DOT Changing Hours of Service – Will It Reduce Truck Wrecks?

Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP April 9, 2015

Big rigs rule the highways in this nation and are the most prolific carriers of goods on the road. With so many trucks on our road, it is no surprise that commercial trucks are involved in a large number of traffic accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation and other safety groups continue to work for safer highways. Attorneys who help clients involved in truck accidents emphasize that recent changes to driver rules affect both trucking companies and owner-operators. It is important that all big rig drivers understand these new rules that have been enacted as a means of reducing the number of traffic accidents involving heavy trucks.

New Hours of Service Rules for Truck Drivers

The Department of Transportation regulates the number of hours a driver is allowed to work in a day and in a week. These regulations keep fatigued drivers off the roads when they should be getting much-needed rest. Lawyers who handle truck wreck claims note that drivers were permitted an 82-hour work week until July of 2013. At that time, a work week was reduced to 70 hours, including maximum 14-hour work days with only 11 of those hours spent driving. If a driver had 34 hours of time not driving, he or she could resume driving at the end of that time.1 After the changes, the D.O.T. was pleased with the results, although many drivers were not.

Since that time, a commercial truck driver’s maximum driving hours have been reduced first to 52 hours and then to 40 hours in June of 2014. The Department of Transportation continued to see a need to reduce traffic accidents involving heavy trucks with fewer driving hours. Many commercial drivers have been quite unhappy and concerned; their ability to earn a living has been greatly decreased. At this point, attorneys with law firms that handle truck accidents believe a continued reduction may not help decrease accidents. Despite DOT’s claim that commercial truck driver fatigue is an ongoing issue, there have been suggestions reduced hours might increase the number of accidents for various reasons.

Truck Accident Statistics and Hours-of-Service

The main argument against a continued reduction in driving hours is that statistics show that accidents and injuries decreased 30 percent on their own between 2000 and July of 2013 with no reduction in driving hours. Fatalities involving heavy trucks went from over 5,200 in 2000 down to 4,000 in 2011 – all with no change in driving hours.2

According to the Department of Transportation, the reduction of driving hours in June of 2014 was necessary to further reduce injuries and fatalities from truck-related accidents. It is their opinion that economic relief in the form of reduced damage, claims, and lost wages due to injury will offset the effect of decreased driving hours. Many drivers and truck companies disagree, noting that companies will have to add both additional trucks and drivers to make up for the driving hours being lost. Financial estimates show all of this will cost the trucking industry rather than saving money, all of which will be eventually passed on to the customer.3

The bottom line is that these reduced hours in service laws remain in effect. Attorneys who deal with truck accident cases will be looking at the accident statistics that began in July 2014 for what is revealed. Will the severe cut in permissible driving hours accomplish the goal of the Department of Transportation or not? In the meantime, drivers of big rig trucks must abide by the 40-hour driving week or face the repercussions.

1US DOT: New Hours–of–Service – July 2013

2FMCSA Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2012: Trends

3Fox Business: New Trucking Rules Could Slam Businesses, Consumers, 2013