Due to the differences in size and weight between a passenger car or SUV and a large commercial tractor-trailer, an accident involving the two generally has dire results for the occupants of the smaller vehicle. If your 4,000-pound car is hit by an 80,000-pound 18-wheeler, you’re likely to suffer major vehicle damage and catastrophic injuries, if not death. One of the leading causes of disastrous commercial semi-truck crashes is driver fatigue. Truckers are often under pressure to meet strict delivery deadlines and might be driving when tired or drowsy from being on the road too long.
FMCSA Hours-of-Service Regulations
To reduce the number of accidents caused by driver fatigue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) established strict hours-of-service (HOS) regulations that specify the number of hours a trucker may operate on the road between rest breaks, as well as the number of hours of rest required between stints behind the wheel. The FMCSA’s hours-of-service regulations apply to any truck or other commercial vehicle that weighs more than 10,000 pounds and transports cargo or passengers as part of an interstate commercial business.
Hours-of-Service Rules for Drivers Transporting Cargo:
- May drive up to 11 total hours within a period of 14 hours after having at least ten consecutive hours off duty
- Must spend a minimum of seven consecutive hours, plus at least two other hours, in a sleeper berth before going back on duty
- Must take an uninterrupted half-hour break from driving after eight total hours behind the wheel
- May spend the half-hour break resting, sleeping, or riding as a passenger
- May not drive more than 60 total hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days.
- Must take at least 34 hours off duty, including at least two periods between 1:00 and 5:00 a.m. at the home terminal, before starting a new seven- or eight-day driving period
- May extend the 11-hour and 14-hour limitations above by as much as two hours when weather or road conditions require slower-than-normal speeds
These regulations control not only drivers of conventional semi-trucks but also operators of car haulers, dump trucks, and vehicles towing or transporting heavy construction equipment like bulldozers and backhoes.
Break Restrictions for Drivers Transporting Passengers
Bus drivers and others transporting passengers in large commercial vehicles have slightly different restrictions. They may drive up to ten hours within a period of 15 hours after at least eight hours off duty. Otherwise, they’re required to follow the same guidelines that cargo carriers must follow.
What Is the Short-Haul Exception?
There are minor exceptions to the regulations above for “short-haul” drivers who operate only within a 150-mile radius of a home terminal.
You Could Be Owed Compensation for Damages
If you’ve been in an accident caused by a fatigued truck driver who has negligently violated the FMCSA hours-of-service regulations above, you’re entitled to compensation for your resulting medical bills, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering. Proving that the trucker has violated HOS rules, however, can be difficult and usually requires the services of an experienced truck accident lawyer.
Proving Hours-of-Service Violations With the Help of an Attorney
Trucking companies are required by law to make sure their drivers comply with FMCSA hours-of-service regulations, and all commercial truckers must fill out and maintain logbooks documenting their hours on duty and breaks. These logbooks can provide information vital to your damage claim if you’ve been in an accident caused by a fatigued trucker. Other crucial data showing when a truck is moving or still and how many miles it travels between stops can be obtained from the truck’s black box recorder and other onboard devices.
This data, however, is in the possession of the trucking company, which often erases or discards it monthly, so it’s important to contact a truck crash attorney as soon as possible after your accident. Your lawyer can subpoena the trucker’s logbooks and send the trucking company a spoliation letter advising them that the truck’s recorded information is relevant to an ongoing damage claim and must not be destroyed.
Common Truck Crash Injuries
Injuries commonly sustained by occupants of a smaller vehicle in an accident with a semi-truck include:
- Broken or crushed bones
- Dislocated joints
- Lacerations and scars
- Whiplash and other neck injuries
- Internal bleeding and organ damage
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Don’t Accept a Quick Settlement
Because serious injuries like these often require surgery and/or other costly medical treatment, as well as a lengthy recovery period during which the victim cannot work, truck crash claims are very expensive for the at-fault trucker’s insurance company. It will generally try to delay, devalue, or deny your damage claim in order to save money for its shareholders.
An insurance adjuster might make you a quick, lowball settlement offer before you have any idea of what your medical bills will come to. You should never accept such an offer before consulting a lawyer. If you’ve lost a loved one in a fatal truck crash, your attorney can also help you to file a wrongful death action against the appropriate defendant(s).
There Might Be Multiple Defendants in Your Case
In a car-truck accident, there could be more than one defendant who bears responsibility for your damages. Not only the trucker who violated HOS regulation but also the company who allowed HOS violations is liable. If these defendants have different insurance companies, you might have to file damage claims against two insurers and negotiate with each for a fair award. If a reasonable offer is not forthcoming, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against one or both defendants and fight for a fair settlement in court.
The insurer’s lawyers know that you’re not likely to sue without the help of an attorney and won’t take you seriously if you don’t have legal representation. If you have a lawyer, however, the insurer will know you mean business and is more likely to offer you fair compensation in order to avoid the time and expense of a court case.
Have You Been Injured in a Conway, South Carolina, Truck Accident?
If you've been hurt in a truck accident, you should speak with an experienced South Carolina truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Conway office directly at 843.248.7486 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach, Florence, or North Charleston office locations.