Commercial truck drivers have special rules and laws they must obey. Since they control vehicles that can exceed 80,000 pounds for a living, they must respect these rules for the safety of everyone on the roadway. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues these rules for all truck companies and drivers in the country to follow. One of these rules limits the hours of service a truck driver may legally work at a time before taking a break. The hours of service rule aims to reduce the risk of drowsy driving.
FMCSA Hours of Service Regulations
A tired driver is a risk to everyone on the road. Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk or impaired driving. Truck drivers are more at risk of drowsy driving than typical motorists for several reasons: they drive alone for long hours, often work nights, have to sleep on the road and may suffer from sleep apnea. For this reason, the FMCSA enforces strict hours of service regulations.
- Work vs. duty periods. Work according to the FMCSA is a workweek, while duty period is a workday. Since many truck drivers do not work conventional 9:00 to 5:00 hours, the FMSCA bases its regulations on actual hours worked rather than days or hours of the week.
- Seven-day work period. Truck drivers may work seven days in a row but cannot work more than 60 hours on duty in those seven days. If they do work seven consecutive days, they must break for at least 34 consecutive hours before beginning another seven-day work period.
- 14-hour duty period. The maximum duty period for a truck driver is 14 hours. Within this period, a driver may only drive for 11 hours. After 8 hours, the driver must take a 30-minute break. After 14 hours, the driver must take a 10-hour break before another duty period.
- Rest breaks. A commercial driver may only drive if 8 hours or less have passed since the last 30-minute break. A rest break can refer to time off-duty or in the truck’s sleeper berth.
If a truck driver starts his workday at 6:00 a.m., he must take at least a 30-minute break at 2:00 p.m., after 8 hours on duty. Then, he may drive another three hours with or without additional breaks. Once the trucker reaches 11 driving hours and/or 14 total hours on duty, he must stop and sleep or perform other non-driving duties for at least 10 hours before starting another 14-hour duty period.
What Happens if These Are Violated?
A truck driver needs to obey the hours of service regulations. Otherwise, he or she could run the risk of driving tired. Drowsy driving kills. A drowsy truck driver may not have the reflexes or reaction times to successfully stop or maneuver to avoid an accident. A tired trucker may fall asleep behind the wheel, fail to stop or cause a rear-end collision. Drowsy driving can cause catastrophic truck accidents such as truck rollovers, override accidents and head-on collisions.
If an investigation of an accident or a review of a driver’s electronic logging device finds he or she violated the FMCSA’s hours of service rules, the driver and carrier could face penalties. A police officer or an authority from the federal government could assess penalties such as fines at both the state and federal levels. The driver or trucking company could also suffer a reduction in its safety rating. Finally, the driver could face mandatory revocation of his or her driving privileges until the completion of a rest break.
If a truck driver who has violated the hours of service rule causes a truck accident, the trucking company could be liable for damages. The company could be responsible for the negligent actions of its driver, including hours of service violations. The company may have to pay for victims’ medical expenses, lost income, property damages and other losses.