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What are the federal “hours of service” rules and why do they matter to truck accident victims?

Truck safety is an issue that everybody should be concerned about, because all of us are potentially at risk when truck drivers and employers are careless with matters of safety. While there are a number of safety regulations the trucking industry is bound by, increased attention has been given in recent years to the so-called hours of service rules.

The hours of service rules, which are administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, are aimed at ensuring truck drivers have adequate rest while they are behind the wheel. Driver fatigue is, of course, a serious issue in trucking safety given the damage that can result when a multi-ton vehicle loses control on the highway, especially in proximity to other motorists. 

The hours of service rules differ slightly depending on whether a trucker is hauling property or passengers. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll take a brief look at the rules applying to property-carrying drivers. The rules can be summarized as follows:  

  • No more than 11 hours of driving on any given day after 10 consecutive hours off duty;
  • No driving at all after 14 hours on duty;
  • Required 30 minute rest break after eight hours on duty;
  • No driving at all after 60/70 hours on duty over 7/8 consecutive days. A trucker is able to restart the workweek by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Drivers who choose to make use of a sleeper berth are required to take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, as well as a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or a combination of the two.

These rules differ slightly for passenger-carrying drivers. In either case, truckers are required to record compliance with the rules in accordance with federal regulations, and employers are expected to ensure the compliance of their drivers. In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this topic, and how the hours-of-service rules can come into play in truck accident litigation

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