On July 1, 2013, new federal hours-of-service regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) went into full effect. The regulations were first announced in December of 2011 and trucking companies had about 18 months to come into compliance with the new hours-of-service requirements. These regulations are the tightest yet.
Essentially, the 82-hour maximum average work week is now reduced to 70 hours. This means that truck drivers must average 70 hours of driving or less per week and “week” is defined as an 8-day work period for the purposes of this provision. In a seven-day work period, the maximum average is 60 hours of driving time. Drivers known as “short-haul operators” who drive within a 100 air-mile radius of their normal work reporting location are exempt from these rules. Also, about 85% of the trucking industry was already in compliance with this in 2013 when the regulation was implemented.
The regulation applies to drivers of all commercial motor vehicles, which is a vehicle engaged in business that fits any one of the following categories:
- Weighs 10,001 pounds or more
- Designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers, but not for compensation
- Designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers for compensation
- Transports hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards
The purpose of the regulations is to fight fatigue. Scientists and stakeholders estimate that this change will result in a savings of $280 million from repair and replacement costs and a savings of $470 million from driver health care costs. They also estimate that the regulations will prevent about 19 lives, 1,400 crashes, and 560 injuries per year. Driver who work more than 70 hours per week are significantly more prone to chronic fatigue, are at a higher risk of crashes, and are subject to serious, chronic health conditions.
The regulation includes other requirements, some of which have been long-standing, in addition to the 70 hour work week requirement, such as the 11-hour daily driving limit and the 14-hour daily work limit. Under the 11-hour rule, a driver is allowed to operate a commercial motor vehicle that is carrying property for up to 11 hours as long as it is preceded by 10 hours off duty. Under the 14-hour rule, a driver is allowed to engage in non-driving activities such as loading and unloading cargo, inspection, and so on, for up to 14 hours as long as it is preceded by 10 hours off duty.
Drivers of passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles may drive up to a maximum of 10 hours as long as 8 hours off-duty time preceded the drive, and the driver can be on duty up to a maximum of 15 hours, following 8 hours off duty. Drivers of commercial motor vehicles equipped with a qualifying sleeper berth have other options. They can meet their requirement for off-duty time by sleeping in the sleeper berth for the requisite number of hours or they can meet the requirement with a combination of off-duty time and time in the sleeper berth. However, this time cannot be interrupted by any on-duty or driving time. When there are two drivers in a commercial motor vehicle, one may use the sleeper berth while the other drives, thus extending the time the vehicle remains in transit.
Given that the 70-hour limit is an average, it is conceivable that a truck driver may still occasionally drive more than 70 hours in a given week. However, if that happens, the new regulation requires that he or she rest for 34 consecutive hours after the 70th hour is reached and those 34 hours must cover from 1am to 5am twice, which are the hours the human body is most in need of sleep according to circadian rhythms. This is called the two-night rest period. The 34-hour rule is currently suspended pending a study which is to be submitted by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to Congress. The study will compare five months of driver work schedules and crashes and near crashes to determine whether the two-night rest period actually prevents more crashes than the one-night rest period which was the requirement before the current regulation went into effect.
The maximum penalty for violating the 70 hour work week is a fine to the trucking company of $11,000 per offense and a fine of $2,750 to the driver for each offense. The truth is that these regulations are often ignored and the public generally has no idea unless and until there is an accident. Sometimes, the drivers keep poor records. Of course, if we can prove that your collision was caused by violation of the federal regulations, it will support your claim for compensation.