Electronic Logs Could Prevent Truck Accidents Caused by Fatigued Drivers

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A commercial motor coach company in Georgia was recently shut down due to a variety of violations that federal regulators said made its vehicles an “imminent hazard” on roadways, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Woodburn’s Tour and Travel, LLC (also known as Woodburn’s Motor Coach) was put out of service for failing to properly inspect its vehicles and to make sure its workers had negative drug and alcohol results before employing them. It further failed to monitor its employees to ensure they followed rules banning controlled substances, the FMCSA said.

Another violation is particularly notable in light of a recent proposal by FMCSA to increase driver and company accountability when it comes to liability in truck accidents. Woodburn’s Motor Coach did not collect hours-of-service records from its employees or obtain other mandatory documentation of travel, such as driving itineraries and fuel receipts.

Hours-of-service rules place limits on how long truck drivers can stay behind the wheel before resting. The life of a trucker means driving for long periods of time, often on tight deadlines and on roads that can transition between busy urban ones to long, flat rural roads. Both types of roads can be deadly when it comes to tractor-trailer crashes because crowded city streets require quick reaction times in emergencies and particular alertness for pedestrians and other vehicles.

Rural roads, by contrast, make for monotonous journeys. Fatigued drivers can quickly become drowsy and fall asleep behind the wheel, which is equally hazardous for every motorist, including themselves.

Some lawsuits involving truck accidents center on hours-of-service violations, both on the part of the truck driver and/or their employers. Some companies put pressure on their drivers to falsify their hours-of-service records so that they can meet unreasonable delivery deadlines, regardless of how long that driver has been awake and on the road.

Historically, all hours-of-service documentation has come in paper form. However, FMCSA has introduced a proposal to place electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial motor vehicles to decrease the likelihood of fraudulent reporting. Electronic logging could prevent as many as 2 fatigue-related fatalities and 434 injuries per year, the agency estimates.

Impaired driving has been listed as a factor in more than 12 percent of the 129,120 total crashes involving large trucks and buses in 2012.

Electronic logs would provide an added benefit to companies themselves, the FMCSA said. Electronic reporting would reduce the amount of paperwork that would have to be tracked each year. Currently, the hours-of-service documentation is the second-highest amount of government paperwork that must be filed aside from tax filings.

Current Hours-of-Service Requirements

In 2013, FMCSA adopted new hours-of-service rules in an effort to reduce the number of drowsy driving accidents involving large commercial vehicles.

According to the rule, new hours-of-service regulations:

  • Limit the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, a decrease from the current maximum of 82 hours.
  • Allow truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week to resume if they rest for 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights when their body clock demands sleep the most – from 1:00-5:00 a.m.
  • Require truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

Overall, drivers still have an 11-hour daily driving limit and 14-hour work day.

There are stringent penalties in place for drivers or employers who violate the hours-of-service requirements. Sadly, the threat of those penalties isn’t always enough to stop truckers and companies from breaking the rules, and the consequences can be tragic for other motorists or their families.

Victims of a serious truck crash may be able to obtain compensation to help with recovery from their injuries. Courts could also authorize wrongful death awards to dependents of a family member who has lost a loved one in a truck accident. These types of collisions are incredibly complex areas of the law that involve both state and federal statutes, so it is worthwhile to contact an attorney to help you determine whether you have a case.

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