Trucking hours of service laws exist for a reason. Tired and sleepy truck drivers cause more accidents, putting everyone else on the road at the greatest risk of injury or death.
In a collision between a passenger car and an 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer, the truck is bound to do worse damage to any smaller vehicle. Of the thousands of people who die in truck crashes every year, just 16% were truck drivers according to a 2019 survey. 67% of fatalities involved motorists in other vehicles, while 15% were pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
These statistics aren’t surprising when you consider a fully loaded tractor truck could weigh up to 80,000 pounds – or the equivalent of more than 5 elephants. That’s a lot for Central California’s busy highways and freeways, which make up major routes for transporting goods throughout the state.
To keep the roads safe for everyone, it’s crucial to minimize the possibility of large truck accidents as much as possible. Hours of service regulations do this by limiting how long truck drivers can work before they must take a rest break under the law.
But even with these laws in place, some companies push their drivers to work longer than allowed, pressured by unrealistic deadlines or chasing profits.
Trucking companies caught breaking hours of service laws can be fined and penalized by the government. But sometimes these bad actors don’t actually get caught until an accident happens – at which point, the damage has already been done.
If you get injured in a trucking accident because the driver was working overtime against the law, then you could have a lawsuit for personal injury against the company they work for. If you’ve lost a loved one in a trucking accident caused by hours of service violations, then you could take legal action through a wrongful death or California survivor’s claim.
Why Are Hours of Service Violations so Dangerous?
According to research, driving while drowsy or sleepy can have dangerous effects similar to driving while drunk or under the influence, with catastrophic consequences.
A truck driver working past the allowed hours of service could suffer from:
- Problems focusing, keeping their eyes open, or staying awake at the wheel
- Wandering thoughts that take their attention away from the road
- Sudden movements, tailgating, drifting over lanes, or swerving
- Slow response times and erratic driving speeds
- Missing exits, running stoplights, or not using their signals
- Memory loss caused by “zoning out” while driving
- Moments of “microsleep” where the body operates on auto-pilot
Truck drivers who use stimulants to stay awake to meet demanding deadlines might have additional issues with aggressive driving, road rage, speeding, or other reckless actions.
These effects spell a recipe for disaster considering the size and weight of most trucks. The margin of error is tiny when you’ve got up to 40 tons of weight on a big rig.
Ultimately, the company that employs truck drivers is responsible for the actions of their workers while they’re on the job. Even if the individual driver was behind the wheel in the crash, the company must be held accountable for its illegal hours of service policies.
Trucking Hours of Service Rules in California
All trucking companies and truck drivers must follow local, state, and federal laws when operating their fleets and vehicles. These laws limit the number of hours truck drivers can work on the road before they must take a break to rest. For example:
- Drivers cannot work more than 11 hours in a 14-hour shift
- Every 14-hour shift must include food, bathroom, and nap breaks
- Drivers must be off duty for 10 hours before each 14-hour shift
- Truck drivers must take at least one 30-minute break every 8 hours
- Employees cannot drive for more than 60 hours in 7 days or 70 hours in 8 days
Trucking companies are responsible for knowing these laws and making sure all of their drivers are following the rules. Otherwise, they’re putting lives in danger.
Even knowing all of this, some company policies not only allow but encourage or reward drivers for driving past their maximum hours of service. This is illegal – and if a truck driver gets into an accident because of these policies, the company can be held liable for damages.
Proving Hours of Service Violations and Recovering Damages
If you or a family member gets caught up in a truck accident in California, you might suspect that hours of service violations played a role in causing the crash. But how do you prove it?
An experienced truck accident lawyer can help you investigate the cause behind the accident and get the evidence you need to hold bad actors responsible for their illegal policies.
Company policies that violate hours of service rules could look like:
- Setting aggressive schedules or deadlines so that workers feel like they have to drive past their limits and into their breaks to stay on track and keep their jobs
- Basing bonuses on unrealistic goals that reward drivers for putting in extra time
- Paying drivers by the load so that they try to deliver as many loads as fast as possible
- Giving the best jobs to drivers who are known to bend the rules to meet hard deadlines
- Threatening to fire or discipline drivers who refuse to drive past the legal limits
Some companies may not look like they encourage illegal behavior. Their “official” company policies may follow the law, but managers may give different verbal instructions to drivers, “off the record.” There may be an entirely different set of unwritten rules – or employees may simply notice an unspoken pattern of rewarding rulebreakers and punishing rule followers.
To prove your case, your attorney may use the following types of evidence:
- Driver logs, whether they confirm or contradict actual driving time
- Electronic records logged within the “black box” of a truck
- Data from cell phones or GPS systems like Qualcomm
- Receipts that place drivers at various locations at specific times
- Any inconsistencies in logs from truck maintenance or inspection
If you suffered a truck accident caused by hours of service violations, then the trucking company should be responsible for paying for the cost of your injuries. If your case is convincing enough, you could end up negotiating a settlement agreement for damages.