The Hours of Service Rules and Virginia Truck Accidents

If you spend any amount of time driving on I-81, then you have undoubtedly seen a significant number of large commercial trucks hauling cargo. Such trucks are essential to the functioning of our economy. Yet we often fail to stop and consider the long hours that truck drivers work, and how overwork can lead to a serious trucking accident.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency that regulates interstate trucking, has long cautioned that fatigue is a leading cause of truck driver “non-performance,” i.e., a driver’s failure to properly perform their job while behind the wheel. This should largely be a matter of common sense. None of us perform well when tired. This is especially noticeable when it comes to operating a motor vehicle. After all, how many times have you been tired when driving home from work and had difficulty maintaining concentration, especially at night?

The problem is that a truck driver is responsible for maintaining control of a vehicle that can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds when fully loaded with cargo. And if a semi-truck does get into an accident, there is significant potential for a multi-car pileup and other collateral damage. So it is essential that truckers maintain a basic level of alertness at all times and take steps to minimize their fatigue.

How Long Can Truckers Stay on the Road Without a Break?

The problem of truck driver fatigue is so serious that the FMCSA actually maintains strict “hours of service” regulations that limit how long any trucker can stay behind the wheel and on the road. Indeed, when a trucking accident does occur, one of the first things that investigators—and trucking accident lawyers—will look at is whether the driver was skirting or outright violating the hours of service rules.

So what are the regulations? For truck drivers that carry property (cargo), there are seven basic rules:

  1. A truck driver may only drive a maximum of 11 hours following 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
  2. A truck driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours on duty.
  3. A truck driver must take a 30-minute break after driving for a period of at least 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption.
  4. A truck driver may not drive after spending 60 hours on duty over 7 days or 70 hours on duty over 8 days, and there must be at least 34 consecutive hours spent off-duty between 7- or 8-day periods.
  5. A truck driver can split their mandatory 10-hour off-duty period provided they spend at least a period of 7 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth of their truck, assuming it has one.
  6. A truck driver may extend their daily driving limit by up to 2 hours when dealing with adverse weather conditions.
  7. All truck drivers must carry an electronic logging device (ELD) in their vehicles to track their hours of service unless they qualify for a “short-haul” exemption.

While all of these rules may sound complicated, they are not that difficult to understand in practice. For reference, here are a couple of hypothetical examples:

  • Jerry is a truck driver. He comes on duty at 6 a.m. on Monday after spending 10 hours off duty. Jerry can now work a 14-hour shift ending at 8 p.m. But Jerry can only spend 11 of those 14 hours actually on the road. Jerry must take a 30-minute break after spending at least 8 total hours driving. If Jerry encounters adverse road conditions, such as rain or snow, he may extend his shift by 2 hours to 10 p.m.
  • Carol is also a truck driver. She has worked a total of 60 hours over the past 7 days. Her last shift for the week ended at 8 p.m. on Friday. She cannot start a new 60-hour workweek until she has spent at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. So her new workweek cannot begin until at least 6 a.m. on Sunday.

Why Do Truck Drivers Ignore the Hours of Service Rules?

Although every truck driver and trucking company knows and understands the hours of service regulations, we still see far too many accidents caused by fatigued drivers who stay on the road too long. Why is this so? There are many excuses, not all of them valid, but some of the more common ones include:

  • Trucking companies and their customers often make unreasonable scheduling demands, which push drivers to stay on the road past their hours of service in an attempt to maximize their “efficiency.”
  • Truck drivers simply fail to keep their “eyes on the clock” and push themselves to work past their legal and physical limits.
  • Trucking companies implement policies that create incentives for drivers to exceed their hours of service.
  • Trucking companies engage in retaliatory action, i.e., disciplining or firing drivers who refuse to violate the hours of service rules or report such violations to the FMCSA.

There is simply no excuse for any truck driver or trucking company to ignore rules that were put in place to not only protect the drivers but also other people on the road. We know that a fatigued truck driver poses a danger. Even when a driver is fully alert and in control of their faculties, a commercial semi-truck is difficult to control. When you add fatigue to that mix, the result is often disastrous.

Speak with a Winchester Truck Accident Attorney Today

It is important to note that even when a truck driver or trucking company complies with the hours of service rules, that does not mean they are off the hook for a serious accident. There are many other potential causes of such crashes that can be traced back to driver or trucking company negligence. Driver fatigue is just one of many issues that need to be looked at when determining the ultimate cause of any accident.

An experienced Winchester truck accident lawyer can investigate the cause of your crash and help you determine who is legally responsible for your injuries. Call the Correll Law Firm today at (540) 535-2005 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.