How Excessive Driving Hours by Truckers Can Increase Your Accident Compensation

Key Points:

  • There are both State and Federal regulations that apply to the hours a truck driver may drive. These rules are designed to reduce fatigue-related accidents
  • There are stiff penalties for both drivers and the companies for whom they work when the ‘hours of service’ rules are violated
  • Violations of the ‘hours of service’ rules may constitute negligence and could result in higher compensation for victims
  • Punitive Damages may be awarded in cases where the plaintiff can prove that the truck driver was acting recklessly or deliberately violating the ‘hours of service’ regulation
  • Accidents involving commercial vehicles can be complicated – it may be useful to retain an attorney in order to win full and fair compensation

What Are Hours-of-Service Regulations?

‘Hours-of-service’ regulations are rules to limit the number of hours that commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver can drive or be on duty in a given period of time.The purpose for these regulations is to prevent driver fatigue and reduce the risk of accidents involving commercial motor vehicles.

Georgia’s hours-of-service regulations include the following:

11-hour driving rule: Drivers may operate a commercial vehicle for a maximum of 11 hours after having 10 consecutive hours off duty.

14-hour on-duty rule: Commercial drivers cannot drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty.

70-hour/8-day rule: Commercial drivers cannot drive after being on duty for more than 70 hours in 8 consecutive days.

34-hour restart rule: A driver’s 7 or 8 consecutive day period can be restarted with an off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) regulates the Georgia Hours-of-Service rules. The DPS works in conjunction with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which sets the federal hours-of-service regulations that Georgia and other states must follow. The hours-of-service regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), are set for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) engaged in interstate commerce – traveling from state to state. Drivers must be aware that some states have more stringent hours-of-service rules for trucks in service and adjust their driving times accordingly.

What Other Penalties Can Truckers and Their Companies Get for Violating the Hours of Service Regulation?

In addition to the potential for punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits, trucking companies and their drivers can face a range of other penalties for violating hours-of-service regulations, including:

Fines: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can impose fines on trucking companies and drivers for hours-of-service violations. Fines can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the severity of the violation.

Suspension or revocation of operating authority: Repeated or severe violations can result in the suspension or revocation of a trucking company’s authority to operate, essentially shutting down their business.

Lower safety ratings: The FMCSA maintains safety ratings for trucking companies, and violations can result in lower ratings. This can impact a company’s ability to secure contracts and insurance.

Driver penalties: Truck drivers can face personal penalties for hours-of-service violations, including fines, license suspensions, or even disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle.

Criminal charges: In some cases, repeated or egregious violations can result in criminal charges against trucking companies or drivers, with potential penalties including jail time.

In addition to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration penalties, the state of Georgia also imposes penalties on companies and drivers who violate hours-of-service rules.

The state of Georgia may also hold trucking companies liable for negligent hiring or supervision of drivers if they fail to monitor drivers’ hours-of-service compliance, provide adequate training, or drug test drivers after accidents.

What are the Exceptions and Exemptions to the Hours of Service Regulations?

Under some circumstances, a driver may be eligible forcertain exceptions and exemptions to the federal hours-of-service regulations. Under these circumstances, a driver involved in an accident may be forgiven for hours-of-service violations. Some examples of exemptions include the following:

Adverse driving conditions: Drivers may extend their maximum driving limit by two hours if they encounter adverse driving conditions such as heavy traffic or severe weather, as long as the conditions couldn’t have been known before the driver started driving.

Short-haul operations: Drivers operating within a 100 to 150 distance between pick-up and delivery sites might be exempt from certain hours-of-service regulations, such as keeping a logbook or taking a 30-minute break.

Agricultural operations: Some specific agricultural operations may be exempt from certain hours-of-service regulations during planting and harvesting seasons.

Emergency conditions: In certain emergency conditions, such as natural disasters or public health emergencies, responding drivers may be exempt from some hours-of-service regulations.

