Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Journal

At the 2014 AAJ Convention in Baltimore, I had the privilege of being appointed Co-Chair of the Peer Review Committee for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Journal. The Journal is a quarterly publication intended to address cutting-edge issues affecting trucking safety and the specialized area of legal practice. Articles are authored by the chosen contributors from among the hundreds of members of this group. 

Lack of Side Guards on American trailers poses safety risk to American drivers

People may be surprised to learn that many other country safety standards exceed U.S. standards regarding truck-trailers. One example is the area of side “underride” protection. Because a trailer lies much higher than a standard passenger vehicle, when an automobile runs into the rear of a trailer, the results were normally devestating and severe injuries or death would often occur when the car went under the trailer. Then, new industry standards were introduced that required the use of “guards” on the rear of trailers. These guards kept automobile passengers from passing under the rear of the trailer and would often save lives.

However, in the United States, the same standard was not required on the side of truck-trailers. When a truck pulls out in front of an oncoming car, the car will usually go under the higher trailer, causing greater damage than if the side had been guarded.

Many other countries have implemented mandatory safety guards on the sides of trailers. One example is shown below:

(Note that both the rear and sides are guarded by a protective railing not found on the sides of U.S. tractor-trailers)

New minimum insurance limits proposed for interstate trucking companies

Currently pending is proposed leglislation to increase the minimum mandatory insurance limits to be carried by interstate trucking companies. The minimum, set in 1980, for non-hazmat trucks that exceed 10,000 pounds gross weight is only $750,000.

Given the potential for catastrophic and life-altering injuries which can occur on truck vs. automobile collisions, this increase is vital. In many instances, the costs of medical care alone can exceed the current minimums and leaves nothing for non-economic human losses for elements including pain and suffering, permanent injury, mental anguish, and impairment of capacity to enjoy life.

In sum, the minimum insurance requirements have not kept pace with ever increasing costs of healthcare and inflation. These increases are needed to address this shortfall.

Trucking industry-oriented groups have claimed there is not enough data of catastrophic claims to support the mandatory increase and have voiced opposition to the increases. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has wisely chosen to study this issue and to consider changes for the protection of all motorists. Many trucking companies lack assets which leave many people and families vulnerable to having to rely solely on government assistance in the event they should suffer serious injuries. Stay tuned and let’s all hope these long-overdue and important changes are made. 

How do trucking companies hire drivers?

Trucking companies must investigate the background of every prospective driver.  The federal regulations require it.  Since turnover of truck drivers can be high and many drivers jump from job to job, the company safety director may need to contact many different past employers. The reason for this is simple: a truck company should not hire a driver who has a poor driving history or had problems in his or her past jobs.

When a truck company does not fully investigate both the driving history and the full employment history of the driver, dangerous drivers can cause catastrophic damage on our highways and interstates.  Here are some real life examples of cases I have handled where people were injured:

1. a truck company hired a driver with two felony drug convictions, multiple speeding violations, multiple over-hours violations and had driven for five different companies over the previous three years.  Not surprisingly, this driver had three “accidents” on his current job.  At the last accident, he fled the scene and the police discovered methampethamine in his truck cab with pipes and burners along with an unathorized female escort.

2. a large, mullti-national truck company hired a driver who could not read english and could not pass even the most basic written safety test. The company helped the driver cheat on the test and sent her out on long trips.  She and her husband were involved in a fatal “accident” on a U.S. interstate in inclement weather.  Both drivers had not been properly trained in inclement weather driving.

3. a large truck company hired a driver with a known medical condition that may have contributed to his failing to keep a proper lookout and colliding into the rear of a vehicle stopped on the interstate.

Truck companis must hire only qualified, professional drivers.  When these drivers are involved in accidents, the primary fault falls with the truck company that allowed the bad drivers on the road in the first place.

Summary of new hours of service rules for trucking companies

Summary of Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations

Who Must Comply   HOS Final Rule
Most drivers must follow the HOS Regulations if they drive a commercial motor vehicle, or CMV.

In general, a CMV is a vehicle that is used as part of a business and is involved in interstate commerce and fits any of these descriptions:

  • Weighs 10,001 pounds or more
  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation
  • Is designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation
  • A vehicle that is involved in Interstate or intrastate commerce and is transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards is also considered a CMV
  The Hours of Service of Drivers Final Rule [Download PDF Version] was published in the Federal Register on December 27, 2011. The effective date of the Final Rule was February 27, 2012, and the compliance date of remaining provisions was July 1, 2013. The links below provide more details regarding the HOS Final Rule:

Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations – Comparison

Comparision to Prior Rule. [Download PDF Version]

PROVISION PRIOR RULE UPDATED RULE – COMPLIANCE DATE
JULY 1, 2013
Limitations on minimum “34-hour restarts” None (1) Must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., home terminal time.
(2) May only be used once per week, 168 hours, measured from the beginning of the previous restart.
Rest breaks None except as limited by other rule provisions. May drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes. [49 CFR 397.5 mandatory “in attendance” time for hazardous materials may be included in break if no other duties performed]
PROVISION PRIOR RULE UPDATED RULE – COMPLIANCE DATE
FEBRUARY 27, 2012
On-duty time Includes any time in CMV except sleeper-berth. Does not include any time resting in a parked vehicle (also applies to passenger- carrying drivers). In a moving property-carrying CMV, does not include up to 2 hours in passenger seat immediately before or after 8 consecutive hours in sleeper-berth.
Penalties “Egregious” hours of service violations not specifically defined. Driving (or allowing a driver to drive) more than 3 hours beyond the driving-time limit may be considered an egregious violation and subject to the maximum civil penalties. Also applies to passenger-carrying drivers.
Oilfield exemption “Waiting time” for certain drivers at oilfields (which is off-duty but does extend 14-hour duty period) must be recorded and available to FMCSA, but no method or details are specified for the recordkeeping. “Waiting time” for certain drivers at oilfields must be shown on logbook or electronic equivalent as off-duty and identified by annotations in “remarks” or a separate line added to “grid.”

Summary of HOS Regulations as of July 1, 2013
The following table summarizes the HOS regulations for property-carrying and passenger-carrying drivers. 
[Download PDF Version]
 
HOURS-OF-SERVICE RULES
PROPERTY-CARRYING DRIVERS PASSENGER-CARRYING DRIVERS
11-Hour Driving Limit
May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
10-Hour Driving Limit
May drive a maximum of 10 hours after 8 consecutive hours off duty.
14-Hour Limit
May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
15-Hour Limit
May not drive after having been on duty for 15 hours, following 8 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time is not included in the 15-hour period.
Rest Breaks
May drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes. [49 CFR 397.5 mandatory “in attendance” time may be included in break if no other duties performed]
60/70-Hour Limit
May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
60/70-Hour Limit
May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty. Must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. home terminal time, and may only be used once per week, or 168 hours, measured from the beginning of the previous restart.
Sleeper Berth Provision
Drivers using a sleeper berth must take at least 8 hours in the sleeper berth, and may split the sleeper-berth time into two periods provided neither is less than 2 hours.
Sleeper Berth Provision
Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.