One of the most dangerous forms of truck driver impairment is driver fatigue. This fact is illuminated by the recent accident involving a Wal-Mart truck driven by truck driver Kevin Roper, which killed comedian James McNair and critically injured actor and comedian Tracy Morgan.
Driver fatigue in general significantly increases the risk of an accident, and that risk is amplified when the exhausted driver is operating a big rig commercial truck for the following reasons:
- The size and weight of a truck and its cargo increase the likelihood of major property damage, injury and fatality in the event of an accident;
- Long distance, overnight hauls that are characteristic of the trucking industry make truck drivers particularly susceptible to driver fatigue; and
- Trucking companies often put their bottom line before the safety of the public; the more hours logged, the faster the cargo gets to its destination and the trucking company gets paid.
The gravity of such risks is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) promulgated the “Interstate Truck Driver’s Guide to Hours of Service.” These new “hours of service” rules were first announced in December 2011 by the FMCSA, and trucking companies were given eighteen months to adopt them. The final rules took full effect on July 1, 2013. The new “hours of service” rules are expected to reduce truck driver fatigue, improve truck driver health, and to improve safety for all other travelers on our highways and roads by reducing the incidence of truck accidents caused by lack of rest and/or sleep.
New Limits and New Penalties on Truck Driver Hours of Services
The FMCSA hours of service rules mandate strict limits on how long a truck driver is allowed to drive before taking a mandatory break from duty. The following are some of the critical provisionsof the new rules:
- The new rules limit the average workweek for truck drivers to seventy (70) hours, reduced from the prior eighty-two (82) hour weekly allowance;
- Truck drivers can only resume from a seventy (70) hour week after resting for thirty-four (34) consecutive hours;
- A thirty-minute break is mandatory after eight (8) consecutive hours of driving; and
- In a period of fourteen (14) consecutive hours, a truck driver is only allowed to drive for eleven (11) consecutive hours.
Violations of the FMCSA’s new regulations by truck drivers and/or trucking companies carry hefty civil penalties for the purpose of combating the driver fatigue epidemic. Trucking companies that allow their drivers to exceed driving limits by more than three (3) hours could be fined $11,000 per offense, and the truck drivers themselves could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense.
The FMCSA’s new hours of service regulations are clear, and the trucking industry has been given ample opportunity to get on board. However with the millions of commercial vehicle on our nation’s highways and roads, and with ongoing reports of accidents like the one involving actor and comedian Tracy Morgan, we must acknowledge that the FMCSA’s rules are an important preventative, but not curative, measure in the fight against truck driver fatigue.