Tractor-Trailer Accident Cases: Do Not Overlook the Driver Who Exceeds the Maximum Driving Time
In this day and age of rapid transport of goods and tight shipment deadlines, it is not at all uncommon for tractor-trailer drivers to work long hours on the highway. Sometimes the weariness of long, continuous highway driving by a sleep-deprived operator will result in fatigue-related accidents. When such an accident results in injury or death to innocent motorists, it is incumbent on the trial lawyer for the victim to determine if the driver has violated the federal law governing maximum driving time.
The federal law regarding hours of service limits for tractor-trailer drivers is found in Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations ("FMCSR"). The rules set forth in the FMCSR are quite detailed and complex. With some exceptions, the interstate tractor-trailer driver who is operating a property-carrying rig must comply with the following three basic limits: (1) 11-hour driving limit; (2) the 14-hour duty limit; and (3) the 60/70 hour duty limit. These limits require the driver not to drive:
- more than 11 cumulative hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty; or
- more than 14 hours after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty; or
- if such driver has been on duty 60 hours in any period of 7 consecutive days if the motor carrier does not operate vehicles every day of the week or if such driver has been on duty 70 hours in any 8 consecutive days if the motor carrier does not operate vehicles every day of the week.
In virtually every tractor-trailer accident case, it is wise for the trial lawyer to determine if the tractor-trailer driver exceeded the maximum driving time as prescribed in the FMCSR. The discovery checklist in tractor-trailer cases should include a request for the time records and logs from the driver and the motor carrier as well as deposition questions about the driver's activities in the time period from two weeks prior to the accident through the time of the accident. In many instances, such discovery will reveal that the driver indeed violated the maximum driving time limits.