Even though a driver may be exempt from certain hours-of-service regulations, he or she is still responsible for driving safely and avoiding driver fatigue. Drivers should consult with their employers and/or regulatory agencies to determine if they believe they are eligible for any exceptions or exemptions.

Can a Truck Accident Be Prevented if a Truck Driver Doesn’t Go Over Hours?

Hours-of-service regulations are in place primarily to reduce the risk of truck accidents caused by driver fatigue. Nevertheless, there are still many other factors that can contribute to truck accidents, including distracted driving, poorly maintained vehicles, weather-related issues, as well as inadequate training and experience.

However, if a driver is involved in an accident and is found to be in violation of hours-of-service regulations, it could strengthen the claim of a victim who is injured in an accident with the truck. In such cases, the violation may be considered negligence on the part of the driver and their employer, as it shows a disregard for safety regulations designed to protect other motorists on the road.

In a personal injury lawsuit, the victim may be able to use the violation as evidence of negligence, which can help prove that the driver and/or their employer was at fault for the accident. Additionally, the violation may be considered a breach of duty of care, which is a legal obligation to act in a reasonable and prudent manner to prevent harm to others.

In certain cases, punitive damages may be awarded in lawsuits involving violations of hours-of-service regulations. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious or negligent behavior and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Punitive damages are not often awarded since the victim must prove that the driver acted with deliberate indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others. 

Does Violating Hours-of-Service Regulations at the Time of the Accident Constitute Negligence?

In Georgia, negligence is generally defined as the failure to exercise reasonable care. Violating safety regulations, such as hours-of-service rules for truck drivers, can be seen as a breach of the duty of care and considered negligence. If an accident occurs while a driver is in violation of these regulations, it can be used as evidence of negligence in a personal injury lawsuit.

Even if another driver is primarily at fault for an accident, a truck driver’s violation of hours-of-service regulations could still be seen as a contributing factor, potentially reducing their entitlement to damages. Under Georgia’s modified comparative negligence rule, fault can be apportioned among multiple parties, and even a minor contribution to an accident can affect liability and compensation.

In some cases, violating hours-of-service regulations can be considered negligence in and of itself – indicating that the violation alone is seen as negligent, regardless of whether it directly caused the accident.

How Can Violations of Hours-of-Service Regulations Be Proven?

Hours-of-service regulation violations can be proven using various forms of evidence, including the following:

Logbooks: Federal law requires commercial truck drivers to maintain a logbook documenting their hours of service, including driving time, on-duty time, and off-duty time. (Failure to keep log books up-to-date carries severe consequences including fines, possible suspension, license revocation, as well as legal consequences.) An inspection of the logbook can reveal violations of the hours-of-service regulations. It is not uncommon for truckers to keep two log books, one that demonstrates stringent following of the “hours of service” regulations, and another that tells a more accurate story of the driver’s actual driving history. For this reason, it is a good idea to check the Electronic Logging Device if it is available.

Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs): Many commercial trucks are now equipped with ELDs – similar to the black boxes found in aircraft – that automatically record driving time and other data related to hours of service. This data can be used to identify violations.

Witness testimony: Witnesses, such as other drivers or passengers, may be able to testify about a truck driver’s hours of service and whether they appeared fatigued or had been driving for extended periods.

Physical evidence: Evidence such as the driver’s physical condition at the time of the accident, the damage to the vehicles involved, as well as the location and time of the accident can help to establish whether the driver violated hours-of-service regulations.

Company records: Trucking companies are required to maintain records related to their drivers’ hours of service, and these records can be used to demonstrate violations. The company’s records will document pick-up and delivery times for cargo which may demonstrate that the driver was in violation of ‘hours of service’ regulations.

Proving violations of hours-of-service regulations often requires thorough investigation and  the assistance of experienced professionals, such as attorneys or accident reconstruction experts.

What Types of Accidents Can Be Prevented if Truckers Obeyed the Hours of Service Regulation?

