A tired and fatigued driver poses a danger to others on the roadways. This is especially true when that tired and fatigued driver is operating a 10,000 plus pound tractor-trailer truck. Because tired and fatigued semi-truck drivers pose such a great danger to other on the roadways, federal law requires tractor-trailer truck drivers to follow maximum “hours of service” rules.

Federal hours of service laws can be complex. If you were injured in an accident with a semi-truck, it is essential that you hire not just a personal injury lawyer but a personal injury lawyer experienced in truck accident law who understands the complexities of these rules.

Which truck drivers are subject to the hours of service rules?

Hours of service rules were designed to eliminate the type of drowsiness that can lead to an accident. Many driver’s feel they know when they are drowsy, but numerous scientific studies show drivers are not good at estimating their level of drowsiness.

Anyone driving a commercial motor vehicle—including a semi-truck—on a public roadway is subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (or comparable state regulations). And anyone subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is subject to the federal hours of service rules, with a few exceptions. These exceptions include:

  • Truck driver’s working for federal government agencies;
  • Truck drivers transporting their own personal property;
  • Truck drivers operating solely on private property
  • Truck drivers using a semi-truck strictly for personal reasons while off duty; and
  • A few other categories of truck driver.

Note also that a small number of truck drivers operate solely within Montana. These truck drivers are not subject to federal hours of service rules but are subject to Montana rules limiting their hours of service.

Who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the hours of service rules?

A truck driver has a personal responsibility to ensure he complies with the hours of service rules. A truck driver can be held responsible for violating an hours of service rule he either knew about or should have known about. If a roadside inspection uncovers an hours of service rule violation, the violating truck driver may receive a traffic citation or may be placed out of service for a period of time.

Trucking companies are responsible for training their drivers to ensure compliance with the hours of service rules. For this reason, a truck company can be held responsible for a rule violation by its driver. In addition, trucking companies who fail to establish an effective hours of service rule monitoring and compliance system can be fined thousands of dollars. In extreme cases, trucking company officials have even received jail sentences.

What do the federal hours of service rules require?

The hours of service rules require truck drivers to categorize their time according to four categories: (1) off duty, (2) sleeper berth, (3) driving, and (4) on-duty/not driving. Truck drivers must document their categorized time in an hours of service logbook.

truck driver logbook sample
Image Courtesy of: FMCSA

For logbook purposes, times starts with the first on-duty task after a 10-hour or greater period off duty.

There are four primary components to the hours of service rules:

  • Once the duty period starts, it runs for 14 consecutive hours. After that, the truck driver may not drive a truck again until having another 10 or more consecutive hours off-duty. Nothing stops the running of the 14-hour clock.
  • During the 14-hour duty period, which some people refer to as a “driving window,” a truck driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours.
  • When a truck driver reaches a total of 60 on-duty hours in 7 days, the truck driver must have a period of at least 34 consecutive hours off duty. There is an alternative for truck carriers that operate every day of the week—that is a maximum of 70 hours in 8 days. The counting of the max 60 or 70 hours on duty restarts after the driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.
  • A truck driver must take an off-duty break at some point during the duty period. The rule says that you may not drive a truck if it has been 8 or more hours since your last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes. The minimum 30-minute break must be completely off duty, with a few exceptions stated in the rule. A roadside inspection does not qualify as a break.

A truck driver may remain on duty after the end of the 14-hour duty period, such as working in the warehouse, but may not drive a truck. These hours do not count toward the maximum or 60 or 70 hours on duty in or 8 days.

For more information about hours of service rules, visit the Department of Transportation’s website.

If you or a family member has been injured in a semi truck accident, call Doubek, Pyfer & Storrar, PLLP today to schedule a free consultation regarding your matter. Our Montana truck accident lawyers have helped families recover millions of dollars in compensation and can answer your questions.