FMCSA HOS Waiver Faces Court Challenge

On Behalf of | Mar 17, 2021 | Truck Accidents

A coalition of safety and driver groups are challenging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s right to amend existing Hours of Service rules in Kentucky and elsewhere.

Some highlights of these changes include a modified short-haul definition and expanded adverse driving accommodations. Short-haul drivers are exempt from a number of HOS rules. The adverse driving expansion would allow truckers to stay on the road longer if they encounter any rain, traffic, or other impediment. 

The aforementioned coalition includes the Teamsters Union and several safety groups, including Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Parents Against Tired Truckers. “Under the guise of increased flexibility, the changes will further exacerbate the already well-known threat of fatigue among commercial motor vehicle drivers by significantly weakening current hours-of-service rules,” the coalition argued in a statement.

Operator Fatigue

Money is often the root of negligence, and that’s true in this case. Most shipping companies do not pay drivers by the mile. Instead, they pay by the load. So, truckers must stay behind the wheel as long as possible, to deliver their cargo as quickly as possible. 

Additionally, most shipping companies offer substantial on-time completion bonuses. Since truckers have such narrow profit margins, this bonus often is the difference between making money and losing money.

Therefore, many truckers are on the road for dangerously long periods of time. And, driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours, which is the equivalent of a long day behind the wheel, is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for commercial drivers in Kentucky.

Extended operation is not the only problem. Regardless of how much sleep they had the previous night, most people are naturally drowsy late at night and early in the morning. Circadian rhythm fatigue is especially pronounced if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) recently changed work shifts, such as a truck driver getting back behind the wheel after several days or weeks at home.

Fatigue, like alcohol, affects the brain and not just the body. These effects include slow reflexes and impaired judgment. Furthermore, there is no quick fix for either issue. Only time cures alcohol impairment, and only sleep addresses fatigue. Blasting the radio, drinking coffee, and other shortcuts are ineffective.

Evidence in Drowsy Driver Claims

If the aforementioned legal rollbacks go into permanent effect, it will be harder for a Lexington personal injury attorney to use the negligence per se shortcut in these cases.

HOS rules include daily and weekly driving caps. Drivers who violate these rules and cause crashes could be liable for damages as a matter of law. The Electronic Logging Device often provides bulletproof evidence in this area.

ELDs are connected to the truck’s drivetrain. So, when the truck is moving, the ELD’s clock is ticking. Paper log books are relatively easy to fake. ELDs are very difficult to hack or fake. Hackers and fakers usually leave digital fingerprints which an attorney, or a private investigator, can readily identify.

These gadgets also provide critical evidence in an ordinary negligence claim. Even if the driver did not technically violate the law, extended driving still has the aforementioned effects. 

And, largely because of the nature of these devices, it’s almost impossible for insurance company lawyers to successfully object to this evidence. Computers, unlike people, are never biased and never wrong, assuming the gadgets are working correctly.

The tortfeasor’s medical bills are usually important as well. Sleep apnea is a good example. Largely because they sit so long, many truck drivers develop sleep apnea. People with this condition only doze all night. No matter how many hours of rack time they get, they do not get sufficient deep, restorative sleep.

Other circumstantial evidence includes the time of day and the tortfeasor’s statements to first responders. As mentioned, most people are drowsy at certain times of the day or night. Additionally, many tortfeasors readily admit they were sleepy. They often think these admissions somehow excuse their negligence.

In both negligence per se and ordinary negligence claims, there’s usually a direct relationship between the amount of evidence the victim/plaintiff presents and the amount of damages Fayette County jurors award. These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Drowsy truckers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Home and hospital visits are available. #goodelawyers