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New FMCSA Rules Enacted to Combat Truck Driver Fatigue

New FMCSA Rules Enacted to Combat Truck Driver Fatigue

By Attorney Scott Braden

According to the latest statistics released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), there were over 270,000 large commercial truck collisions in the United States in 2011. These collisions resulted in over 3,340 deaths, 60,000 injured persons, and $87 billion in damages. It is estimated by the National Transportation Safety Board that truck driver fatigue is a factor in over 30 percent of these large truck crashed.

Unlike most employees in other professions, truck drivers generally are not paid a standard salary or hourly wage, but instead are earn between .30 to .40 cents per mile they drive. Due to this unsound “paid by the mile” compensation structure, truck drivers have a financial incentive to drive as many miles as possible to increase their earnings, even if that means needlessly endangering others on the roadway by driving while fatigued. To make matters worse, unscrupulous trucking companies (who generally get paid per shipment) may pressure their drivers to work longer hours so that more shipments can get delivered.

In effort to reduce these staggering figures and increase roadway safety, FMCSA has created new regulations that are specifically designed to reduce driver fatigue and penalize truck drivers and their companies for hours-of-service violations. As of July 1, 2013, all property-carrying commercial truck companies and their drivers must abide by these new rules:

1.  Maximum Work Week Reduction – The maximum hourly work week for truck drivers is now 70 hours per week, a decrease from the previous maximum of 82 hours per week.

2.  “34 Hour Restarts” – Once a driver meets the maximum 70 hours per week of on-duty time, the driver cannot resume driving unless he/she takes a break for 34 consecutive hours. This 34 hour period must include two periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.

3.  Rest Breaks – A truck drivers cannot drive if more than 8 hours have passed since his last off-duty break or sleep period. Drivers now must take a 30 minute break at some point during the first eight hours of a shift.

4.  No Change to Daily Driving and Work Limits – Truck drivers are still not allowed to drive more than 11 hours per day and perform on-duty work more than 14 hours per day.

FMCSA has also amended its regulations to punish truck drivers and companies that act in violation of these driving rules. If a truck driver exceeds the driving limits by 3 hours, then this violation is deemed “egregious,” and both the driver and the trucking company are liable for the violation. The trucking company is still responsible regardless of whether it had actual knowledge of the driver’s violation because. A trucking company is liable up to $11,000.00 (and the driver up to $2,750.00) for each egregious violation of the hours-of-service rules.

Unfortunately, most trucking companies and drivers are not going to report themselves when hours-of-service violations occur. If you are injured as result of large truck driver fatigue, you will most likely not know whether the driver has violated any hours-of-service regulations, and the driver and trucking company may actively take measures to prevent you from finding out. Trucking companies are only required to retain driver’s logs and time sheets for a period of six months. After that point, the records will likely be destroyed to prevent you from being able to prove that the driver was driving in violation of the hours-of-service rules and was possibly driving while fatigued at the time of the collision.

This is why it is important to seek skilled representation of an 18 wheeler accident attorney immediately after a collision with a lawyer who will take measures to preserve and acquire these records. The longer you wait to seek representation, the more at risk you are that the trucking company and its drivers are destroying the evidence of their egregious violations of the new trucking rules.