Regulations concerning the number of hours a trucker may drive are made to prevent the fatigue that causes many kinds of accidents. Distracted driving and falling asleep at the wheel are more common when drivers violate hours-of-service regulations and drive for extended periods without adequate rest.

Some serious kinds of accidents caused by fatigue are listed here:

Rear-end collisions: Fatigued drivers may have slower reaction times and may not brake in time to avoid hitting the vehicle in front of them.

Head-on collisions: Drowsy drivers may drift into oncoming traffic or fail to negotiate curves in the road, resulting in head-on collisions.

Run-off-road accidents: Tired drivers may drift off the road, hit roadside objects, or roll their vehicles injuring themselves, other drivers, as well as infrastructure and private property.

Jackknife accidents: Fatigued drivers are more likely to lose control of their vehicles causing jackknife accidents where the trailer of a tractor-trailer swings out to the side and folds in on itself, often blocking multiple lanes of traffic.

Intersection accidents: Drowsy drivers may fail to yield the right of way at intersections, resulting in collisions with other vehicles.

How Does Proving Excessive Driving Hours Affect Compensation Claims?

Providing evidence that a truck driver was violating the hours-of-service regulations at the time of an accident can significantly increase the award in a compensation claim in several ways:

Establishing negligence: Demonstrating that the truck driver was driving beyond the allowed hours can help to establish driver negligence as well as fault on the part of the driver’s employer, which can make it easier to recover damages.

Increasing damages: If the driver fatigue is found to be a contributing factor in the accident, and a violation of the ‘hours of service’ regulations can be proven, it may increase the amount of damages awarded.

Punitive damages: In some cases, if the violation was intentional or particularly reckless, a court may award punitive damages to punish the driver or their employer as a means of deterring others from engaging in similar behavior.

Improving settlement outcomes: Knowing that hours-of-service violations can be proven may encourage defendants and their attorneys more likely to offer a fair settlement to avoid the uncertainty and expense of a trial.

Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded in Cases Involving Hours-of-Service Violations?

Punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer for their actions and to deter others from engaging in similar behavior so, yes. Punitive damages may be awarded in some cases involving hours-of-service violations.

In order to be awarded punitive damages under Georgia law, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent, that he acted with malice, or with a conscious disregard for the safety of others. This may include evidence that the defendant knew about the hours-of-service regulations and chose to disregard and violate them anyway. If the driver has or has previously had a pattern of violating the regulations and ignoring safety concerns, this pattern can help to prove the victim’s claim.

In Georgia there is a cap on punitive damages, with most cases limited to $250,000. However, there may be exceptions to the punitive damages cap depending on the specific circumstances of your case. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine if any exceptions apply to your situation and explore your legal options.

What Steps Should You Take If You Suspect the Truck Driver Was Over Hours?

Whether or not you suspect that the truck driver involved in your accident was in violation of hours-of-service regulations, it’s important to take the following steps to preserve all evidence so that you can protect your legal rights and build a strong case:

Preserve evidence: Gathering and preserving evidence should begin at the scene of the accident. If you are able, collect evidence related to the accident, such as taking photos, witness statements, or asking to see the driver’s logbook. If you are injured or unable to collect evidence at the scene, the responding officer’s report may give you important evidence.

Contact an experienced personal injury attorney: Because accidents with commercial trucks can be complicated,  you may wish to speak with an attorney. Your attorney can help you investigate the accident, gather evidence, and determine whether or not hours-of-service regulations were violated.

Request the truck driver’s logbook: You or your attorney can request a copy of the truck driver’s logbook from the trucking company, which can help establish whether the driver was in violation of hours-of-service regulations.

Obtain the truck’s electronic logging device (ELD) data: These days, many trucks are equipped with ELDs that track driving hours and other data, much like an airplane’s ‘black box.’ Your attorney can request this data to help prove hours-of-service violations.

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