Anytime there is a truck accident one of the first things an attorney will try to determine is whether the truck driver had any hours of service violations at the time of the accident, to see if he or she was possibly too fatigued to be driving.
When there are violations this can give rise to an inference that fatigue was a factor in the cause of the accident, which can help prove liability against the defendants in the trucking accident litigation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is part of the Department of Transportation, is the agency which governs the hours that can be worked by commercial motor vehicle drives while going through interstate commerce. One area of regulation is the hours of service (known in the industry as HOS) a driver can drive, and be on-duty on a daily and weekly basis before resting between shifts.
As part of determining the hours of service each driver has, they are required to keep track of the following types of time:
- On-duty time (which includes both driving time, and also time waiting to be loading, and unloading, for example)
- Off-duty time
- Driving time
- Sleeper berth time
There are different regulations in place for property-carrying vehicles versus passenger-carrying vehicles. In addition, the regulations change periodically, as practically at all times some group or another is petitioning to change them, either arguing they are too lax or too strenuous. An experienced trucking accident attorney will be familiar with the main rules, exceptions and ins and outs of these safety regulations, and which regulations apply to each situation.
Reason for Hours of Service Regulations
It is no secret that driving while fatigued can be dangerous for the driver himself but also for others on the road. This is especially true since commercial truck drivers control vehicles which are so large and heavy. That is why the HOS rules are in place – to protect the drivers and public from the dangers of driving while excessively fatigued.
Unfortunately, the enforcement of the HOS regulations relies on self-reporting of the hours driven or on-duty versus off. For monetary gain either the truck drivers or the trucking companies have been known to fudge or forge these records to make them appear they’re complying when they’re really not. An attorney must, therefore, explore in the investigation of any accident whether HOS has been violated carefully.
Paper Based Logs Versus Electronic On Board Recorder Systems
There are two ways truck drivers may keep track of their hours. The first and older method is to use a log book. Below is a picture of a sample log book entry form, which shows how the driver is to keep track of every 24 hour day in 15 minute increments showing when he or she was driving, on-duty, off-duty, or in their sleeper berth.
The second method uses an electronic on-board recorder (EOBR) to keep track of actual driving time, and then the truck driver only needs to report on-duty and off-duty additional time with a paper log.
Signs to Look For In Determining Hours of Service Violations
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for drivers to violate the HOS regulations. Sometimes these violations are apparent on the face of the log book itself. Other times an attorney must dig deeper to figure out that violations have occurred because, as you can imagine, the paper log is much easier for someone to alter if they are interested in driving more hours than allowed by HOS regulations. Of course, drivers may under-estimate their on-duty time even with EOBR too.
Some ways to try to determine if log books have been altered or fudged with low estimates of time driving or on-duty, for example, include the following:
- Comparing both the original and carbon copy of each page of the log book
- Compare the logs to dispatch logs
- Compare the logs to bills of lading
- Compare the logs to trip receipts
- Compare the number of miles stated in the log book to the amount paid during the same period for number of miles driven
To do all these comparisons, it is important to have access to as many different types of records as possible. Unfortunately, many of these log books and other documentation may get lost of go missing the longer the time period between the accident and an attorney being contacted.
To try to avoid this attorneys, will often, in appropriate cases, send a spoliation set-up letter to a trucking company soon after an accident putting them on notice to keep all of these vital documents, and reduce the likelihood of losing access to them for the litigation or settlement discussions.
Starr Austen and Miller, specialized truck accident lawyers in Indiana, focuses on representing individuals and their family members in serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, such as those often involved in Indiana truck accidents. If you or a loved one have been in a truck accident you can contact us for a free consultation to discuss your case.