When Are Truck Drivers Required to Take Breaks?

Coffee is America’s favorite breakfast beverage for a reason: you can’t function properly when you’re tired.  You start to forget important information.  Your physical reaction time is slowed down dramatically.  You become indecisive, and struggle to make even the simplest of choices.  Put simply, fatigue is a recipe for disaster – particularly when the fatigued person is controlling a powerful machine like a speeding semi-trailer truck.  Unfortunately, even though truckers are supposed to comply with federal shift limits called the hours of service regulations, exhausted drivers cause deadly truck accidents every day.

How Often Does Driver Fatigue Cause Truck Crashes?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, is the branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) responsible for monitoring and improving road safety among bus and truck companies.  Together with another branch of the DOT, called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the FMCSA conducted a large truck crash causation study series sampling 120,000 accidents which occurred from April 2001 to December 2003.  According to a July 2007 brief on the study, all crashes included in the sample “involved at least one large truck and resulted in a fatality or injury.”

The study ranked the leading factors in large truck crashes throughout the United States, as described below:

  • Defective brake systems – 41,000 trucks (29%)
  • Speeding for road/weather conditions – 32,000 trucks (23%)
  • Lack of familiarity with the road – 31,000 trucks (22%)
  • Defective or poorly maintained roads – 29,000 trucks (20%)
  • Over-the-counter drug use – 25,000 trucks (17%)
  • Insufficient surveillance – 20,000 trucks (14%)
  • Driver fatigue – 18,000 trucks (13%)
  • Pressure from carrier – 16,000 trucks (10%)
  • Illegal maneuvers – 13,000 trucks (9%)
  • Driver inattention – 12,000 trucks (9%)

As you can see from this list, driver fatigue was the seventh most common contributing factor to large truck accidents during the study period.  The eight leading factor, pressure from carriers, is a related and critical piece of the puzzle.  While individual drivers have personal accountability for violating federal shift limits – the terms of which we’ll discuss shortly – it’s seldom the driver alone who’s to blame when a terrible accident occurs.

Because the trucking industry is so economically important, accounting for nearly 84% of commercial transportation in the United States, truckers are urged to complete the fastest turnarounds possible.  It is not unheard-of for truckers who threaten to blow the whistle to be threatened with replacement or retaliatory termination.  These financial pressures frequently lead truckers to intentionally violate the hours of service (HOS) regulations set forth by the FMCSA.  In fact, in another report from its large truck crash causation study series, the FMCSA openly stated that “HOS regulations that attempt to reduce fatigue are highly controversial and widely violated.”

crash collision wreck

What Hourly Shift Limits Do Truckers Have to Follow?

It’s understandable that truckers, like anyone else, want to keep their jobs.  However, that does not excuse them from deliberately jeopardizing the lives of the people around them.  If someone you love was hit by a truck driver who fell asleep after exceeding his or her shift limits, you may be entitled to compensation.  Let’s examine the HOS regulations in closer detail.

The regulations change slightly depending on whether the driver is transporting passengers or property, but apply to all commercial drivers whose vehicles meet any of the following criteria:

  • The vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds. This describes most of the big-rigs and semi-trailer trucks you see on the road every day.
  • The vehicle was carrying a significant quantity of hazardous materials, which could mean:
    • Blasting agents
    • Corrosive or radioactive materials
    • Explosives
    • Flammable liquids (gasoline, fuel oil)
    • Inhalation hazards (poisons, toxins)
    • Oxygen
  • The vehicle was used (or designed) to carry at least 16 people, not for compensation.
  • The vehicle was used (or designed) to carry at least nine people, for compensation.

Truckers and other commercial drivers who meet the above criteria, and who are transporting property, must comply with the following HOS regulations:

  • 14-Hour Limit – Truckers cannot drive beyond 14 hours on-duty. They must spend 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
  • 11-Hour Limit – Truckers can only drive a maximum of 11 hours after being off-duty for 10 hours.
  • 60-/70-Hour Limit – Truckers cannot drive beyond 60/70 hours during a seven- to eight-day period.
    • Enforcement of the 34-hour restart rule for restarting these rolling periods was suspended when the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 was enacted in December of 2014.
  • Sleeper Berth – Truckers who are using a sleeper berth provision must spend at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, as well as two consecutive hours which must be spent either off-duty, in the sleeper berth, or some combination of both.

While the above regulations are somewhat different when applied to drivers carrying passengers, compliance remains essential.  Furthermore, drivers’ activities must be noted accurately and truthfully in logbooks.

If you or one of your loved ones was hit by a truck in Oklahoma City or the surrounding area, you deserve to seek closure and justice for your loss.  Let the car accident lawyers of Hasbrook & Hasbrook help your family fight for the compensation you deserve.  To set up a free, completely private legal consultation, call our law offices at (405) 698-3040 today.