What Are the Limitations on Hours-Of-Service for Truck Drivers?
Truck drivers are a backbone of the American economy, moving goods from one section of the country to another and ensuring that we have what we need available to use or purchase. Tragically, trucks are also a source of accidents in America; according to available data, over 4,000 people were killed in truck accidents in 2019. Due to their dangerous potential, truckers must follow certain hours-of-service limitations.
What Are the Limits on Hours-of-Service for Truck Drivers?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, numerous limits exist for truck drivers.
- After being off duty for 10 consecutive hours, drivers can drive 11 hours within a 14-hour window. After the 14-hour window expires, drivers cannot drive again until they take 10 consecutive hours off.
- This is not a “daily” limit, an acknowledgment that truck drivers do not keep regular hours. Instead, it resets after a driver takes 10 straight hours off from driving.
- Within the 14 hours, drivers must take a break and not drive more than 11 hours. This, essentially, requires that drivers stop for a nap, meal or other rest period. If drivers take more than a three-hour break during this time, their 14-hour window does not get extended.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break if they have driven more than eight consecutive hours since the last time they took a rest.
There are longer limits based on a seven- or eight-day rest period. For eight days, a driver cannot drive more than 70 hours. Over this selected time period, the oldest day’s hours will drop off, potentially freeing a driver up to drive until he or she reaches a new 70-hour limit.
Some truck companies operate on a seven-day rest period, and during this period, drivers cannot drive more than 60 hours over seven days. During this period, truck drivers are allowed to do any other work that they choose. In both cases, drivers are allowed to drive as soon as their prior days’ hours have dropped away, potentially freeing them up for additional driving work. Furthermore, in some cases, a truck driver may seek to complete reset their 60/70-hour limit. They may do so by taking 34 hours off from driving, meaning that they are not operating a truck at all during this time. Doing so essentially gives them a blank slate, allowing them to completely reset their clock and drive up to 70 hours over eight days.
How Are These Requirements Enforced?
Anyone who is driving a truck that is bound by these regulations is expected to keep a logbook that records all of their driving and break times. This logbook can be manual or automated. It must record extensive information, including:
- Date and miles and hours driven
- Driver’s contact information and carrier company
- Driver’s signature
- Name of any co-driver
- Contents of the truck, including shipping information
- Any additional remarks
The changing nature of technology has given rise to Automatic On-Board Recording Devices, or AOBRDs. These devices can be inputted to contain all the information above. They also can be connected to the truck’s GPS to ensure accurate recording of all miles driven and other relevant safety information. AOBRDs are automatically used in order to determine compliance with all relevant regulations.
Why Do These Regulations Exist?
Regulations like this exist to protect everyone on the road. Numerous studies show that drivers can become a danger if they are behind the wheel for too long over an extended period, potentially leading to slower reaction time and poor judgment. This behavior can result in an increased risk for serious accidents or death, placing everyone on the road at additional risk. By creating these regulations, the government removes the economic incentive to push truck drivers beyond safe physical limits, thus protecting all drivers and ensuring that the transportation of goods will remain safe.
Can These Regulations Be Waived?
In a word, yes. There are instances in which state or federal authorities can make determinations about temporary emergency states and waive the normal regulations. Most of the time, this occurs when some outside force creates an emergency, and authorities determine that any safety gains by normal limitations create more of a risk than allowing truck drivers to temporarily drive more than is safe.
This can occur under a variety of circumstances, such as a weather emergency, civil unrest or any other situation in which the normal supply chain has been disrupted. For example, hours-of-service rules were waived in the aftermath of the 2021 cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, resulting in a disruption to oil and fuel supplies. This helped ensure that the disruption of fuel supplies was kept to a minimum.
Are There Civil Ramifications for Violating Hours-of-Service Rules?
There may be. The penalties and consequences depend on the nature of the violation and the severity of the penalty, but these ramifications are possible.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, there are instances in which truck drivers will not obey limits on hours of service. Like anything, the penalties can range depending on the severity of the violation and if there is an accident that occurs during an hours-of-service violation.
If a law enforcement officer catches a truck that has violated its hours-of-service provision, it can order a truck to shut down until the driver is able to drive again in line with relevant regulations.
In most cases, fines are the most likely outcome. These fines can come from the federal, state or local government, and they can be upwards of $10,000 depending on just how serious the violation is. Violations involving the transportation of hazardous material can have even higher violations, and repeated violations can result in safety downgrades to the trucking firm in question. This, in turn, can lead to higher insurance costs for the firm, potentially placing a major financial burden on them.
Additional legal and civil exposure is possible if a person is injured as a result of hours-of-service violations. If this is the case, a trucking accident lawyer may be able to sue for additional compensation for a victim, potentially resulting in a major financial award. Again, it depends on a variety of factors, including the severity of the injury, the significance of the violation and whether the trucking firm in question was intentionally encouraging a truck driver to violate hours-of-service limitations. However, if this is the case, trucking accident lawyers have a long track record of successfully suing trucking companies for extensive damages on behalf of their clients. Indeed, avoiding lawsuits may be a powerful check on the behavior of trucking firms, encouraging them to ensure compliance with a variety of regulations.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a truck accident, and you believe that the accident happened due to an hours-of-service violation, you should seek legal remedy immediately to ensure that you are financially compensated for your injury or loss. At Rebenack, Aronow & Mascolo, L.L.P. (RAM Law), we have extensive experience in helping clients recover from these tragedies, working to ensure that their financial needs are covered after an unfortunate accident. Visit our website, or call us today at (732) 394-1549. We have New Jersey offices in New Brunswick, Somerville and Freehold.