Generally, there are rules that truck drivers must abide by to be able to operate a commercial motor vehicle. These sets of rules are known as the Hours of Service rules. Regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), these sets of rules were established to help decrease the risk of truck drivers succumbing to fatigue and drowsiness.
However, there are conditions where the hours of service rules can be exempted or waived; for example, in the case of emergency conditions, some or all of the hours of service can be waived for a particular amount of time. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is the situation that truck drivers find themselves in today.
What is the hours of service waiver?
In March of 2020, the FMCSA issued its first 50-state waiver to the hours of service rules. This waiver was issued for truck drivers who were responsible for transporting goods connected to the Covid-19 pandemic. The intention behind the waiver was to grant truck drivers additional time to deliver cargo without being in violation of the federal work-hour requirements.
Since its original date of declaration, the waiver has been modified and extended several times as the types of necessary products needed over the course of the pandemic continues to evolve.
Are all truck drivers impacted by the hours of service waiver?
One of the issues involved with the emergency HOS waiver is the confusion about what is covered under the waiver. According to the FMCSA, truck drivers who are responsible for transporting goods that provide direct assistance in the support of emergency relief efforts are exempt from following the hours of service regulations.
For example, Oklahoma City truck drivers who are transporting items such as livestock and livestock feed, medical supplies and equipment, vaccines, necessary supplies and equipment for community safety such as face masks, and grocery and paper products are exempt from following the hours of service regulations.
How many times has the FMCSA extended the emergency HOS waiver?
The FMCSA has extended the emergency HOS waiver over the course of 17 months. The most recent extension of the waiver occurred on May 26 of this year; and it doesn’t seem as if the emergency waiver will be lifted anytime soon. Although this extension was set to end on August 31, the emergency HOS waiver was recently extended again by the agency until November 30 of this year.
While the agency continues to extend the emergency HOS waiver to help aid truck drivers responsible for transporting Covid-19 related products, the agency is still unsure about how effective the emergency waiver has been for truck drivers.
What is the FMCSA’s future plans with the HOS waiver?
Because a waiver of this nature has never been issued before, the FMCSA is not aware of how many truck drivers are actually benefiting from the emergency waiver. Due to the nature of the emergency waiver, truck drivers are not obligated to report their hours of operation to the FMCSA.
In an effort to determine how useful the HOS waiver extension is for future extensions, the agency plans to conduct a monthly survey for six months requesting the participation of 1.2 million truck drivers. The agency plans to use the 15 minute survey to gather additional information about how the waiver and even whether the waiver is being used. The FMCSA is currently in the process of seeking approval of the survey from the Office of Management and Budget.
What are some of the potential risks associated with the emergency HOS waiver?
Although the hours of service for truck drivers are temporarily waived for the time being, there are still potential risks when truck drivers are operating commercial vehicles on the road for extended periods of time. The reason why the hours of service were established for truck drivers is to reduce the chance of drowsiness and fatigue.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are 100,000 accidents that occur as a result of truckers falling asleep behind the wheel. Again, because the FMCSA has not collected any information regarding the hours of operation concerning the emergency waiver, it is difficult to determine whether a truck driver has received adequate rest before returning on the road.
How do the hours of service help to prevent driver fatigue?
The hours of service help to prevent driver fatigue by granting truck drivers mandatory breaks between driving shifts. For example, the 14-hour rule prevents truck drivers from driving beyond 14 hours after beginning their shift. Under the 14-hour rule, a truck driver is prohibited from returning on the road until he or she has taken a consecutive ten hour break from their previous shift.
The 30-minute break rule also prevents truck drivers from logging in driving time if the driver has not taken a mandatory 30 minute break in the last eight hours. Finally, the 60-hour and 70-hour limit rule prohibits drivers from operating a commercial vehicle after driving for either 60 hours in the time period of 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in the time period of 8 consecutive days.
What are the potential risks of truck drivers suffering from fatigue?
Truck drivers who suffer from fatigue experience several risky behaviors while operating a commercial vehicle. They may begin to nod off at the wheel, making the chances of a severe trucking accident much more likely. Even more frightening, some truck drivers may try to catch quick periods of sleep, sometimes drifting off to sleep for as long as 30 seconds.
Truck drivers who suffer from fatigue also have slower reaction times to the conditions of the road, from the actions of other motorists to changes in weather conditions. Other dangerous behaviors such as drifting into another lane and losing track of how many miles the driver has traveled can also occur.
Unfortunately, due to the size and weight of large trucks, truck accidents often cause significant damages, including serious injuries and temporary or permanent disabilities. At Cunningham & Mears, we work hard to get you full and fair compensation for all your injuries and harm. To learn more about our services, contact our Oklahoma City truck accident attorneys at (405) 232-1212 to schedule a free initial consultation. You can also complete the contact form for more information.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More