Hours-of-service regulations and other rules from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are meant to keep roadways safe for all drivers and prevent truck-related injuries and deaths. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, however, the FMCSA has chosen to temporarily suspend hours-of-service regulations “in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks.”
While this unprecedented decision may help truck drivers get medical supplies, groceries, and sanitation equipment to stores and hospitals, it could put everyone on the road at risk.
What Are Hours-of-Service Laws?
Hours-of-service regulations have been around since 1938, and March 14, 2020, marks the first time in U.S. history they have been suspended on a national level. These important rules are part of the well-known and strictly enforced FMCSA regulations, and they limit how much time a driver can spend behind the wheel.
According to hours-of-service laws, truck drivers may not work more than 14 hours without logging 10 hours of off-duty time. Additionally, they must take rest breaks every 8 hours and cannot drive more than 11 hours during a 14-hour work period.
Without these rules, truck drivers can exceed 14 hours behind the wheel and do not have to stop driving for any reason. Although drivers can generally recognize their own biological limits, shipping companies may put them under tremendous pressure and put profits over safety.
If a driver fails to rest regularly and/or get enough sleep, they could create an extremely dangerous situation and cause a devastating truck accident.
A lack of rest and sleep can lead to drowsy driving and have serious consequences. Drivers who get less than 6 hours of sleep per day are more likely to fall asleep while driving.
Aside from falling asleep at the wheel, drowsy drivers can:
- Have trouble paying attention to the road
- Slow their reaction time significantly (for sudden braking and steering)
- Be less able to make good decisions
Drowsy driving is already a large problem for commercial drivers. In the absence of federal trucking regulations, we could see the problem get much bigger.
Criminal vs. Civil Liability
Violating hours-of-service regulations is not a criminal offense for certain drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, truck drivers still have to uphold a duty of care toward other drivers and are responsible for getting enough rest and pulling over if they feel tired.
If you are injured by a tired truck driver, that individual and their employer are unlikely to be charged, but they can still face civil liability.
Please note: our firm supports essential workers and extends our thanks to the responsible drivers who transport crucial goods without incident. Further, COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving public health crisis and you should consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for the most accurate and up-to-date information.