Personal Injury Lawyers in Miami Holding Fatigued Truck Drivers Accountable for their Actions
“Hours of Service” sounds like some kind of arcane, boring topic. In truth, hours of service is a reference to an area of law regulating truckers that can have a major impact on highway safety. Hours of service regulations apply in part to how much long-haul truckers, who drive the 18-wheel big rigs over long distances, can drive each day and each week. Some HOS regulations bear no real relation to limits on driving hours, but the ones that do directly address a major problem on U.S. highways: driver fatigue among truckers.
According to federal statistics, 13 percent of commercial truck drivers involved in accidents were fatigued at the time of their accident. In addition, statistics from the National Institutes of Health show that fatigue causes poor driver performance. This can include slower responses, inattention to the road and traffic, and poor decisions. The NIH concluded that driver fatigue could raise the risk of crashes as a result of fatigue-induced driver performance. HOS regulations are intended to address that danger.
Regulations Notwithstanding, the Economics of the Trucking Industry Encourage Fatigued Driving
While the dangers of fatigued driving are well known, the inherent economic incentives for truck drivers to stay on the road right up to federal limits are considerable. Companies frequently pay drivers by the mile. This encourages drivers to remain behind the wheel for as long as federal regulations allow. In this manner, they are able to drive as many miles per day as possible while still complying with federal regulations. These incentives can lead drivers to stay on the road even if the driver is tired and would benefit from some sleep, regardless of whether the driver has reached the regulatory limits on driving for the day. This can result in poor decisions and serious driving errors by fatigued drivers. These errors can include lane changes without using a turn signal, braking too late, drifting into adjacent lanes, and other similar errors that can result in car accidents leading to significant injuries or death.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, fatigue is a factor in about 100,000 traffic accidents every year. These car accidents result in more than 1,500 fatalities annually. Further, a survey conducted for the National Transportation Safety Bureau estimated fatigue is a factor in as much as 40 percent of car accidents involving heavy commercial trucks. In a recent study, 65 percent of truck drivers reported being drowsy or having trouble staying awake while driving. An additional 13 percent admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.
Hours-of-Service Regulations are Intended to Combat Fatigued Driving
A report by the NHTSA concluded that fatigued driving constitutes a major factor in accident rates involving commercial trucks. To fight that problem, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets limits on how many hours a day and week truck drivers can spend behind the wheel. These limits are known as hours-of-service regulations, and they apply to drivers transporting cargo and passengers, although there are differences between the two sets of regulations. The hours-of-service regulations, referred to as HOS, are intended to ensure that commercial truck drivers get enough rest.
Thus, HOS regulations apply to interstate drivers whose vehicles meet certain criteria, which limits the application to large vehicles. These regulations limit driving time, or hours of service, for drivers of any vehicles that fit at least one of the criteria set forth. The regulations apply to all interstate commercial cargo drivers with the intent to reduce driver fatigue.
The Consequences of HOS Violations go Far Beyond the Fines
Many HOS violations are truly minor. They fall into five categories, only two of which are truly significant. Of the five categories of HOS violations, three are largely clerical. These violations are known as form and manner violations, in which a driver failed to fully complete records forms; “not current” violations, meaning that drivers wait until the end of the day to complete their records forms; and “no record of duty status,” meaning that drivers have not yet filled out their records forms, or do not have the forms documenting the last week of driving in the truck with them.
These three categories constitute the vast majority of HOS violations. However, the only HOS violations that really matter are:
- Driving Beyond Time violations, where drivers exceed the limit of driving 11 hours a day within a 14-hour duty period.
- False Records violations, which occur when drivers falsify logs. This is a serious violation that generally results in fines. Often the “falsifications” result from drivers waiting several days or until the end of the week to complete driving logs, resulting in errors that are deemed to be falsifications.
HOS regulations are intended to avoid driver fatigue. Drives who fake their records so that they can exceed daily driving limits likely are driving fatigued, with the accompanying risk of facing a major toll on driver performance. Studies show that being fatigued has a major impact on the driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. Reaction time gets slower, and the ability to pay attention to the road and traffic decreases.
Truckers who violate HOS regulations place themselves at risk of driving fatigued, but you could argue that even while obeying the regulations, truck drivers are at risk of driving fatigued. Federal regulations allow commercial trucks to spend nearly half the day on the road before mandating that the driver takes a rest. Federal regulations permit 11 hours of driving after 10 hours of rest in a day and allow drivers to be on the road up to 60 hours in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period.
If You Are Injured in an Accident Involving a Commercial Truck, Talk to a Miami Truck Accident Attorney
If you have been injured in a car accident involving a commercial truck, you should talk to an experienced Miami truck accident attorney. It is possible that the driver committed HOS violations that contributed to the accident. Your attorney should be one with the knowledge to examine that possibility. You need to talk to a Miami truck accident attorney who can determine what your options are for recovering damages. Contact Flagler Personal Injury Group at (305) 424-8445 or through our online contact form. Flagler Personal Injury Group services the greater Miami area.