules allow.

If a trucker fails to comply with the rules and an accident results, the rule violation may be used as evidence that the driver was negligent. Trucking companies may also be liable for the wrongful act of the driver, or for the company’s own failure to enforce the rules.

Monitoring Hours-of-Service Compliance: Electronic Logging Devices

Historically, monitoring HOS compliance relied on paper logs, which could be susceptible to errors or even manipulation. However, with advancements in technology, particularly the widespread adoption of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), the industry has witnessed a significant transformation in how HOS rules are enforced and monitored.

Electronic Logging Devices are designed to automatically record and track a driver’s hours of service. They connect directly to the vehicle’s engine and record data on the driver’s driving status, including hours driven, breaks, and rest periods. ELDs are synchronized with the vehicle’s movement, eliminating the need for manual entry and significantly reducing the chances of errors.

Here’s how ELDs work:

  • Automated Data Capture: ELDs capture data such as engine hours, vehicle movement, and miles driven in real-time. This data is then used to calculate a driver’s remaining driving hours within the HOS limits.
  • Driver Interaction: ELDs allow drivers to log in and select their duty status, such as “on-duty,” “off-duty,” or “on-duty not driving.” These statuses are used to track compliance with HOS regulations accurately.
  • Compliance Alerts: ELDs provide drivers with real-time notifications and alerts, helping them stay within the HOS limits and take required breaks or rests when necessary.
  • Data Storage: ELDs store HOS data securely and can provide detailed reports that simplify the process of HOS auditing and inspections.

The adoption of ELDs and other technology in the trucking industry has brought many benefits. ELDs streamline recordkeeping and auditing, virtually eliminate the chances of falsified or erroneous logbooks, and prevent drivers from exceeding their allotted driving hours. This contributes to reducing driver fatigue, and enhances overall road safety.

Legal Consequences of Hours-of-Service Violations

Compliance with HOS regulations in the trucking industry is not just a matter of safety; it also carries significant legal implications for both truck drivers and trucking companies. Failure to adhere to HOS rules can lead to a range of legal consequences, including hefty fines and penalties.

For truck drivers, these consequences include:

  • Fines: Truck drivers who violate HOS regulations can face substantial fines. These fines can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per infraction, depending on the severity of the violation.
  • Out-of-Service Orders: Serious or repeated HOS violations can result in an out-of-service order, effectively prohibiting a driver from operating their commercial vehicle for a specified period. Violating an out-of-service order can lead to even more severe penalties.
  • Points on Commercial Driver’s License (CDL): HOS violations may result in points being added to a driver’s CDL. Accumulating too many points can lead to the suspension or revocation of their CDL, potentially jeopardizing their career.
  • Employment Consequences: Drivers with HOS violations on their record may find it challenging to secure or maintain employment in the trucking industry. Many trucking companies require a clean compliance record to hire and retain drivers.

For trucking companies, consequences can include:

  • Fines: Trucking companies can also face fines for their drivers’ HOS violations. These fines can be substantial, and they can accumulate quickly if multiple drivers within the company are found in violation.
  • Loss of Operating Authority: Repeated or severe HOS violations can lead to investigations by regulatory authorities. In extreme cases, a trucking company may face the loss of its operating authority, effectively shutting down its operations.
  • Increased Insurance Costs: HOS violations can lead to higher insurance premiums for trucking companies, as they are seen as a higher risk. This can significantly impact a company’s bottom line.
  • Civil and Criminal Penalties: In cases of egregious violations or if violations lead to accidents resulting in serious injuries or fatalities, trucking companies may face civil lawsuits and criminal charges.

It is essential for both truck drivers and trucking companies to take HOS regulations seriously to avoid these legal consequences. When they don’t, they put the lives of others on the road at risk as well.

Joye Law Firm Is Here to Help

If you or a loved one suffered injuries due to the negligence of a truck driver, our legal team is here to help. A claim involving an interstate trucking company is exponentially more complicated than a standard personal injury case.  Considering the high stakes, it is imperative to find a law firm with the legal skills, experience, and resources to bring your claim to a successful resolution. At Joye Law Firm, we know what it takes to win, and have the experience you need.  We can assist in obtaining driver logbooks, company policy manuals, employee schedules, and other information needed to show that hours-of-service rules were violated. This evidence could help you recover compensation for injuries and losses that result from a truck accident caused by driver fatigue.

Our firm first opened our doors in 1968. Since then, we’ve helped victims of tractor-trailer crashes recover millions of dollars of compensation. We have offices across South Carolina in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Summerville, and Clinton to best serve you. Call the truck accident lawyers at Joye Law Firm or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation to learn more.