Big rigs are a necessary part of modern life. Each year, tractor-trailers and semi-trucks drive millions of miles to deliver the goods that we need. Unfortunately, the pressure to get to the next location quickly can result in truck drivers staying behind the wheel for far longer than is safe – which can lead to truck accidents.
Given this reality, the federal government has enacted a series of laws that specify exactly how long truckers can operate their rigs without taking a break. Known as hours of service (HOS) regulations, these rules even mandate the length of breaks that must be taken before getting back on the road. These regulations are designed to reduce the dangers associated with drowsy and fatigued driving.
If a truck driver violates HOS regulations and causes a collision as a result, a skilled truck accident lawyer can use this information to build a strong case for compensation. Below, we’ll outline what you need to know about trucking hours of service regulations – and how you can get the money that you deserve for a truck accident.
What Are Trucking Hours of Service Regulations?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is responsible for improving the safety of motor carriers throughout the United States. Part of its role is to administer the hours of service regulations. HOS regulations apply to both drivers who transport property (such as long-haul truckers) as well as those who transport passengers (such as bus drivers).
These regulations limit (1) how many consecutive hours a driver of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) can operate their vehicle; (2) the number of hours that a driver can operate their CMV in a week; and (3) the length of breaks that drivers must take when operating a CMV.
Truck drivers are required to record their hours of service logbook that tracks when they are off duty, on duty, driving, or in a sleeper berth. These terms and concepts are defined as follows:
- Off duty: not on duty
- Sleeper berth: off duty in a sleeper berth
- Driving: behind the “driving controls” of an operating CMV
- On duty (not driving): working or required to be ready to work
A truck driver’s duty status must be recorded in a HOS logbook for each 24 hour time period, including for time that is spent on duty, but not driving. The driver must make these entries themselves, and the logs and any supporting documents must then be kept for a period of 6 months. Starting in 2019, drivers must use an electronic logging device to comply with HOS regulations.
Under 49 CFR § 395.8, duty status must be recorded for each 24 hour period, including time spent “on-duty not driving. All entries must be made by the driver, and both the logs and supporting docs must be kept for six months.
These HOS rules limit “on-duty time” and “driving time” with both daily and weekly limits. For truck drivers who transport property, there is an 11-hour “driving” limit and a 14-hour “on-duty” limit per day. A driver can operate a CMV for 11 hours only after 10 consecutive hours of being off duty. In other words, if a driver has taken a shorter break – such as going off-duty overnight from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. (9 hours) – they will be in violation of the HOS regulations if they get behind the wheel the following day.
These 11 hours of drive time must be completed during a 14-hour window that begins when a trucker goes “on duty.” Periods of being off-duty during this window count towards the 14 hour total. In other words, the 14-hour window continues to run even if a trucker has off-duty time within the 14-hour time period. They can do other “on duty” tasks, but no driving during this time.
Significantly, drivers cannot operate their CMV for more than 8 consecutive hours without taking a 30-minute break. This break can be satisfied by going off duty, being on duty but not driving, or resting in a sleeper berth. After hitting the 11-hour driving limit for a day, drivers must take another 10-hour break before operating their CMV again.
In addition to daily limits, truck drivers are not permitted to drive for more than 60 hours of on-duty time during the past 7 days, or 70 hours during the previous 8 days. After a driver reaches 60 or 70 hours, they cannot drive again until their on-duty time drops below this limit. Truck drivers can restart this time period by taking a break of 34 consecutive off-duty hours.
Under a 2013 rule change, the 34-hour “restart” provision can only be used once per week. It also must include 2 time periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Before this rule change, there was no limitation on the 34-hour restart. In 2015, these limitations were suspended so that truckers again have unlimited restarts.
The FMCSA offers a “truckers guide” to hours of service regulations. This guide is a useful tool for truck drivers to better understand HOS rules – and what they need to do to comply with them. It also provides examples of logbooks, and situations to help truck drivers understand the regulations.
There are some exceptions to HOS regulations, such as for short-haul trips and agriculture CMVs. In addition, in adverse weather, truck drivers have an additional 2 hours added to the 14-hour window for driving.
