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How are commercial vehicle drivers held accountable for fatigued driving? P.1

In our previous post, we began looking at the issue of drowsy or fatigued driving. As we noted, drowsiness can be a significant source of impairment and all drivers have a responsibility to ensure they are adequately rested before they get behind the wheel. All drivers are expected to exercise reasonable care in operating a motor vehicle, and part of that is ensuring they are alert enough to drive.

Commercial vehicle drivers have a heightened responsibility to avoid drowsy driving. Under Federal law, commercial vehicle drivers--this includes those who are hauling property and those carrying passengers--are required to abide by certain rules governing when the number of hours they spend behind the wheel and how frequently they must take breaks. These are known as the hours of service rules.

The hours of service rules as they apply to property-carrying drivers can be summarized as follows:

  • Driving limit is 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours on duty
  • No driving after 14 consecutive hours on duty
  • Required rest break of at least 30 minutes after 8 hours on duty, with certain exceptions
  • No driving after 60/70 hours on duty over 7/8 consecutive days. This period may be reset by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Drivers who use a sleeper berth are required to take 8 consecutive hours, plus 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth or off duty, to restart their work week.

The rules differ slightly for passenger-carrying drivers, but look very similar. All commercial vehicle drivers are required to record compliance with these rules on a regular basis, and employers are responsible for holding drivers accountable for compliance. When there is a violation of the rules, therefore, both the driver and the employer may potentially be held liable. We'll say more about this in our next post.