Commercial trucks are essential in the transportation and distribution of consumer goods across the United States. However, the sheer size and weight of large commercial vehicles can create a serious risk to other drivers on the roadways. Poorly trained or unqualified commercial truck drivers, as well as those who fail to abide by state and federal laws and regulations, increase the risks of devastating accidents.
Drivers who operate commercial trucks while drowsy or fatigued are particularly dangerous to other drivers. The trucking industry requires traveling long distances to meet strict deadlines, which commonly leads to driver fatigue. Below you can find more information related to statistics and risks associated with truck driver fatigue, as well as how a Morgantown truck accident lawyer can help you after an injury caused by a truck crash.
Commercial Truck Accident Statistics
In one recent year, more than 120,000 large trucks or bus crashes in the United States resulted in injuries or fatalities. Commercial vehicle accidents accounted for more than 5,000 fatalities and 170,000 injuries. A study of causes of large truck crashes performed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that fatigue is a major factor contributing to motor vehicle accidents.
Driver fatigue can greatly increase the likelihood that an accident will occur. The study found that fatigue contributed to causing 13 percent of all commercial truck accidents.
Because trucking companies are pressured to deliver products as quickly as possible, it is not uncommon for drivers to experience fatigue while driving regularly.
FMCSA’s Hours of Service Regulations
To decrease commercial truck accidents, the FMCSA has established strict rules and regulations to govern the behavior of commercial truck drivers. Federal regulations include restrictions and requirements aimed to address and reduce driver fatigue.
Recent revisions to the FMCSA’s hours of service regulations are designed to provide more flexibility for truck drivers while eliminating the type of drowsiness that can contribute to an accident.
New regulations include the following restrictions:
- A driver must not work for more than 14 consecutive hours. The time period begins when a driver begins any kind of work related to their employment, not just the act of driving a truck. Off-duty time, utilized as a rest break, does count towards the 14-hour time limit.
- A driver can only drive for 11-straight hours in the permitted 14-hour work window.
- Once a driver reaches the 14-hour limit, they must be off duty for ten consecutive hours.
- A 30-minute rest break is required after eight hours of consecutive driving time (rather than on-duty time). On-duty time that is not spent driving qualifies as the required break.
- A driver cannot drive more than 60 hours for every seven days they are on duty or more than 70 hours for every eight days they are on duty. This time limit is not tracked based on a seven-day week is based on a rolling seven or eight-day period—meaning that the oldest day’s driving time drops off the calculation. The 60 to 70-hour time calculations reset after 34 or more consecutive hours off-duty, in a sleeper berth, or a combination of both.
The exemptions to the hours of service requirements include:
- The adverse weather exception: Drivers can extend their drive time by up to four hours if an adverse weather event causes unexpected delays, such as those caused by traffic accidents or congestion. However, inclement weather is not always an excuse to extend a driver’s driving time. If the driver can safely stop and layover within the 11-hour limit or make it back to their home terminal within the authorized time, the exception is not applicable.
- The short-haul exception: A driver can be on duty for 16 hours if the driver begins and ends at the same terminal.
The hours of service rules are complex but important. Every truck driver should know the rules to maintain compliance.
Penalties for Violations
Failure to abide by the hours of service requirements may have negative implications for the driver and their employer.
Penalties can include:
- Driver shut down, which prohibits a driver from driving until they have accumulated sufficient off-duty time to comply;
- State and local fines;
- Civil penalties levied by the FMCSA ranging from $1,000 to $11,000 per violation;
- Downgrading the carrier’s safety rating after a pattern of violations; and
- Federal criminal penalties for carriers who knowingly and willfully allow or require violations by employees or against drivers who knowingly and willfully violate the regulations
Given the significant risk of deadly accidents caused by driver fatigue, the FMCSA does not take violations of the hours of service regulations lightly.
Responsibility for an Accident
Any party whose negligent or intentional acts contributed to causing the accident will be liable for the resulting injuries and damages. Failure to comply with the federal hours of service regulations may be clear evidence of negligent driver behavior.
Drivers’ employers may also share liability for a commercial truck accident. Trucking companies are responsible for monitoring drivers and ensuring their compliance with regulations. If a company encourages, allows, or negligently supervises compliance with the hours of service requirements for a driver who causes an accident, they may share liability for any accident-related losses.
Some states require truck drivers to keep track of their driving hours in an electronic logbook. Logbook data may be an important piece of evidence in a commercial truck accident case.
As additional evidence, victims should make an accurate record of the driver’s actions at the time of the accident. Was the truck driver swerving out of their lane? Was the truck’s speed erratic?
One helpful way to document the events of the accident is to secure a law enforcement accident report. An officer’s report will describe the accident scene, record witness statements, and note any citations issued for failure to follow traffic regulations.
Work With an Experienced Attorney
A personal injury attorney can work with you to analyze the strength of the evidence, determine additional areas for investigation, and prepare a case strategy. An experienced lawyer can be critical in calculating and assessing the damages you incurred because of the accident.
A claim for damages should include the costs of all injuries sustained and the impacts of those injuries on your daily life. Damages may include medical costs, lost wages, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. A truck accident lawyer can also evaluate whether the case qualifies for punitive damages under the state laws.
The team at Wagoner Desai is dedicated to helping injured commercial truck accident victims seek the compensation they are entitled to. We approach each case with a client-first mentality, making sure our clients feel supported throughout the stressful process of recovery. Contact our team today to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation.
Wagoner Desai, PLLC
265 High Street, 3rd Floor
Citizens Bank Building
Morgantown, WV 26505