A truck driver is driving a long distance load during his nightshift

How Regulating Truck Driver Hours Saves Lives

In this blog post, we explain how limitations on the number of hours truckers are allowed to spend on the road can save lives. Read on to learn what those limits are and why they were established.

Why Restricting Drive Time for Truckers is Necessary

Truck drivers, especially those on long-haul routes, are at the mercy of the clock. Their customers expect deliveries by a certain date and time, and employers insist deadlines be met or threaten their livelihoods. The pressure is on the driver to hit those targeted delivery times with scant concern for how which means truckers are encouraged by the very nature of their employment to drive as far as they can per shift regardless of how exhausted they might be.

Unfortunately, driving constantly with few breaks—sometimes straight through the night—puts truckers at risk of fatigue, and other drivers in danger of being struck by a multi-ton, out-of-control vehicle. Before truck driver hours of service were regulated, it was common for truckers to nod off behind the wheel resulting in crashes with cars that were frequently fatal to those in the smaller vehicles. Even if the trucker stayed awake, fatigue led to sloppy driving errors like drifting into other lanes or making sudden turns after almost missing an exit. Although federal and state regulations are now in place, truckers sometimes push the limits (or break them), either by choice or at the urging of their employers. The result is truck accidents caused by driver fatigue continue to endanger lives.

Restrictions on Hours of Service

Truckers are expected to observe federal and state limitations on hours of service. Federal guidelines on service hours affect interstate (between state) travel while state laws restrict intrastate (within the same state) travel. However, if the truck is carrying hazardous waste or other hazardous materials as defined by federal law, the driver remains subject to federal limitations whether their route is intra- or interstate.

Current federal limits on hours of service are as follows:

  • Maximum consecutive on-duty hours: 14
  • Maximum actual driving hours: 11
  • Maximum hours on-duty for a 7-day period: 60 (increases to 70 hours for 8 days on-duty)
  • 30-minute rest break is required after 8 hours of driving

On-duty hours include time spent prepping for travel, loading the truck, lunch breaks, and other non-driving activities during a trip. Once the driver has reached the end of their on-duty period, they are required to observe 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Note that long-haul trucks with sleeper berths may extend the 14-hour limit so long as they spend the required amount of rest time in those berths during a trip.

California intrastate trucker limitations are as follows:

  • Maximum 12-hour consecutive on-duty, but those hours can be spent actively driving the entire time
  • 10 consecutive hour rest period is still required between 12-hour periods of on-duty/driving time
  • 7 day/60 hour and 8 day /70 hour maximums apply
  • No rest break required after 8 driving hours

Note there may exceptions to certain federal and state regulations due to weather and other adverse conditions.

Trucker Fatigue Threatens Innocent Drivers

Although these regulations are intended to reduce the risk of truck driver fatigue, adherence still does not guarantee drivers won’t succumb to exhaustion. A poor night’s sleep, drinking or taking drugs during off-hours, or simply experiencing an off day can reduce a trucker’s ability to pay attention to the road and remain in firm control of their vehicle.

Consider that the average 18-wheeler weighs more than two tons empty and about four tons fully loaded. If the operator is not fully alert and attentive the entirety of their drive, the hazard to all other drivers becomes clear. For one thing, dozing truckers might drift across the median on two-lane roads or into the lanes next to them on a highway, giving other drivers scant time to swerve out of the way of these enormous vehicles. It is also extremely difficulty to bring a truck driving at highway speeds to a sudden stop. If the truck driver fails to see a slower vehicle or other obstacle in time to apply their brakes normally, stomping on them probably won’t do the job. Besides the potential for a rear-end accident, the truck might jackknife or roll over, increasing the potential to cause a multi-vehicle crash with numerous injuries.

If You Are Injured by a Negligent Trucker, Contact Us

Accidents involving large trucks and cars rarely leave the smaller vehicle’s occupants unscathed. Sadly, most result in catastrophic injuries and deaths to innocent drivers and passengers. Should the worst occur, know that you may be able to hold multiple defendants accountable for your injuries and losses. These might include the driver, the truck owner, the owner of the cargo, and more, depending on factors like the cause of a driver’s fatigue and whether they exceeded federal and/or state hourly limitations.

If you or your family member was injured or lost their life due to an avoidable truck accident, attorney Scott J. Corwin of Scott J. Corwin, A Professional Law Corporation, can help. Scott will investigate the cause of the accident and see to it that all parties who failed in their duty to keep you and those you love safe on the road are held accountable for medical bills, funeral costs, and all other associated losses.

Contact our office today by calling (310) 683-2300 or filling out the online contact form to discuss the details of your case and learn more about how we can help you. We offer free consultations, so there’s no reason not to reach out to someone from our team right away.