Hours of Service Regulations for NC Truck Drivers
Truck drivers and trucking companies have to follow many regulations, given the safety hazards, tractor-trailers and other large trucks pose on the nation’s highways when they are not properly maintained and safely operated.
Among the most important trucking regulations are the Hours of Service rules imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The rules limit the number of hours commercial truck drivers can be behind the wheel without a break. Driver fatigue is a significant problem in interstate trucking. According to the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers – truckers and bus drivers – were considered to be fatigued at the time of collisions.
When a truck driver violates HOS regulations and causes a crash that leaves others injured, the truck driver and the trucking company may be held financially accountable. At Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., our truck accident lawyers investigate accidents, calculate the extent of our client’s losses and pursue full compensation for the accident victims from those financially liable for the accident.
What are the FMCSA Hours of Service Rules?
The Hours of Service regulations limit the number of hours commercial drivers may drive and work per day and week and impose mandatory rest breaks.
For cargo-carrying commercial drivers, the HOS regulations require:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit. A driver may drive a total of 11 hours during a 14-hour work shift.
- 10 Hours Off Duty. A driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours in a 14-hour shift after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- 30-Minute Driving Breaks. A driver must take a 30-minute break after driving for 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. A driver may remain on duty but not driving or be off duty.
- 14-Hour Limit. A driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
- 60/70-Hour Limit. Truck drivers can only be on duty for 60 hours in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period. A driver may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
- Sleeper Berth Provision. A truck driver may split the required 10-hour off-duty period, as long as the driver spends at least 7 consecutive hours in the truck’s sleeper berth and one other portion of the off-duty period is at least 2 hours long. All sleeper berth pairings MUST add up to at least 10 hours. When used together, neither time period counts against the maximum 14-hour driving window.
- Adverse Driving Conditions. A driver may extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to 2 hours when adverse driving conditions are encountered.
- Short-Haul Exception. A driver is exempt from certain requirements to log their duty status if the driver operates within a 150 air-mile radius of the normal work reporting location, and the driver does not exceed a maximum duty period of 14 hours. Drivers using the short-haul exception must report and return to the normal work reporting location within 14 consecutive hours and stay within a 150 air-mile radius of the work reporting location.
After several years of work, the revised Hours of Service final rules were adopted June 1, 2020, and took effect September 29, 2020.
The FMCSA says on a fact sheet that, “The revised HOS regulations will provide greater flexibility for drivers without adversely affecting safety and are based on thousands of comments FMCSA received from industry, safety advocacy groups, Congress, and the American public.”
Penalties for Violating the FMCSA Hours of Service Rules
In 2018, the FMCSA adopted a rule requiring commercial trucks to be equipped with electronic logging devices to automatically log Hours of Service. All commercial trucks that weigh over 10,000 pounds and vehicles transporting hazardous materials requiring placards have to be equipped with an ELD. Trucking companies must keep records of HOS logs for up to six months.
There are several ways a trucker who has violated hours of service rules may be identified. Truck drivers and their logs are subject to being inspected by police if stopped and by DOT officials at mandatory weigh stations. The DOT may also audit motor carriers’ records. Police will also question a truck driver after an accident and may request access to HOS logs.
A motor carrier should keep track of their drivers’ hours and take a driver off of the road if the company sees that he or she is in violation of HOS rules.
If the DOT or police catch a driver violating the limits, the driver and truck may be placed “out of service” and kept off the road until the driver has spent enough time off duty to be back in compliance.
Under the FMCSA’s Uniform Fine Assessment rules, an egregious hours of service violation, such as contributing to an accident or a hazardous materials spill, can be penalized with a fine that could top $15,000.
A truck driver could also be ticketed and fined by state and local law enforcement officials.
HOS violations also could affect a driver’s and their employing carrier’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program scores. This FMCSA program works like points against a driver’s license, with points added for various violations. Information used to compile CSA scores is published on the FMCSA’s Safety Management System (SMS) website.
If a motor carrier is found to have a pattern of HOS violations among its fleet drivers, its safety rating can be downgraded. If violations are due to the carrier knowingly and willingly allowing HOS violations, federal criminal penalties may include fines and/or an order for the carrier to shut down.
How HOS Violations May Lead to Accidents
The FMCSA recognizes that driving while fatigued is a safety hazard. By regulation (49 CFR § 392.3), drivers are not allowed to operate commercial vehicles, and motor carriers are prohibited from allowing drivers to drive “while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to operate the commercial motor vehicle.”
The FMCSA says, “Driver drowsiness may impair a driver’s response time to potential hazards, increasing the chances of being in a crash.” The agency instructs drivers to avoid driving “while your body is naturally drowsy,” between midnight and 6 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m.
“Driver fatigue may be due to a lack of adequate sleep, extended work hours, strenuous work or non-work activities, or a combination of other factors,” FMCSA says.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says no amount of experience, motivation, or professionalism can overcome the body’s biological need to sleep. Driver fatigue can cause:
- Nodding off
- Reacting more slowly to changing road conditions, other drivers, or pedestrians
- Making poor decisions
- Drifting across lanes
- Experiencing tunnel vision
- Experiencing brief sleep episodes lasting from a fraction of a second to 30 seconds
- Forgetting the last few miles driven.
How Our Attorneys Help After Truck Accidents Caused by HOS Violations
When a drowsy truck driver causes an accident, there is typically late braking or no braking at all because the driver has nodded off. The crashes generally occur at high speeds. Unfortunately, this leads to more serious injuries and greater damage to vehicles and other property.
When contacted after a truck accident, the lawyers of Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. can obtain the driver’s logs and the truck’s event data recorder (EDR), the device that records data from the truck’s systems. The recorder can reveal whether brakes were applied before a crash, and for how long, whether the driver tried to swerve to avoid the crash, and a variety of other data. If contacted soon enough after an accident, we can gather evidence from the accident scene. The absence of skid marks may indicate a drowsy driving truck accident.
Along with identifying who is liable for your injuries, we will calculate the extent of your losses from the accident, including your medical bills and lost income, future medical and rehabilitation expenses, and your losses due to reduced earning capacity.
We will submit a claim to the insurance company on your behalf and negotiate aggressively for a full settlement. If the insurer declines to do the right thing, we will be ready to go to court to seek justice for you.
Our experienced North Carolina lawyers are committed to providing truck accident victims with compassionate and high-quality legal representation. We are a client-oriented law firm that utilizes state-of-the-art case management tools and focuses on providing one-on-one client service. We will handle the injury claim so our clients can focus on recovering their health and moving forward with their lives.
Contact a North Carolina Truck Accident Attorney
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a truck accident in North Carolina that may have been caused by fatigue and/or an Hours of Service violation, you need an experienced truck accident attorney to advise you. The legal team at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., offers a free consultation to review your legal options after a truck accident and discuss our approach to your potential claim. Contact us today online or at (919) 661-9000.