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Tractor Trailer Operators Must Follow Hours of Service Regulations

Often times, drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) work long hours, with unpredictable schedules. Sometimes, CMV drivers must also drive at nighttime, due to the schedule or an emergency. Over the past few years, new regulations have been implemented by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in order to protect drivers, their families, and the public at large.

The new Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations initially became effective February 27th, 2012. But, compliance with the new HOS regulations just became mandatory on July 1st, 2013.

Now, drivers are only allowed to work a maximum of 70 hours per week, whereas before the new regulations were enacted, they could legally work up to 82 hours a week. For the most part, the rule will affect long-haul truckload drivers. Other drivers who have less hefty schedules, who only work around 5 days a week, will likely not be affected by the new rule.

Though CMV drivers are now required to take more time off, the jobs which they do still need to be done, and it is not always easy to do the job and comply with the rules. So, the FMSCA has defined terms such as “resting” and what it actually means to be “on duty” or “off duty.” For instance, resting in a parked vehicle may be considered “off duty” time, and it does not count as part of the 70 hours of drive time which is allowed under the new rules. After being “on duty” for 8 consecutive hours, drivers must take an off duty break for at least 30 minutes. “On duty” time includes loading and unloading, not just driving. So, basically, a driver cannot be on the clock, or “on duty,” for more than 8 hours, without having at least a 30-minute break. After the 30-minute off duty break, however, a driver may go back on the clock and resume his or her “on duty” status. There just has to be a 30-minute break after 8 hours worked. During the break, a driver is not required to actually rest or sleep. A driver could grab a meal or engage in some other activity, just so long as it is “off duty” and not work-related.

There are a few exceptions to the new rules. For drivers who carry explosives, and who are required to be with their truckload at all times, “attendance time”–attending the vehicle–may be considered “off duty,” but the driver is not allowed to engage in any work, during that mandatory 30-minute break. Another exception to the new HOS Regulations applies to people who provide service to oil and natural gas wells. CMV drivers who provide service to oil and gas wells are not required to include their time spent waiting at the oil/gas well in their “on duty not driving” time, so waiting time at a natural gas/oil well may be excluded from “on duty” time. Sometimes, oil/gas wells need immediate attention, due to an emergency situation.

The basic policy behind the new rules is to allow for truck drivers to get their necessary rest and sleep and to prevent accidents from occurring. The new rule has been created in the interest of keeping sleep-deprived drivers off of the road, so that fewer accidents will be caused by fatigued drivers. Driver fatigue is a serious problem in the trucking industry and puts all motorists at risk. Evidence of whether or not drivers are abiding by the new rules may be obtained through compliance reviews. Penalties for violating the rules include: placing a driver out of service, until s/he is in compliance with the regulations, fines, penalties assessed to the driver or carrier, lowering a driver and/or carrier’s safety rating, and even criminal penalties.

Despite the new Federal Regulations, accidents are likely to continue to occur, simply due to the fact that rules and regulations are not always followed. This may be the result of a negligent or reckless carrier or a negligent/reckless driver. Drivers are required to keep accurate records of the hours they have driven, but sometimes drivers guesstimate and/or outright lie about their drive time. Also, some companies might encourage their drivers to violate the law and to exceed the maximum hours of allowed drive time. Even if the driver’s logs appear to indicate that there were no hours of service violations, investigation into sleep patterns, off-duty activities, and other areas of the driver’s work and social life may seriously inhibit the driver’s natural sleep and rest patterns – referred to as “Circadian Rhythms.” Even if a person is not “working,” if they are not getting enough proper rest they are building a “sleep debt” which must be repaid. If that debt is paid while on the road, and fatigue sets in, every one driving on the roadway is at risk.

This disregard for the new regulations could lead to more accidents, and when an accident happens, the victims of that accident need someone who is informed and trustworthy to sort through and handle all of the issues. Victims of negligence and recklessness might need an experienced attorney with extensive knowledge in this particular area of the law–commercial motor vehicle accidents. Our office handles 18-wheeler and other commercial motor vehicle cases throughout Texas and beyond. It is extremely important to initiate a prompt and complete investigation – with engineers and reconstruction experts, industry experts and many others in order to protect the rights of those injured or killed due to the negligence of a trucking company or its driver.