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Truck and Bus Driver Hours of Service Rules – Part One

Where and How Truck Driver Work Hour Limits Apply

It has long been known that driver fatigue is a major factor in causing motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and fatalities for drivers of all types. It is especially true, however, for commercial vehicle operators — truck drivers and bus drivers — who have strong economic incentives to keep on the road for longer hours than may be safe. Time truly is money for these drivers and for the commercial carrier companies who employ them — a tractor-trailer rig isn’t making money while parked at a truck stop and a passenger bus isn’t earning anything while sitting still at a bus terminal. Rules have therefore been established and periodically updated that limit the “hours of service” for commercial vehicle drivers in order to increase roadway safety. When an accident involving a truck or bus occurs that results in serious injuries or even death, an experienced personal injury attorney will know to focus on whether and how the hours of service limitations applied to the involved driver. This can point directly to evidence establishing liability on the part of drivers and the trucking carrier or bus company that employed them.

Hours of Service Importance — Fatigue is Deadly

Tired drivers cause accidents, injuries, and deaths. Estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) based on data collected for accidents in 2017 show approximately 90,000 traffic collision reports prepared by law enforcement officers that noted driver fatigue being involved, resulting in some 50,000 injuries and almost 800 fatalities. Evidence has also shown an especially high rate of fatigue involved in trucking accidents. One study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the 1990s estimated that as many as 30 to 40 percent of all accidents involving heavy trucks had driver fatigue as a contributing factor.

It was the recognition of the dangers of commercial driver fatigue that led to hours of service regulations first being established in the 1930s. As more evidence was collected and analyzed over time, the hours of service rules were later updated in the 1960s and most recently in 2003 and 2011. These hours of service regulations are contained in Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR).

To Whom do the FMCSR Hours of Service Regulations Apply?

The hours of service regulations apply to the drivers and their employers who operate the following types of vehicles in interstate operations to move passengers or property:

  • Any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (or actual weight) of 10,001 pounds or more.
  • Any passenger vehicle transporting 8 or more paid passengers or 15 or more unpaid passengers.
  • Any vehicle transporting types and amounts of hazardous materials that require placards.

Although the federal regulations only specify “interstate” operations, nearly all states have hours of service laws that mirror the federal regulations for “intrastate” driving. For practical purposes, these hours of service rules apply to nearly all property-carrying and passenger-carrying commercial drivers. The regulations specify dual responsibility for following the rules — both truck drivers and their employers are obligated to follow hours of service rules and procedures, record and document hours of operation, and maintain copies of these records.

Importance of Personal Injury Claims and Lawsuits

Verifying that federal and/or state hours of service limitations apply to a commercial driver who was involved in an injury or fatality-causing accident will point a personal injury attorney toward theories of liability and categories of relevant evidence that will help establish responsibility for the losses that occurred. Specific types of discovery — written interrogatories, demands for production of documents and other evidence, oral depositions — can then be developed and employed to secure the evidence needed to prove the client’s case and secure proper compensation for them.

View this video discussing the complexity of truck driver hours of service rules:

California Truck Accident Lawyers

Hello, I’m Ed Smith, a California Truck Accident Lawyer.  Seasoned personal injury attorneys know that proper training and experience are vital to the safe operation of commercial vehicles and that this is even more so the case with vocational trucks, which may be uniquely difficult to control and drive safely. If you or a member of your family has sustained a serious injury due to negligence of a commercial truck driver, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

We are proud to be members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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