Insider Secrets: How to Prove a Truck Driver Violated the Hours of Service RegulationsDecember 8, 2016
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations restrict the number of hours truck drivers can drive in a day and within a 7 and 8 day period. For example, licensed commercial drivers may not drive without first taking 10 consecutive hours off duty. The hours of service regulations are confusing and are frequently disregarded and violated. These regulations were put in place to prevent avoidable accidents, such as those caused by driver fatigue. Drivers who ignore them needlessly put the public at risk of injury or death.
Attorneys who review logbooks in litigation should incorporate more information than just a simple logbook audit alone. Typically, trucking companies monitor logbooks so the logbooks may not show any violations. However, as you dig deeper into the logbooks and begin to fact check every notation in them, any falsifications will become obvious. When auditing logbooks, attorneys will look for travel times through different time zones. While the logbook will all be recorded in the time zone of the driver’s home terminal, supporting documentation, such as receipts, bills of lading, and inspections may be in different time zones. Additionally, cellular data may be in UTC time and provide another way to check the times the driver was where he claimed to be. Also, check the payroll records and find out when the truck driver was driving and when was he paid to see if they match the log books.
Requesting Electronic Records
Many trucks now have, or soon will have, an electronic logging device which will replace paper log books. Requesting the electronic records in addition to the paper logs helps conduct a more comprehensive audit. Drivers may make changes to the paper copy after they turn in a copy for electronic record keeping. Thus, the two may be entirely inconsistent. We recently handled a case where a driver’s electronic records and paper records were off by many hours each week.
Cellular data is vital in a truck wreck case because it can show driver fatigue, distracted driving, and violations of the hours of service. Cellular data must be preserved and should be included in a spoliation letter. Cellular data includes text messages, e-mails, internet activity, and even GPS information. Text messages the driver sends to dispatch are often revealing because no one expects them to be read. We have handled cases regularly where dispatch tells a driver to keep driving despite being over his hours of service. If a driver claims he is in his sleeper berth, but is texting or calling his trucking company, that time should be logged as on-duty. This is a classic violation of the hours of service.
Qualcomm and GPS
Most trucks are equipped with a Qualcomm system that includes a GPS option to track the truck. GPS systems will record the location of the truck and its speed and multiple intervals during the day. When auditing a logbook, having this information is very useful. A driver can cheat a logbook. A driver cannot cheat a GPS.
Trucks are required to undergo routine maintenance to operate safely. Maintenance logs are extremely useful in auditing logs, even if they do not have time stamps. Maintenance receipts contain the location of the service. When a log book does not show the driver was in the location where the maintenance was performed or did not spend enough time in the location for the maintenance to be performed, then there is likely a falsification of the logbook.
Pre-Trip and Post-Trip Inspections
Drivers are required to do an extensive pre- and post-trip inspection daily. During a deposition, an attorney may ask the truck driver how he performs his pre- and post-trip inspections. Often times, the truck driver will give a lengthy answer outlining how he performs in his inspections with great care and detail but his logbooks will show he spent minimal time performing the inspection. A driver cannot perform a proper inspection in the 5 to 15 minutes that they often log. Either they are lying on their log book or they are cheating their inspection – either is a violation. If they are being paid by the load, why would they log 30 minutes of their allowable time on pre-checks every time they go on duty? That’s less money they can make each week.
Bills of Lading
Bills of lading must accompany every load a motor carrier ships. The regulations do not mandate that bills of lading include the pick up or drop off time. However, both shippers and receivers typically write these times on the bill itself. Obtaining the pick up or delivery time on the bill of lading gives another reference point to cross check a log book for deceitful intent.
Another way to cheat on log books is to abuse the “personal conveyance” exception. However, for a personal conveyance to be proper, the driver must be relieved from work and all responsibilities for performing work and must be driving or his home (or lodging) to terminal, or vice versa. Stopping at the office, driving for work, or driving a loaded vehicle is not a personal conveyance. Drivers use “personal conveyances” as a method to get around the hours of service requirements. If the payroll records show the driver was being “paid” for driving during his “personal conveyance” time, that is cheating.
Eating and Bathroom Use
Drivers are human and need to eat and use the bathroom. If a truck driver’s logbook does not allow time for eating or bathroom use, there is likely a violation of the hours of service. It is unlikely an individual can drive 8 consecutive hours without a bathroom break.
The knowledgeable and experienced staff at the Amaro Law Firm are prepared to assist all of our referral partners obtain the most effective results for their clients. We have worked with law firms across the country which refer or joint venture complex truck wreck cases. We have consistently found violations of the hours of service in logbooks which have been damning evidence in the cases. If you have a case or cases you would like to discuss referring, you can call or contact us today.