Hours of Service Regulations and Truck Accidents

Drowsy driving is a significant problem in the trucking industry. To combat this issue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal body that oversees trucking industry regulations, enacted hours of service laws. Hours of service regulations aim to reduce the number of truck accidents by preventing drowsy driving. According to the FMCSA, in 2017, 4,657 fatal auto accidents in the U.S. involved large trucks. Many of these truck accidents stemmed from fatigued truck drivers.

Laws Regarding How Many Hours a Driver Should Work

All truck companies must obey federal laws in terms of truck maintenance, cargo loading, and hiring and training procedures. Truck drivers must also obey FMCSA rules that apply to them, such as hours of service regulations. The FMCSA’s hours of service regulations determine how many hours a truck driver may drive at a time before he or she must take a rest break. These limitations are important in helping to prevent drowsy driving commercial truck crashes.

  • 14-hour daily driving window. The overall limit on how long a truck driver can work per shift is 14 hours. After 14 hours on duty, the trucker must spend 10 consecutive hours off duty. The 14-hour limit extends to 15 hours for passenger-carrying drivers.
  • 11-hour maximum driving limit per day. A property-carrying truck driver cannot drive more than 11 hours per 14-hour work window. This limit shortens to a 10-hour maximum for passenger-carrying drivers.
  • 60 hours/7 days or 70 hours/8 days weekly maximums. No truck driver may exceed 60 total hours of work per 7-day workweek or 70 hours of work per 8-day workweek.

The FMCSA’s hours of service regulations also include mandatory rest breaks. For every 8 hours a truck driver works, he or she must take at least one 30-minute off-duty or rest period. This rule does not apply to truckers eligible for the short-haul exception. Ignoring any of the FMCSA’s hours of service rules could contribute to a preventable drowsy driving truck accident.

How Does Truck Driver Drowsiness/Fatigue Relate to Truck Accidents?

Truck driver drowsiness is a common cause of serious and fatal truck accidents in the U.S. In general, truck drivers are more prone to driving drowsy than typical drivers due to the nature of their jobs. Truck drivers have unique challenges that can increase the risk of drowsy driving, from grueling work schedules to health problems. Long hours on the road, driving alone, driving overnight, poor health, obesity, sleep apnea, and having to sleep at strange times and locations can all contribute to truck driver fatigue. The nature of truck driving exposes truckers to a higher than average risk of drowsy driving accidents.

A drowsy truck driver may not be able to retain safe control over a commercial big rig. Large trucks can be difficult enough to drive while awake and alert. Drowsiness can make it more difficult to control the vehicle, react quickly to changing roadway situations, stop in time to prevent a crash, and make sound judgments and decisions. Drowsiness is akin to drunkenness in terms of its effect on drivers. A fatigued truck driver may swerve all over the road, cut off other drivers, speed, drive the wrong way, run a red light, make an unsafe lane change, hit the brakes suddenly or engage in other dangerous driving behaviors.

If a drowsy truck driver causes a truck accident in Arizona, the trucking company could be vicariously liable for damages. A truck company will be responsible for the misconduct and negligence of its on-duty drivers. This includes if a trucker disobeyed his or her federal hours of service regulations. The company could also be directly liable if it contributed to the crash in some way, such as pressuring drivers to break the rules to make it to their destinations on time. An investigation may be necessary to determine fault for a drowsy driving truck accident.