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Truck Driver Hours of Service Rules — Part Two

Truck and Bus Driver Work Hour Limits Designed to Reduce Fatigue Dangers

Many of us have had the startling (and scary) experience of beginning to “nod off at the wheel” due to driving while fatigued. Hopefully, we pulled off the road to find a room for the night or at least take a nap before proceeding to drive further — this is certainly the sensible and safe reaction to finding ourselves too sleepy to continue. Imagine, however, if we were commercial truck drivers moving a load of merchandise or a bus driver with a vehicle full of passengers depending on us to get them to their destination on time. These drivers have much more pressure put upon them to keep driving past the point where fatigue has become a danger. For just these reasons, strict limitations on drivers’ “hours of service” have been established to restrict drivers from putting in too many hours on the road and to limit the ability of their employers to pressure them into doing so. But accidents still do happen, and when a truck accident or other commercial vehicle accident occurs, a skilled personal injury lawyer who is representing clients injured in that accident will be aware of the specific driving time limitations placed on these drivers and will know to look for evidence proving whether or not these limits were being observed.

Hours of Service Time Definitions

The federal regulations regarding commercial vehicle driver hours of service (and the laws in nearly all states that mirror these federal rules) define three categories of time:

  • On-Duty Time.
  • Driving Time.
  • Off-Duty Time.

“Driving time” represents the time spent at the vehicle’s controls, whether actively driving on the road, stopped in traffic, or stopped while picking up and dropping off loads. “Off-duty time” is generally non-working time spent away from the vehicle, such as for meal breaks, or time spent in a sleeper berth in the vehicle. “On-duty time” includes several specific categories:

  • Driving time behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle.
  • Time spent servicing or inspecting commercial vehicles.
  • Any time spent at a facility of the commercial carrier or a customer waiting to be dispatched.
  • Any time spent loading or unloading, helping or assisting in this process, waiting in or near the vehicle while this happens, processing paperwork for the load being picked up or delivered, etc.
  • All time spent with a disabled truck or bus.
  • Time involved with providing samples for alcohol and drug testing, including travel time.
  • Any other time spent working as or for a commercial motor carrier.
  • Any other time working for compensation in any other capacity.

Property Carrying Hours of Service Limitations

The hours of service regulations are complex, with several exceptions and limitations for specific situations. In general, however, commercial truck drivers carrying property in their vehicles are subject to the following limits:

The 14-Hour Duty Limit — This rule limits drivers to 14 hours of “on-duty” time after having been “off-duty” for at least 10 hours in a row. Upon reaching this limit, the driver must again take at least 10 hours in a row of off-duty time before a new 14-hour on-duty period can start. (There are certain exceptions for use of a sleeper berth in the truck.)

The 11-Hour Driving Limit — This restricts driving to no more than 11 hours of total driving time during the 14-hour on-duty period. Once 11 hours in total of driving time is reached, the driver must go through another 10-hour off-duty period before getting behind the wheel again.

The 60/70-Hour Duty Limit — This is a continual limit applying to the driver’s last 7 or 8-day time period (8 days if the employer operates vehicles every day of the week, 7 days if they do not). During that prior 7 or 8-day period, the driver may accumulate no more than 60 or 70 hours of total on-duty time. Changes to the regulations for the 60/70-hour duty limit were made in 2003 and 2013 to establish and define a “34-hour restart” option that generally allows a driver to restart the duty limit by spending 34 hours in a row off duty.

Passenger Carrying Hours of Service Limitations

For passenger carrying commercial vehicle drivers, the hours of service limitations follow the same pattern as above, with slight time differences:

  • A 15-Hour Duty Limit (following 8 hours off-duty).
  • A 10-Hour Driving Limit (reset by 8 hours off-duty).
  • The same 60/70-Hour Duty Limit.

Hours of Service Limits and Personal Injury Claims

As mentioned above, there are numerous exemptions and exceptions to the general hours of service limits described here, for things such as “short haul” driving, adverse driving conditions like bad weather, work-related travel time like flying to another city to pick up a vehicle, agricultural operations, and other specific situations. When a truck accident or bus accident occurs, an experienced personal injury attorney will have the knowledge and skills required to understand whether the evidence shows the commercial driver and their employer were properly observing the hours of service limitations or not. If the evidence shows that these important work time limits were not being properly followed — especially if driver fatigue appears to have been a contributing factor to the accident — it can go a long ways toward establishing driver and carrier liability and securing appropriate compensation for accident victims.

View this video describing tools available to help truck drivers in the crucial activity of “managing their clocks”:

California Commercial Truck Accident Lawyers

Hello, I’m Ed Smith, a California Semi-Truck Accident Lawyer.  Skilled and experienced personal injury attorneys understand that driver fatigue is a contributing factor in many truck accidents and other commercial vehicle collisions.  Proving this can be key 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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