Truck Driver Hours of Service Violations May Lead to More Truck Accidents

Approximately 5,000 people are killed annually in trucking accidents. In order to reduce the number of traffic fatalities involving large trucks and buses, Congress, in the late 1990’s, created the Federal Motor Safety Administration to oversee and regulate the industry. For almost six decades, truckers were guided by rules that prohibited them driving more than 10 hours without 8 hours of rest, and prohibited them from driving more than 60 hours in a consecutive 7 day period. In order to ensure compliance, drivers were required to keep logs of when they drove and when they rested.
In 2003, new regulations were put in effect, where instead of the 10 hour driving limit, truckers can now stay behind the wheel for 11 hours consecutively, but they must rest for 10 hours before driving again. Truckers can also now drive 77 hours in a consecutive 7 day period. Also truckers can now work 15 hours in one day instead of 14, but it allowed the 14 hours to be continuous. Previously a driver could work 15 hours in a day, but had to spend 2 or 3 hours off duty during that 15 hour period.
In 2003 within weeks after the agency introduced its new rules safety advocacy groups sued to prevent their enforcement. In 2004, a three judge panel prohibited the implementation of the law because the agency failed to consider the impact of the rules on the health of drivers.
In 2005, the FMCSA proposed revised rules that called for virtually no change from the previous rule which the courts prohibited enforcement. Safety advocacy groups again sued. Many truckers complained that the new laws prompted drivers to falsify their logs to get around the rules. Congress has held hearings on electronic monitoring devices in May 2007 to investigate whether paper log books are outdated, easy to falsify, and fail to ensure safety. No legislation has yet been introduced regarding this.
Safety advocacy groups blame accidents like one that happened recently in New Jersey where a South Carolina truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his truck on Interstate 78, killing a New Jersey woman and her 13 year old daughter. Apparently the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel causing the accident.
Until regulations are in place that adequately ensure adequate rest time for the driver and safety for the public, these types of accidents are going to continue to happen with huge liability for the trucking industry and their insurance companies. In addition, until electronic monitoring is mandatory, certain drivers are going to continue to skirt the rules.