Truck Drivers Held Liable for Violating Hours of Service Rule

hours of service rule

Driver fatigue is a factor in over 100,000 accidents every year. When those accidents involve large trucks like 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles, the results are almost always catastrophic. To promote driver safety and protect other highway users, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), which regulates commercial truck drivers, has specified the number of hours a commercial trucker can operate a vehicle without taking a break. This is commonly known as the hours of service rule.

The hours of service rule identifies the number of hours a driver can be on duty, drive without stopping for a break, and work during a given time period. Before the FMCSA enacted the hours of service rule, many commercial drivers were driving more than 80 hours per week, hauling heavy cargo long distances across highways on little sleep and with few rest breaks.

The hours of service rules promote safety on American highways while allowing truck drivers to make a living without putting their lives and the lives of other drivers at risk. Unfortunately, in an effort to make more money or due to pressure from trucking companies, brokers, shippers, and others in the supply chain, too many truck drivers ignore the hours of service requirements and place themselves and others at risk of a collision.

What Is the Current Hours of Service Requirement?

While there are some nuances to hours of service rules, the general principle of the rule is straightforward. There are two time frames at play: the 11-hour rule and the 14-hour rule. Both of these rules have different implications depending on how a truck driver would like to schedule their time, as long as they get the right amount of breaks and only 11 total hours on the road.

The 11-Hour Rule

The current FMCSA hours of service rule allows truck drivers to operate a vehicle for a maximum of 11 hours at a time. Once a driver reaches 11 hours behind the wheel, they are required to stop driving for at least 10 hours of off-duty rest. Once the driver has been off-duty for at least 10 consecutive hours, they can drive another 11-hour shift.

The 14-Hour Rule

Under the 14-hour rule, a truck driver must complete the 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour period. This means, for example, that if a trucker begins driving at 8 a.m., they can drive for up to 11 hours, as long as those 11 hours are completed no later than 14 hours later, in this case at 10 p.m.

The three extra hours give truck drivers time to do things like eat meals, perform repairs or maintenance on their vehicle, stop for fuel, take a break, or stop for vehicle inspections. Once a driver hits the 14-hour deadline, the driver must stop driving and go off-duty for at least 10 hours.

Mandatory Rest Breaks

In addition to being limited to driving for a maximum of 11 hours within a 14 hour period, truck drivers are required to stop for at least 30 minutes after 8 hours on the road. A driver who operates a vehicle beyond this 8 hours mark is in violation of the rest break rule.

Weekly Limits on Hours Driven

The FMCSA also limits the number of hours a trucker can drive during a week. For purposes of this rule calendar weeks are irrelevant, and the rule focuses only on a given 7- or 8- day period. A driver must be aware of their accumulated hours to determine whether they can continue to drive.

If a trucking company does not put drivers on the road every day of the week, a driver may operate a truck for a total of 60 hours during a 7-day period. If the trucking company puts drivers on the road every day of the week, a driver can operate a truck for up to 70 hours in any 8-day period. A driver has the option to restart their week after a 34-hour off-duty rest period.

FMCSA Considering Changes to Hours of Service Requirements

Federal hours of service requirements have remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. However, the FMCSA is considering changes to hours of service regulations that would add flexibility for many commercial truck drivers.

Exceptions to the Hours of Service Requirements

There are two notable exceptions to the hours of service requirements.

Under the 16-hour exception, a driver who is on a one-day work schedule can be on duty for up to 16 hours, as long as they do not drive for more than 11 hours and they begin and end at the same terminal. A driver who uses the 16-hour exception cannot be on duty until the next 34-hour reset.

A driver who cannot safely complete the run within the 11-hour drive time can drive up to 2 additional hours to reach their destination. If adverse weather restricts a driver from reaching a hotel or rest stop to take a 10-hour break, the driver can extend their drive time by up to 2 hours. These exceptions do not mean the driver can extend their shift just because of bad weather.

How Does the Hours of Service Requirement Impact My Trucking Accident Injury Case?

If you or someone you love was injured in an accident involving a commercial truck driver, the experienced truck accident attorneys at Robenalt Law will evaluate the driver’s service logs and the truck’s onboard electronic logging device (ELD) to determine whether the driver was in compliance with the FMCSA hours of service requirements. If the truck driver was out of compliance, we can use this fact to help prove that the truck driver, and possible the company or companies that employed them, were liable for your injuries.

Gathering these pieces of evidence without the assistance of an experienced truck accident injury attorney is almost impossible. Our attorneys have decades of experience representing people who were injured in accidents with truck drivers. Unfortunately, in far too many of these accidents, driver fatigue was an issue.

Robenalt Law Fights for People Injured in Trucking Accidents

If you were injured or someone you love was killed in a trucking accident, the personal injury attorneys at Robenalt Law can help.

Learn more about how we help people who were hurt in truck accidents, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and learn why people choose us. Then contact Robenalt Law today to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing trucking companies at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help victims and the families of those injured to secure compensation for trucking accidents.

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