Large truck operators—such as big rigs, tankers, semi-trailers, and others—have to live up to high expectations when it comes to delivering goods within deadlines. Although there are provisions and rules to ensure these operators stay safe, accidents due to driver fatigue are far too common. At Peterson & Associates, P.C., our dedicated truck accident attorneys want to make sure that if you or a loved one ever face this type of tragedy, you know what to do and how to present a solid claim for compensation. 

Symptoms of Truck Driver Fatigue

Not only must many truck drivers make long hauls, but also abide by laws and regulations that have limitations on the amount of time they can spend on the road. Due to these constraints and the pressure to get deliveries made on time, some drivers may not take the opportunity to get the proper amount of rest and sleep. 

Symptoms of fatigue vary between drivers but may include:

  • Yawning
  • Poor concentration
  • Restlessness
  • Falling asleep at the wheel or excessive drowsiness
  • Slow reactions
  • Missing road signs
  • Difficulty staying in the proper lane or constant swerving

Commercial truck drivers must follow the same rules as passenger car drivers, but they’re also held to hours of service regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The goal of the hours of service rules is to keep truck drivers from operating their vehicles while fatigued. 

FMCSA Hours of Service Regulations

The FMCSA considers a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as one that:

  • Weighs 10,001 lbs. or heavier.
  • Has a gross combination weight rating or gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 lbs. or heavier.
  • Transports 16 or more passengers, including the driver, and not for compensation.
  • Transports 9 or more passengers, including the driver, and for compensation.
  • Transports a number of hazardous materials that would require a placard.

Commercial motor vehicle drivers need to know what actions they need to take to ensure they are well-rested when operating their trucks. These actions must be accurately recorded in the driver’s log. If something goes wrong and the truck driver causes an accident, these logs may help determine the cause of the collision, which can determine liability.

The FMCSA hours of service regulations differ for property-carrying drivers and passenger-carrying drivers. For property-carrying drivers, the rules are as follows:

  • Drivers can drive 11 hours maximum after being off duty for 10 consecutive hours.
  • Drivers may not drive beyond 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty and being off duty for 10 straight hours.
  • Drivers may not drive after 60–70 hours on duty in 7–8 consecutive days. The 7–8 day period will restart after the driver is off duty for 34 or more consecutive hours.
  • Drivers must take 8 consecutive hours or more in their sleeper berth when using the sleeper berth provision. They must also have a separate 2 consecutive hours off duty, in the sleeper berth, or a combination of both.

Passenger-carrying drivers have similar regulations, but their driving limits are changed to 10 hours and 15 hours for the first two regulations. 

New Sleeper Berth Provisions Could Help Reduce Truck Driver Fatigue

In addition to the hours of service rules, the FMCSA updated the sleeper berth rules in June 2020 to give large truck drivers more flexibility and to help combat the prevalence of truck driver fatigue. A sleeper berth is a compartment in a truck where drivers can rest and sleep. The new rules are as follows:

Cargo-Carrying Drivers

  • Drivers carrying cargo are permitted to split their required 10-hour off-duty period (in or out of the sleeper berth) as long as they are off duty for at least 2 hours, and at least 7 consecutive hours are spent in the sleeper berth and;
  • All sleeper berth splits must add up to at least 10 hours.

Passenger-Carrying Drivers

  • Drivers with passengers who are using a sleeper berth must take at least 8 hours and;
  • May split the sleeper berth time into two periods, but no less than 2 hours and;
  • All sleeper berth splits must add up to at least 10 hours.

Proving Trucker Fatigue Caused Your Accident

Here’s when the expertise of your truck accident attorney is invaluable. Based on all these regulations, your legal counsel can request copies of operator logs, which provide helpful details including, but not limited to:

  • Daily date and start time of a 24-hour period
  • Total number of miles driven in a 24-hour period
  • Origin and destination
  • Scheduled rests and full stops

If there seems to be a log discrepancy to cover time, or any other evidence that suggests driver fatigue, this helps support your claim for compensation.

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