Hours of Service Laws and Falsified Trucking Logs

Hours of Service Laws and Falsified Trucking Logs

Article provided by Harris Powers & Cunningham.

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Driver fatigue is one of the most common causes of trucking accidents. When truck drivers are tired from spending too many hours behind the wheel, they are more likely to make mistakes, including swerving into another driver's lane, failing to check their blind spots and following other vehicles too closely. Fatigued truck drivers also are more likely to drive recklessly because they are not able to dedicate their full attention to the road and other drivers. In some situations, a semi-truck driver may take caffeine pills or even illegal drugs to try to stay awake, further impairing his or her ability to make safe driving decisions.

Hours of Service

In an accident between a semi-tractor trailer and a passenger car, everyone knows who is going to be on the losing end. This is why federal and state laws regulate the number of hours commercial truck drivers may drive in a 24-hour period. These laws, known as hours of service regulations, currently mandate that truck drivers may only drive for 11 consecutive hours within a 14-hour window following 10 consecutive hours off-duty. The 11-hour rule means that drivers may have a total of 14 hours on-duty within a 24-hour period (49 CFR 395.3).

The hours of service regulations also provide that commercial trucking drivers cannot drive at all when:

  • They have been on duty for 60 hours in any consecutive 7-day period if the motor carrier is not open for business every day of the week
  • They have been on duty for 70 hours in any consecutive 8-day period if the motor carrier is open for business every day of the week

The 7 or 8-day periods end when a driver has been off duty for at least 34 consecutive hours.

"On duty" does not just refer to the amount of time the truck driver spends driving, but includes any time the driver spends working or being ready to work. This includes when the driver is waiting to be dispatched, the truck is being inspected, cargo is being loaded or unloaded - even if by someone other than the driver - and any other time the driver spends in the truck not sleeping (49 CFR 395.2).

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Department of Transportation and the US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division each play a role in regulating the commercial trucking industry at the federal level. At the state level, Arizona has adopted the federal hours of service laws for intrastate and interstate semi-truck drivers using Arizona roadways.

Trucking Logs

To make sure that drivers comply with the hours of services laws, truck drivers are required to keep current and detailed records of their on-duty and off-duty time for every 24-hour period they work. Some of the information they are required to put in these records includes: To make sure that drivers comply with the hours of services laws, truck drivers are required to keep current and detailed records of their on-duty and off-duty time for every 24-hour period they work. Some of the information they are required to put in these records includes:

  • The full name of the location where any change in duty status occurs, including town name and state
  • The time spent on-duty driving, on-duty not driving and sleeping in the berth of the truck
  • The total number of miles driven in a 24-hour period
  • The truck and/or tractor-trailer number and name of the motor carrier
  • Any co-driver names

Once the record is complete, the truck driver is required to sign it and send the original copy into his or her motor carrier employer within 13 business days. Drivers are required to keep copies of the past 7 consecutive days' logs with them at all times. Employers are required to keep the hard copies of these trucking logs for at least 6 months.

Falsifying Trucking Logs

The hours of service and recording-keeping regulations are intended to prevent people driving 18-wheelers from working too many hours, which increases the potential for devastating accidents. However, the laws do not remove the pressure drivers feel, or place on themselves, to work more hours than they are legally allowed. In a bad economy, this problem is exacerbated as truck drivers may feel their livelihood depends on cutting down the length of time it takes to make deliveries.

This, in turn, leads many drivers to falsify their trucking logs. The problem of falsifying reports is well-known inside and outside of the industry, but difficult to stop. Some motor carriers have begun requiring drivers to use automatic on-board recording devices to record the changes in their duty status. These devices, also called "black boxes," lessen the opportunity to falsify the trucking logs. There was a move at the federal level to make it mandatory for all commercial truck drivers to use black boxes, but this was met with strong opposition from motor carriers and drivers who felt it was an invasion of their privacy.

Regardless of the reasons why truck drivers feel compelled to falsify trucking logs, it is still illegal to do so. Unfortunately, the threat of prosecution for falsifying records seems to do little to deter the activity. The problem is when drivers are working more hours and sleeping fewer hours than they should, innocent people may be injured or killed as a result. In these situations, experienced attorneys can review the trucking logs for inaccuracies and incompatibilities and help determine whether the record has been doctored.

Conclusion

State and federal law set strict restrictions on the number of hours truck drivers can spend on the roads. This, however, does not prevent drivers from working longer hours that they are allowed which can result in catastrophic motor vehicle accidents. If you have been involved in a collision with a tractor-trailer or have lost a loved one in a trucking accident, a lawyer experienced in investigating 18-wheeler accidents can help determine the cause of your accident and whether driver fatigue or some other error in judgment led to the accident - even if the truck driver kept less than honest trucking logs.