If you've ever had to drive while tired or sleepy, you know how dangerous it can be. This is especially true for truck drivers considering how large trucks are compared to other cars.
The average semi-truck, big rig, or 18-wheeler weighs as much as 80,000 pounds when it's fully loaded with cargo – that equals the weight of 5 elephants. Now imagine that weight traveling at 60 MPH or faster and it’s no surprise that 67% of truck accident deaths happen to people in other vehicles. Truck drivers must be fully alert and in control to protect others on the road. Otherwise, a lost moment of concentration could lead to a devastating crash.
The effects of drowsy driving are similar to drunk driving and include:
Losing focus or dozing off while behind the wheel
Driving erratically or drifting across traffic
Slow reaction and braking times
Running stop lights and breaking other traffic laws
Blacking out or forgetting recently driven areas
These conditions are extremely dangerous considering the size and speed of most trucks.
Hours of service violations are among the most common causes of dangerous truck accidents across California and the United States. Even with laws limiting how many hours truck drivers can work over a certain period of time, tight deadlines, supply chain issues, and pressure from higher-ups can lead to drivers pushing past safe limits.
If you were involved in a trucking accident or lost a loved one in a trucking crash, you could show that the truck driver was operating negligently because of hours of service violations.
And because trucking companies are responsible for their employees, you can hold the trucking company accountable for your injuries and losses from the accident.
If you’ve been injured in a truck crash, you can recover damages from the trucking company to compensate for your medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. If you’ve lost a loved one in a trucking accident, you could have a claim for wrongful death on their behalf.
Hours of Service Violations Explained
Truck drivers and trucking companies must comply with all local, state, and federal laws.
Any trucking companies transporting goods across state lines must operate under “hours of service” rules set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Failing to follow these rules could mean that a trucking company is operating negligently.
Hours of Service Rules Under the FMCSA
Truck drivers cannot work longer than 11 hours in a 14-hour shift
Every 14-hour shift must allow breaks for naps, eating, and using the restroom
A 14-hour workday can only begin after a driver has been off duty for 10 hours
Drivers operating for 8 hours straight must take a 30-minute break
Drivers cannot work for more than 60 hours over 7 days or 70 hours over 8 days
Truck drivers can reset their weekly working period by taking 34 hours off
But even with these laws in place, trucking companies may break the rules. Official company policy may say one thing, but managers and higher-ups may tell their drivers otherwise.
Trucking hour violations often happen because:
Truck drivers get assigned unrealistic deadlines or ambitious schedules that force them to work extra hours to deliver their cargo on time
The trucking company may offer incentives and bonuses that encourage truck drivers to go over their legal hourly limits and lie on their logs
If truck drivers are paid by the load, they might try to deliver as many loads as they can, as fast as they can, working off-the-clock to earn as much as possible
Trucking companies may reward drivers who break the rules over those who don't
Managers may threaten to fire drivers who refuse to break hours of service rules
Companies are responsible for the actions of their workers while they’re performing the duties of their job. That means even if technically the truck driver caused the accident, you can hold their employer responsible for your damages and losses in a lawsuit.
This is good for victims because trucking companies and their insurance companies have much deeper pockets than truck drivers. Not just that, but trucking companies should be held responsible for bad policies that put their employees and the public at risk.
Proving Hours of Service Violations in a Truck Accident
For victims of trucking accidents and their families, holding the trucking company responsible for the harm they’ve suffered can help you move forward with your life. To do this, you’ll need proof.
Going up against a large trucking company may be intimidating, especially if they operate across state lines. But this is where an experienced personal injury lawyer comes in.
Your attorney can help you build the strongest possible case in your favor by:
Examining driver's logs for violations, inaccuracies, or even falsified records
Checking electronic records from inside the “black boxes” of truck cabs, which are much more difficult to fake, and comparing them to the driver’s logs
Cross-referencing cell phone location data and internet activity to determine whether drivers were actually resting or working during the reported periods
Tracking truck GPS logs to reveal the vehicle’s speed and location
By showing that a trucking company violated hours of service rules, you could prove that the operation was negligent and responsible for the fallout.
Although nothing can undo the crash, a lawsuit can get you financial compensation to make up for your medical expenses, lost income, pain, and suffering, and other losses like property damage. And while nothing can make up for the loss of a loved one, a wrongful death claim could hold the responsible party accountable. If the trucking company behaved especially badly, you may even recover punitive damages to punish them for their harmful policies.
You may experience some pushback when it comes to gathering evidence. But an experienced truck accident lawyer knows exactly what to look for and how to get it in order to build the best possible case based on the facts of your unique situation. The only way to know for sure if you have a case is to talk to a personal injury lawyer today about your accident.