Truck Driver Hours of Service — Part Three

Truckers and Employers Required to Keep Duty Hour Records

The stereotyped image of an overworked truck driver accompanied by a huge coffee mug or a multi-ounce big gulp of caffeine and sugar-laded soda is not, unfortunately, always far from the truth. Significant pressure is placed on commercial vehicle drivers to execute their jobs in spite of often long hours on-duty, both behind the wheel and working outside their truck or bus. Although regulations have been in place for decades requiring truck drivers and trucking carriers to limit driver work hours in order to reduce fatigued, dangerous driving, these limitations can only be enforced if the drivers and their employers accurately and diligently record on-duty, off-duty, and actual driving hours. Sometimes, law enforcement reports on truck accidents will explicitly note if driver fatigue is considered a contributing factor, but often only a careful examination of records required to be kept by drivers and carriers will reveal patterns of overwork. A skilled personal injury attorney will be aware of how and when to seek evidence in the written and electronic truck driver “hours of service” records required to be kept by truck drivers and trucking companies that may point at unsafe driving practices leading to driver fatigue.

Records Kept by Drivers

Section 395.8 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations requires drivers to keep daily logs of their activities. These must be kept personally by the driver and kept up to date as of their last change of duty status. The daily logs must record:

  • Total mileage driven.
  • Information about the vehicle driven and the carrier that owns it.
  • Shipper information.
  • Total hours for each duty status (on-duty, off-duty, driving).

The driver must sign to certify the entries are correct and must keep a copy of their prior seven days logs with them for inspection. Completed logs must be submitted to the carrier within thirteen days.

Although daily logs were originally entirely paper records (and still often are), many carriers have now elected to equip their vehicles with devices originally called Automatic On-Board Recording and newer devices called Electronic On-Board Recording that create automatic logs in place of paper logs. Because the automatic logging devices are directly attached to the vehicle, it makes it much more difficult to falsify duty hours. As a result, a motor carrier concerned about the record keeping of a particular driver may require the use of one of the devices. Likewise, if regulators suspect that the carrier may be inaccurately reporting driver hours, they may require the carrier to install and use automated recording.

Records Kept by Carriers

Once the driver’s daily logs are submitted, federal regulations require the truck carrier to keep them for six months. But beyond just shoving these submitted logs into the back of file cabinets, trucking companies should also have processes that:

  • Keep track to verify that daily logs are being submitted and are submitted on time.
  • Verify driver signatures and date and times of submission.
  • Audit the logs to make certain they’re being filled out correctly and completely.
  • Educate the drivers on the importance of accurate duty time recordkeeping and compliance with the company’s policies.

Tools provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) including their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) website are designed to help carriers and drivers alike to develop and follow through on procedures for complete, timely, and accurate recordkeeping and assist regulators in keeping track of carrier and driver compliance.

Beyond the daily truck driver hours of service logs, carriers are also required to keep other records for at least six months — records that can often be used to audit drivers’ daily records for accuracy, such as:

  • Bills of lading, freight bills, and delivery receipts.
  • Dispatch records.
  • Fueling and maintenance records.
  • Inspection reports.

All of these documents can be useful in validating the accuracy of logs submitted by drivers — and in verifying carrier practices and procedures that encourage safe driving rather than fatigued driving.

Truck Driver Hours of Service Logs in Personal Injury Litigation

Personal injury claims and lawsuits resulting from truck accidents and other commercial vehicle accidents often involve the identification and collection of a great deal of documentary evidence. Since documents like daily logs are only required by regulators to be kept for six months, an early piece of correspondence in a truck accident injury claim will be a “preservation of evidence” letter from the plaintiff’s attorney directing the driver and carrier to retain logs and associated documents in anticipation of litigation. If there’s any suspicion the records won’t be kept, it may be necessary to file suit and seek copies immediately by subpoena or request for production of documents.

Fatigue is well-recognized as a significant cause or associated factor in truck accidents, bus accidents, and similar commercial vehicle incidents. While the records required to be kept under regulatory rule are primarily intended to help prevent accidents from driver fatigue, they can also be invaluable in proving fatigue from hours of service violations after the fact.

View this video from ABC News highlighting the dangers from fatigued bus drivers and truck drivers:

California Truck Accident Lawyer

Hello, I’m Ed Smith, a California Truck Accident Lawyer.  Personal injury attorneys experienced in handling truck accident cases understand the importance of recordkeeping by drivers and their employers in these situations.  These records can often point directly to liability on the part of driver or carrier or — by their absence — suggest that one or the other may be seeking to cover up mistakes or unsafe business practices.  Proving this can be crucial to successfully concluding an injury claim or lawsuit.  If you or a family member 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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