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How Do Truck Drivers Maintain Hours of Service?

How Do Truck Drivers Maintain Hours of Service?

This article answers questions regarding driver fatigue. Specifically, the fatigue trucking operators experience driving long haul and commercial vehicles.

Hours of Service are in place to protect the safety of the truck driver, as well as other drivers on the road.

Trucking carrier fatigue and the accidents it can cause, pose serious liability risk to both truck driver and trucking company. It’s also a serious public safety risk. The statistics according to Department of Transportation are staggering. Accidents due to fatigue are responsible for 13% of all commercial motor vehicle related collisions! Hours of Service violations are serious. That’s why the DOT is enforcing better regulations for operators of Commercial Motor Vehicles (“CMVs”).

To achieve this, the DOT is imposing Hours of Service. This term is usually misunderstood in many ways. The Department of Transportation defines Hours of Service as follows:

“[…]Regulations issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and govern the working hours of anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States.”

This article answers questions regarding driver fatigue. Specifically, the fatigue trucking operators experience driving long haul and commercial vehicles.

  • Who is the Department of Transportation?
  • Why does trucking carrier fatigue pose a safety risk?
  • What are the symptoms of truck driver fatigue?
  • Comparing differences in liability
  • A Personal Injury perspective

Thus, this article will seek to provide a clear picture of both the safety risks and the preventative measures surrounding trucking carrier fatigue. It’s important to take note that trucking carrier fatigue is preventable. Truck drivers must follow the guidelines, rules, and regulations laid out in great detail by the FMCSA, the Department of Transportation, and the trucking carrier itself.

Who is the Department of Transportation, or “DOT”?

To ensure public safety as well as the safety of those who are employed to commute in commercial vehicles, the Department of Transportation, or “DOT” governs every aspect of transportation on the roads in the United States. The “DOT” has provided a specific, thorough list of regulations that explicitly state the requirements that need be met to help trucking operators avoid carrier fatigue at all costs. The DOT lists everything from specific driving limits to mandatory rest breaks:

  • Property carrying drivers: 11-hour driving limit; a driver may only drive a maximum of 11 consecutive hours, after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Passenger carrying drivers: 10-hour driving limit; a driver may only drive a maximum of 10 hours, after 8 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Rest break requirements: a trucking operator may only drive if 8 hours pass since end of driver’s last “off-duty” or rest period (must be at least 30 minutes).

While these regulations may seem excessive, they are in place for a reason. When violations occur, it poses a serious public safety risk. Drivers who neglect these regulations set forth for them can be found liable in a Personal Injury lawsuit. They’re liable for causing serious bodily injury or participating in other injurious behavior due to ignoring trucking carrier fatigue.

Comparing differences in liability

Liability lies in whether the driver is an independent contract or working for a trucking company.

What makes employee liability and independent contractor liability different? 

Liability differs depending on employment status. In this section we explain employee liability versus liability of the independent contractor.

A lawyer must determine whether a truck driver is an employee of a company. This determination falls under federal regulations such as FMCSA. If the truck driver is an independent contractor, laws are different. The Department of Transportation does govern independent contractors, however the regulations are not the same. The difference lies in who determines how the work is carried out.

It’s important to note that a Florida trucking company is not usually the one liable for acts of an independent contractor. Independent contractors have more autonomy than a driver working for a corporation.

Hours of Service violations happen when an employer deliberately alters logbooks or suggests a truck driver skip mandatory breaks. These actions are illegal. Thus, there is potential for further damages.

Why does trucking carrier fatigue pose a safety risk for Florida truck drivers?

As with any person who attempts to operate a car, SUV, or truck while exhausted, there are serious and fatal consequences. Truck drivers, like all of us, are human and need proper rest, food, and exercise. Sometimes a truck driver finds themselves suffering fatigue, but continues their commute under employer pressure. This can be in an effort to achieve a company deadline. Regardless, they are at risk of becoming liable for a serious fatigue related accident.

If this occurs, as it so often does, the driver would most likely be found liable for the negligent behavior on the road. Suffering fatigue but continuing to operate dangerous machinery is not a “reasonable” thing to do. The “reasonable” action in this instance, would be to find a safe place to pull in and take the amount of rest, break required by the Department of Transportation.

What are the symptoms of truck driver fatigue?

Mayo Clinic, a leader healthcare, defines “fatigue” as:

“[…]It’s a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces your energy, motivation and concentration. Fatigue at this level impacts your emotional and psychological well-being, too.”

Some of the most serious symptoms of fatigue as laid out by Mayo Clinic are as follows:

  • Lack of sleep. Fatigue itself is exhaustion beyond the point of simply feeling “tired”.
  • Sleep apnea. Some people have medical problems they’re unaware of. One of these issues is “sleep apnea”. This is a condition where breathing ceases for several seconds every few minutes during the sleep cycle. This ailment can cause exhaustion and pose other severe health risks. Fatigue will occur in individuals with this ailment despite a full night’s rest.
  • Certain medications. Always speak with a medical professional before driving on new medication.
  • Lack of physical activity. With truck driving, remaining behind the wheel for long hours can become monotonous. Therefore, it can induce levels of exhaustion that become dangerous. Truck drivers must remember to get enough physical activity.
  • Unhealthy eating habits. This cause of fatigue is one of the most serious. Often, truck operators don’t make time to eat healthy, regular meals. Eating junk food just because it’s convenient causes serious health problems. Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are a few common illnesses truck drivers suffer unnecessarily. Truck drivers must always take care to eat nutritiously  to avoid developing preventable health problems in the future.

Fatigue isn’t fatal in itself. It’s what occurs as a result of driving with such fatigue that can cause injuries or fatalities.

Making decisions while suffering from fatigue, or taking certain prescriptions can be fatal. This is why many trucking manuals, as well as certain medication instructions specifically state, “do not operate heavy machinery while taking medication”.

Further reading

Below, we list several other Shaked Law Firm blog publications on the subject of Florida Trucking Law!

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