The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the number of hours a day truck drivers can be on our roads. Since 2003, drivers have been limited to 11 hours of duty after 10 hours of rest and a maximum of 60 hours on duty in any given 7 day period.
Drivers who choose to violate these rules are subject to serious penalties. Drivers themselves can face fines from both state and local enforcement officials. Their companies can face civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation in addition to a downgrade of their safety rating for a pattern of violations. Finally, federal criminal penalties can be brought against those carriers and drivers who knowingly and willfully allow Hours-of-Service violations.
The penalties only increase when the trucker and his company attempt to fraudulently record their hours. Just ask Rose and Robert Vyhnalek, former owners of R.J. Vyhnalek Trucking, a Nebraska corporation. The pair were fined more than $50,000 for violations. After pleading guilty to directing their drivers to violate hours-of-service regulations, the pair was each fined $12,500 and ordered to pay another $20,000 in restitution by a federal judge for conspiring to violate FMCSA regulations.
Tired Drivers are Unsafe Drivers
The limits on the hours of service are for good reason. The National Transportation Safety Board estaimtes that as many as 30-40% of all heavy truck accidents are related to truck driver fatigue. In addition to the long hours drivers work, their sleeping conditions are not always the best. Between the long hauls and the uncomfortable hotel beds, tired truck drivers pose a large risk to anyone else on the road.
Researches at Penn State discovered that allowing drivers to stay on the road after the 10th hour of service makes the 11th hour more than three times more dangerous than the first. Dr. Paul Jovanis, who led the study, says that while the risk of crashing was statistically similar during the first six hours on the road, it increased significantly for each hour thereafter.
How Can You Stay Safe?
There is no way that we, as individuals, can force drivers to get the right amount of sleep or to honestly complete their logbooks, but there are some things you can do to keep yourself safe on the road from truckers.
- Try to be at least 10 car lengths ahead of a semi before changing lanes in front of it.
- Stay at least 20-25 lengths behind a trucker when you're in the same lane. If you're not far enough back, he probably can't see you.
- Don't cruise along next to a truck. If you hang out in the blindspot too long, the driver might not notice that you're there.
- Pass trucks on the left, not the right. The truck's blind spot on the right is much larger than the one on the left.
- Pass trucks quickly to increase your visibility and reduce the risk of a side-swipe.