Feds Change Drowsy Truck Driver Rules

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently relaxed some key Hours of Service rules. What could happen when truck drivers stay behind the wheel too long?

These rules changes include longer allowed work shifts and longer short-haul exemptions. Short-haul drivers are already exempt from many FMCSA safety rules. Other changes include a lengthened adverse driving conditions exception, mandatory breaks after driving time instead of operating time, and an expanded sleeper berth provision. Truckers can exceed the hourly limits if they encounter rain or other adverse conditions. And, driving-related activities such as gassing up no longer qualify as “driving time.”

Several safety groups have filed legal challenges to the FMCSA’s new rules.

The Dangers of Drowsy Truck Driving

Most truck drivers would never dream of taking drugs or drinking alcohol and then driving. Yet they readily stay on the road for many hours at a time with little or no rest. Substance abuse and fatigue have roughly the same effect on the body and brain. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level.

Fatigue and intoxication have something else in common. There is no quick fix for either condition. Only time cures intoxication, and only sleep cures fatigue. Shortcuts, like rolling down the window or drinking coffee, are largely ineffective.

Establishing Liability

In court, drowsy truck driver victims must establish negligence, or a lack of care, byt a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. So, evidence is critical in these claims.

Frequently, a truck’s Electronic Logging Device provides the needed evidence. ELDs are connected to the vehicle’s drivetrain. So, while the truck is in motion, the HOS clock is ticking. Trucking industry executives fought the ELD mandate all the way to the Supreme Court. They understand how critical ELDs are for Kansas City personal injury attorneys.

However, ELDs are not always available. Some truckers are not required to use them, especially in light of the latest FMCSA rules changes. Additionally, many insurance companies “accidentally” destroy physical evidence, including the ELD, before attorneys can intervene.

Circumstantial evidence is available as well. The time of day or night is a good example. Most people are naturally drowsy early in the morning and late at night. The amount of rest they had the night before is largely irrelevant.

Negligent truck drivers are individually responsible for drowsy driving truck crashes. The shipping or other company which owned the truck is financially responsible for damages, because of the respondeat superior doctrine.

These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some situations.

Drowsy truck drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Kansas City, contact the Krause and Kinsman Law Firm. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.

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