Analyzing HOS Violations in a Lawsuit
In any truck accident case, HOS violations may be a key issue. In most cases, it is simple enough to review the truck’s logbooks yourself to determine if there is a potential issue. An attorney should request both the electronic HOS logs as well as supporting documentation in discovery, remembering that the regulations require that these records be maintained for a period of 6 months. If an issue is flagged, then an expert can review the logs and documentation.
Unfortunately, many carriers have a policy of destroying documentation as soon as possible. If you are seeking carrier records more than 6 months after an accident, do not assume that they do not exist elsewhere. Send a request for the documents to the truck driver. You can also inquire about supporting documentation during the driver’s deposition, and search the cab for any stored documents during a truck inspection.
If it is beyond 6 months and the company has destroyed the documentation, review the discovery to establish a timeline for spoliation. Importantly, under 49 CFR § 379, Appendix A, the time period for document retention may be extended by litigation.
If you have access to the logbooks, use the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and Logbook Guide to search for HOS violations. Look at the driving miles and the driving time on the driver’s daily log, and cross-reference these items with the driver’s log. Do the miles match the destination points? Do the destination points match fuel receipts and tolls?
There are limited exceptions to HOS rules, including:
- Agriculture, 150 air miles
- Short-Haul, 150 air miles
- Non-CDL Short Haul, 150 air miles
- Adverse Weather, +2 hours drive/14
- Specialty: Fire, rescue, oilfield, etc.
Keep these exceptions in mind as you review HOS logbooks.
After December 16, 2019, truckers and carriers must fully comply with electronic logging device rules. Prior to this date, there were two compliance phases. Phase 1, from February 2016 to December 2017, was an awareness and transition phase. Phase 2, from December 2017 to December 2019, required companies to use these devices, but not necessarily comply with the FMCA.
Most electronic logging devices have the same general look, although there are many different products available. Generally, these devices have the look of a paper log. Many include GPS fleet tracking components.
These devices are meant to curtail cheating, but truck drivers may find ways around the system, such as under-reporting non-driving hours to ensure extra time to drive. Temptations to under-report include:
- Waiting to be assigned a load
- Waiting for information required to complete an assigned load
- Attending a truck and trailer to ensure the security of load and truck
- Waiting to enter a dock or facility
- Communicating with the shipper and consignees’ employees
- Unloading or assisting in the unloading of a trailer (e.g. counting freight)
- Attending while a truck is loaded or unloaded.
- Preparing trailers for loading (e.g. pre-cooling a refrigerated trailer)
- Loading or unloading empty pallets, racks, or other equipment
- Travel route planning
- Work schedule planning
- Mandatory pre-trip inspections of truck and trailer
- Completing trailer inspection forms
- Inspections of tractor and trailer in the course of work
- Post-trip inspections
- Fueling the truck, checking engine oil, washing windows, and mirrors
- Monitoring and securing of freight and trailer conditions (e.g. checking trailer temperature)
- Making minor repairs to the truck (e.g. blown lights)
- Record keeping
Truck drivers may cheat the system by not logging in, which allows the semi to move but the device will not function. After the fact, this time may be recorded as unassigned driving time. Alternatively, a driver may log in as someone else who is not currently working (such as for vacation).
Drivers may also cheat by misusing personal conveyance (PC) time. PC time involves the driver’s use of a truck as a personal vehicle, which cannot be to further the operation of the carrier. There is no FMCSA limit on PC time, but some carriers limit it to 50 miles. If a driver is pushing their hourly limit for drive time, they may be tempted to use PC time to finish the day.
Other forms of cheating may include using yard move time inappropriately or simply unplugging the device (so that nothing is recorded). Some drivers may claim that the device is broken, or even intentionally break it, and then use paper logs until it is fixed (especially when tight on drive hours). Companies must fix broken logging devices within 8 days. Alternatively, truckers may go into a device and make false edits to change their sleeper, on-duty, and off-duty time, adding remarks to explain any HOS violations. For example, a trucker may note that there was bad weather or an unavoidable delay. If true, these are acceptable reasons for a HOS violation.
