Semi-trucks are dangerous vehicles. When one of these trucks — which weighs more than 30,000 pounds with nothing in the trailer — contacts a passenger vehicle the result is often serious injury or death. To prevent catastrophic accidents from occurring, it is imperative that truck drivers operate these massive vehicles in a safe manner.
In order to make sure that safety comes first, there is a network of federal and state laws regulating the commercial trucking industry. These laws and regulations cover everything from load limits and mechanical inspections to screening drivers for drug and alcohol use. Drivers and the motor carrier companies they work for found in violation of these laws can be subject to fines and penalties, but this is not always enough to ensure compliance with the law.
Among the most important federal regulations are the hours-of-service laws. These laws dictate how many hours truck drivers are allowed to drive and be on duty within a specific amount of time. The purpose of the hours-of-service laws is to prevent drivers from operating semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles without sufficient rest. When drivers become fatigued, they are more likely to make costly mistakes that may result in an innocent driver’s death.
The hours-of-service laws include:
- 11-hour rule: truck drivers are not permitted to drive more than 11 consecutive hours within a 14-hour period following 10 consecutive hours off-duty
- 14-hour rule: truck drivers are not permitted to drive more than a total of 14 hours in any 24-hour period of time
- 60/70 rule: truck drivers cannot be on duty for more than 60 hours in any consecutive seven-day period or more than 70 hours in any consecutive eight-day period
It is important to note that the first two rules apply to the actual amount of time the truck driver spends driving the semi-truck. The 60/70 rule, however, applies to the total amount of time the driver is on duty, which includes not only time spent driving, but all the time the driver is working. For example, on-duty time can include time spent loading and unloading the truck and completing inspections, whether the driver is the one actually doing either task.
Truck drivers are required to keep detailed records of the time they spend on- and off-duty. Known as trucking logs, these records include important information like the amount of time a driver spends behind the wheel in a 24-hour period, the number of miles he or she drove and the amount of time he or she spent off-duty. In some cases, these records reveal whether a truck driver has violated the hours-of-service laws. They are not, however, always reliable because drivers have been known to falsify their logs to make it appear they followed the law when they really were not.
The federal hours-of-service laws apply to drivers of all commercial motor vehicles involved in interstate commerce, including those that transport cargo and passengers. The hours-of-service laws also apply to vehicles used to transport hazardous materials regardless of whether the transport is interstate or intrastate.
The goals of motor carriers often are at odds with the hours-of-service laws. The profitability of these businesses depends on their ability to move cargo quickly from one location to the next. Limiting the amount of time drivers can spend on the road does not help motor carriers achieve this goal. Some motor carriers may even encourage their drivers to violate these laws or may ignore driver violations.
Other Causes of Truck Accidents
While fatigued semi-truck drivers are to blame for their fair share of accidents, there are other causes of trucking accidents, including:
- Failure to adhere to load limits
- Failure to regularly inspect and maintain the vehicle, including tires and brakes
- Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Distracted drivers using cell phones and in-dash computer systems
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a semi-truck, you have legal options available to you. You may be able to bring a legal claim against the truck driver and/or the motor carrier for your injuries. If you lost a loved one in a trucking accident, you may be able to bring a wrongful death claim for your loss.