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Truck Driver Accidents May Increase Due to FMCSA Hours-of-Service Changes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has made changes to truck driver hours-of-service regulations that go into effect September 29, 2020. These new regulations modify driving breaks, sleeper berth exceptions, driving in adverse weather, and short-haul deliveries. While the FMCSA aims to improve safety on the highways, the new regulations may actually increase truck driver accidents by creating conditions that lead to fatigued driving. 

Here’s what you need to know about the new FMCSA hours-of-service changes and how they may impact you.

30-Minute Break Requirement 

Long-haul truck drivers are required to take a 30-minute rest break during their shifts. The new FMCSA regulations require drivers to take that break after eight hours of driving time instead of after eight hours of on-duty time. 

Whereas before drivers were required to be completely off duty for their 30-minute break, drivers can now take their rest break while performing on-duty tasks other than driving, such as getting fuel or doing paperwork. 

For many truck drivers, this change may be welcome, since they can count that 30-minute break toward their on-duty hours and get needed busywork done. However, this may not give drivers sufficient time to actually rest, as it essentially requires working through a rest break. 

Sleeper Berth Exception 

Under the new regulations, drivers are now required to spend only seven hours in the sleeper berth instead of eight. With the sleeper berth exception, drivers can split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an eight/two split or a seven/three split. In either case, the time period won’t count against the 14-hour driving window. 

With this change, the FMCSA hopes that drivers won’t be as tempted to drive too quickly or operate unsafely because their workday is ending. But it also allows a driver to sleep fewer hours before starting their day.

Short-Haul Exception

The new hours-of-service changes expand the short-haul exception from 100 air-miles to 150 air-miles. They also expand the workday for short-haul drivers from a 12-hour shift to a 14-hour shift. Despite that, short-haul drivers are still only permitted to drive a maximum of 11 hours each day.

Because short-haul drivers often make multiple stops, the FMCSA aims to offer more flexibility with the increased air-mile radius and workday hours. While the increase may allow for more deliveries, there’s also a chance of longer hours and increased fatigue.

Adverse Road Conditions

Truck drivers who experience adverse road conditions like inclement weather, accidents, or road closures can extend their driving time. Under the new FMCSA hours-of-service changes, drivers can extend their driving time by up to two hours, from 11 hours to 13 hours. This also allows the 14-hour driving window to be extended to 16 hours.

This gives drivers time to drive more slowly through poor road conditions or find a safe place to park without rushing to finish their shift. To be able to use this extra time, the driver must reasonably not have known the conditions before starting a shift. If a driver was aware that there would be a snowstorm, for example, and attempted to drive through before getting snowed in, they would not be permitted to extend their driving time. 

But longer driving times and adverse driving conditions don’t necessarily make a good combination, and they can increase the risk of a truck driver accident. 

How the Changes May Increase Truck Driver Accidents 

Though the FMCSA maintains that the new hours-of-service changes were designed to eliminate the driver fatigue that can lead to crashes, permitting longer work days puts both truck drivers and everyone else on the road at risk. 

Fatigued driving accounts for 13 percent of truck accidents, according to the FMCSA. That makes it one of the top 10 causes of accidents involving truck drivers. And truck drivers who work more than eight hours without a break are more than twice as likely to get into an accident. 

Fatigued driving can also lead to other top causes of accidents, such as speeding, over-the-counter drug use, inattention, and making illegal maneuvers. A tired driver may also not be as alert when driving through adverse road conditions, may miss a safety issue on their truck, or be so desperate to finish a shift and get some sleep that they don’t pay as much attention to other drivers as they should. When you’re sharing the road with a truck, these can all mean potential danger for you. 

When to Hire a Truck Accident Lawyer Near You

While it’s important to follow the FMCSA’s regulations, it’s also important that truck drivers be well rested and safe on the road. If you are involved in an accident with a truck, it’s important to determine if long drive times and driver fatigue contributed. 

At FVF, our experienced truck accident lawyers are well versed in the FMCSA’s regulations and can help investigate the cause of your accident. We will work tirelessly to prove that the other driver or their employer was at fault for the accident and recover damages to help you cover medical bills, lost wages, and other economic and non-economic losses.

We offer free, no-pressure case evaluations so you know what to expect and what type of financial recovery we may be able to get for you. Contact us today to schedule a free, remote consultation with a truck accident lawyer near you who can help you feel more confident in your next steps after an accident.

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Fogelman & Von Flatern is a personal injury law firm that believes it matters why we practice law: to make sure good people in unfair circumstances who want reasonable options are taken seriously, especially by their attorney. We value transparency, compassion, and justice, and we strive to embody that in our practice. At FVF, you can trust that you've got the best people on your case, for the right reasons.

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