When talking about these types of violations, it is important to use the right words. Hours of service are linked to safe driving limits, maximum drive time, safe drive time restrictions, and minimum rest requirements. Record of duty status involves a trucker’s timesheet, records of hours worked, on-the-job hours, and a driver’s daily log.
Importantly, beyond the HOS rules, commercial driver’s license (CDL) manuals also provide guidance on a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle for extended periods of time. These manuals may be useful in putting together a claim for damages.
Other sections of the FMCSR may be useful in building a case, including:
- 49 CFR §396.11 – Drivers must complete a post-inspection report at the end of every day. 396.11(a)
- The report must list every defect which affects the safety of the CMV or result in a mechanical breakdown. A “clean” report must also be noted. 396.11(b)
- 49 CFR §396.13 – Driver shall ensure the vehicle is in safe operating condition and review the prior Post Trip Inspection Report and sign the report if deficiencies were noted and repaired.
- 49 CFR §§ 392.7, 392.8: Equipment, inspection, and use.
- Require a complete inspection of CMV and all of its components/ emergency equipment.
- State CDL Manuals provide a 7-step comprehensive discussion of CMV inspections.
- §392.9: Inspection of cargo and cargo securement.
- Driver responsibility to ensure CMV is properly loaded.
- Requires driver to examine the load and securing devices within the first twenty-five (25) miles after beginning a trip, and thereafter, every three (3) hours or one hundred fifty (150) miles of driving, whichever occurs first.
Finally, under 49 CFR §390.11, a truck company cannot claim ignorance of the HOS rules: “whenever … a duty is prescribed for a driver or a prohibition is imposed upon the driver, it shall be the duty of the motor carrier to require observance of such duty or prohibition.”
How HOS Violations Can Cause Truck Accidents
Hours of service regulations exist to protect the public from the dangers of truck accidents caused by drowsy driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), driving when you are overly tired is similar to drunk driving. Conservatively, drowsy driving is responsible for 83,000 crashes – and 886 fatal accidents – each year.
If truck drivers violate HOS regulations, it creates an increased risk of a truck accident. The reason why is simple: when a truck driver has been on the road for an extended period of time, they are more likely to cause an accident. Given the size difference between a tractor-trailer and an average passenger vehicle, these crashes can result in catastrophic injuries or even death.
The FMCSRs were enacted for just this reason. According to Carmichael v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Services, Inc., 572 F.3d 1271, 1297 fn. 3 (11th Cir. 2009), in “1937, the ICC passed regulations limiting a commercial driver’s hours of service to protect the public from the danger posed by fatigued drivers.” In 1937, the ICC recognized “[a] fatigued driver, whether that fatigue results from excessive hours of work or other causes, may become an inattentive, careless, or otherwise unsafe driver.”
Unfortunately, there are many incentives for truck drivers to cheat on their HOS logs by under-reporting their drive time. This is often due to the pressures associated with long-haul trucking, including payment structures that prioritize getting a load to a destination point as quickly as possible. Truck drivers may falsely claim to be off duty when they are actually on-duty, performing tasks such as unloading a trailer, planning a travel route, conducting pre-trip or post-trip inspections, or making minor repairs to the truck.
Like other types of personal injury cases, truck accident cases are typically based on a theory of negligence, which is the failure to use the care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation. A violation of HOS regulations can be used to establish that a truck driver was negligent – and that both the driver and the trucking company are financially responsible for any injuries that occurred in a collision. Your attorney can use their knowledge of these and other laws to put together a strong case for compensation on your behalf.
Help for Truck Accident Victims
Any type of motor vehicle crash can cause serious injuries. When the other vehicle is a tractor-trailer, however, the potential for these types of injuries is magnified. If you have been hurt in a truck accident, you will need an aggressive lawyer who can help you get the maximum compensation for your injuries.
At Doehrman Buba Ring, we are dedicated to helping injury victims get the money they deserve for their losses. We offer free consultations and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with an Indianapolis truck accident lawyer, reach out today at 317-844-9999 or fill out our online contact form.