Reasons For Hours of Service
The Regulations concerning how long a driver may operate a CMV without a break, how often his time limitations re-set, and how various activities such as waiting on a load are counted are some of the most litigated topics in trucking cases. The goal of these “hours of service” rules is to prevent fatigue, as numerous studies have demonstrated the danger posed by fatigued CMV drivers. These rules have undergone changes over the past few years, with new limits imposed. A concurrent area of inquiry concerns the proper logging and verification of the hours a driver spends behind the wheel. On occasion, drivers have been known to falsely prepare logs that purport to show compliance with the Regulations even though they do not truly represent the time spent on the road. A motor carrier cannot turn a blind eye to this situation, much less encourage it. Ferreting out the truth about driving time and the efforts made to monitor compliance can be critical in determining why an incident occurred.
Regulations And Exceptions For HOS
The FMCSA deemed the hours of service (HOS) rules as important enough to warrant their own separate subpart in the Regulations, found at Part 395. In any trucking case, it is important to be familiar with these Regulations and know how to read a driver’s daily log. The Regulations also contain exceptions from the requirements. While some of these are esoteric (i.e., those applicable to grape transporters in New York during harvest), others are frequently encountered (100 air-mile radius drivers). Familiarity with the hours of service rules will enable counsel to ask the proper questions and accurately assess the possibility of driver fatigue.
Please note that, in many instances, the Regulations provide a detailed analytical structure for calculating whether a driver may operate a CMV in a given scenario. This book does not purport to diagram every aspect of the calculations that may be involved in every possible scenario. Instead, the focus attempted herein is to provide an overview and an appropriate level of detail in order to enable the user to appreciate the general rules that govern hours of service, along with a discussion of the more common issues and examples that arise under the Regulations.
Furthermore, it is suggested that counsel become familiar with the definitions of the terms used throughout the HOS rules. These definitions, of which there are approximately sixteen. While these blog posts will address the definitions as necessary to further the discussion offered herein, a working familiarity with all of the definitions is important.
The complexity involved in determining whether there has been an HOS violation may require an expert to review the driver logs. Even a personal review by counsel may miss or fail to appreciate some subtlety that a former DOT inspector or FHWA auditor could readily spot. Further, the time involved in painstakingly assembling a driving history from the logs, checking (and double checking) to make certain that no exception applies, and then comparing that history with QUALCOMM messaging, vehicle position history, and fuel, toll, and weigh station receipts or other supporting documents, can be daunting. A useful analogy is that of assembling a thousand-piece puzzle where the pieces are poorly photo-copied images containing small type and indecipherable handwriting, and which may not even fit together well. Therefore, if a fatigue problem is suspected, but a basic level log review fails to uncover a violation, strong consideration should be given to retaining someone who is fully versed in the calculations. That person can advise on, and possibly assist with a diagram that spotlights, any HOS violations in a way that can be easily grasped by a jury, judge, mediator, or, perhaps most importantly, insurance adjustor.