Federal Trucking Laws & Regulations
Hours-of-Service Rules for Commercial Truck Drivers
Because commercial trucks and tractor-trailers present numerous dangers on public roadways, the federal government heavily regulates the trucking industry, trucking companies, and truck drivers. Among the many federal trucking laws in place, some of the most important include Hours of Service (HoS) rules.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), any driver of a commercial motor vehicle – including passenger-carriers and freight-carriers – are required to comply with Hours of Service rules.
These rules essentially govern the amount of time drivers are allowed to be on duty and behind the wheel, and establish mandatory breaks and rest periods. HoS rules are designed to limit the risks posed by tired truck drivers – one of the most common causes of preventable truck accidents.
Commercial truck drivers transporting cargo must comply with the FMCSA Hours-of-Service rules, which include the following:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit – Truck drivers may drive for up to 11 hours, but only after they have had 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- 14-Hour Limit – Truck drivers may be on duty for up to 14 consecutive hours, provided they have had at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- Mandatory Breaks – Truck drivers are required to take mandatory rest breaks. They may drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since they were last off-duty or took a 30-minute break.
- 60/70 Rule – Truck drivers have restrictions limiting how long they are allowed to drive in a week. For example, truck drivers are not allowed to drive after working 60 hours in 7 consecutive days, or after working 70 hours in 8 consecutive days.
These HoS regulations have been found to greatly reduce risks of accidents caused by tired truck drivers. When drivers and trucking companies fail to abide by these rules, they place others on public roadways in danger.
Truck Driver Logs & On-Board Recording Devices
The commercial trucking industry is heavily regulated, and truck drivers are monitored closely. According to the FMCSA, all commercial truck drivers must keep daily logs to track their work hours. Work hours may be recorded electronically by on-board devices, or manually in logbooks.
The information captured in driver logs is important for federal regulators looking to protect public safety. They can also be of use after accidents as a way to determine whether negligence may have played a role in causing accidents or injuries.
- Protecting Public Safety – Driver logs are an important tool for regulating trucking companies and truck drivers. Federal trucking regulators will regularly check these logs to ensure that drivers are obeying federal law and that they are complying with Hours-of-Service rules. HoS rules create strict guidelines for the amount of time drivers are allowed to be behind the wheel, and also establish mandatory break and rest periods. These laws – as well as log books – are designed to protect the public from the dangers of tired truck drivers.
- Determining Fault – After accidents, driver logs can be used as evidence against truck drivers and trucking companies. Depending on the information found in logs, experienced attorneys may be able to highlight that drivers were violating HoS rules and were overworked or fatigued at the time of an accident. Failing to keep logs, inaccurate logs, and other information found in logbooks can also be used to highlight a history of negligence or carelessness on the part of truck drivers and their employers.
GPS Monitoring in Commercial Trucks
GPS can be combined with monitoring systems to allowing trucking companies to pay closer attention to the behavior of their drivers. This modern tracking software allows trucking companies to be aware of everything from Hours of Service violations to aggressive driving and seatbelt use. It allows detailed observation of drivers’ behavior and gives trucking companies tools for identifying risky behaviors among its drivers. At this point, it is impossible for a trucking company to plead complete ignorance of its drivers’ behaviors.
GPS monitoring can track trucks and their cargo by constantly transmitting data about a truck, including its position and speed. This allows a trucking company to tell when its driver is on the road and when the driver is resting. Obviously, this means that a trucking company no longer has to rely on handwritten log books or take its drivers’ word for whether they were complying with HoS regulations. A trucking company then has a responsibility to make sure its drivers are driving safely, not becoming fatigued from illegally-long shifts.
But the monitoring capability of GPS goes beyond simple HoS violations. When combined with inertial sensors and links to the truck’s computer, GPS monitors can inform a trucking company of:
- Rapid acceleration
- Hard braking
- Sharp turning
- Seatbelt use
- Activation of safety equipment like ABS or airbags
Using this equipment, trucking companies can identify which of their drivers behave recklessly and have an increased risk of being involved in a dangerous truck accident. This can allow them to curb such dangerous behavior and prevent accidents before they happen. Some may argue that the constant monitoring of truckers’ behavior is an unreasonable expectation. Since trucking companies constantly track cargoes and trucks to control their own losses and increase profits, is it unreasonable to expect that companies will monitor their drivers to keep you safe?
Even if a trucking company does not monitor every driver, it has a responsibility to monitor drivers with a record of dangerous driving or accidents. Truck drivers are like most professions: the majority are good, safe drivers. The identification of dangerous drivers and the correction of risky behaviors can dramatically increase the safety of a trucking company’s operations and prevent numerous dangerous or deadly accidents.
Extra Wide Loads: Regulations & Requirements
According to state and federal law, trucks carrying a load wider than 8.5 feet are subject to special regulations and requirements. Most notably, a permit must be obtained from the state in order for a truck to carry an extra wide load, and special markings must be used on the load to ensure other motorists take precautions when maneuvering around these large trailers.
State permits for extra wide loads come with certain restrictions. Most states (including Maryland and Virginia) will only allow trucks with extra wide loads to be on the roads during the day – from a half hour before sunrise, to a half hour after sunset. Travel at night is generally restricted for any load wider than 8.5 feet. The wider the load is, the stricter the travel window will be.
Additionally, if a load is extremely wide, the state may require one or more “escort” cars to accompany it, further isolating the trailer from the rest of traffic. This is all in an effort to prevent serious truck accidents from occurring. Unfortunately, many motor carriers ignore or shortcut these rules in order to save money and make a quicker delivery – putting other motorists in danger.
Trucks carrying extra wide loads are usually transporting:
- Mobile homes
- Industrial machinery
- Road construction equipment
- Logging and mining equipment
All of these loads are also extraordinarily heavy. In fact, a fully loaded tractor-trailer that is carrying a wide load of industrial machinery can weight over 100,000 pounds, and fully loaded mining trucks often weigh close to 300,000 pounds. At such excessive weights, a truck’s braking system, steering system, and tires can all too easily become compromised or fail. If the truck collides with a passenger vehicle, the extra mass of the wide load will transfer a greater amount of energy to the smaller vehicle, making the impact and possibility of injuries much worse.
Discuss Your Case with Our Legal Team Today
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Washington, DC truck accident attorneys are passionate about protect the rights and futures of victims and their families. In truck accident cases we handle, we fully investigate all circumstances surrounding an accident, and closely review any forms of evidence we can obtain, including driver logs. We use this information to build the strongest possible claims for our clients, prove negligence and liability, and recover the compensation our clients deserve.
If you or a family member has recently been harmed in a traffic accident involving a commercial truck, we can provide you the support and legal help you need. Our lawyers are prepared to immediately review your case, explain your rights, and discuss how we may be able to help.
To request a free consultation, call (202) 659-8600 today.