New Federal Regulations Enacted to Keep Tired Truck Drivers and The Dangers They Pose Off the Road

In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation enacted a new set of rules to limit the hours a commercial truck driver can work. After 18 months of public hearings and sizeable opposition by the trucking industry, these new rules take effect July 1.

Tired semi-truck drivers pose real dangers to motorists. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a study to uncover reasons why commercial truck accidents occur. Called the “Large Truck Causation Study,” its authors concluded that approximately 18,000 accidents involving trucks over the two-year study period were associated with tired truck drivers. That represents about 13 percent of all the trucking accidents reported in the two-year timeframe. About 5,000 accidents involved truck drivers that actually fell asleep at the wheel, according to the study’s estimates.

An older study found that drivers working 15 consecutive hours were the probable cause for 41 percent of serious commercial truck accidents.

So the federal government responded with this revised “hours-of-service” rules for the nation’s commercial truck drivers. The goal of the new regulations is reduce the number of drowsy, overworked truck drivers and the serious hazards they represent.

The new regulations include:

  • Limiting a commercial truck driver to 70-hour work week. Previously, a tractor-trailer operator could work as many as 82 hours over a period of seven days.
  • Drivers who hit the maximum 70 hours in a week must take at least a 34-hour break before starting a new work week. This 34-consecutive-hour period must include two overnight periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
  • Over-the-road truck drivers must now take a 30-minute break for every eight hours spent on the job. This is not limited to those hours actually behind the wheel.
  • A truck driver can still drive only 11 hours in a single day.

Drivers are required to record their driving and break periods in logbooks. Both the drivers and their employers can be held responsible for any false entries.

Negligent drivers and trucking companies face financial penalties for violating these new laws. Truck drivers exceeding the 11 driving hours per day, for example, may be fined $2,750 for each violation. And trucking companies can be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.

However, such financial penalties mean nothing to victims of tractor-trailer crashes. If a loved one has been seriously hurt or killed in a trucking accident, an experienced attorney can review your legal options for pursuing compensation from the responsible parties.