Hours of Service (HOS)
The causes for automobile and trucking-related roadway collisions are many and varied, as anyone who follows the news is no doubt aware. But the effects, though certainly as wide-ranging as the causes, are much more personal. Here in Maryland, several dozen people, on average, die each month as a result of auto accidents, pedestrian collisions and commercial trucking crashes. Close to a thousand other people are injured to some extent every 30 days. Scenarios involving auto-related injuries and highway fatalities play out every week in and around places like Frederick, Rockville and Hagerstown.
As Baltimore personal injury lawyers, the professional legal staff at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, understands that recovering from a serious traffic collision entails more than simply healing from the physical effects of an accident. Many people who are hurt in car, truck and motorcycle wrecks find themselves facing mounting medical bills as a result. Considering how quickly a traffic accident can occur, it’s a fact that the process of recovering damages from a negligent driver is hardly as fast.
As experienced trial attorneys, we know that having a qualified personal injury professional on one’s side can be critical for anyone who has been badly hurt in a roadway accident. The results from car and commercial trucking collisions can be quite painful -- even life-threatening. And anybody who has found themselves in such circumstances knows that the road to recovery can be long and involved, with many doctor visits and various surgical procedures to correct physical problems that another individual has caused.
Some of the more common and often critical injuries that traffic accident victims may receive as a consequence of another driver’s careless or negligent actions include internal bleeding, simple and compound bone fractures, head and brain injuries, amputations, and ruptured internal organs. Some of these injuries can cause death if not treated quickly following an accident. Because accident victims are often incapacitated and unable to function normally as they recover, it is a wise choice to contact a personal injury lawyer to handle that individual’s injury case.
In situations where a passenger car driver or passenger has been sent to the hospital with severe or life-threatening injuries, allowing an experienced auto accident lawyer to begin an investigation is the first step toward recovering financial damages caused by the often reckless actions of another motorist. In the case of trucking-related collisions, one of the biggest causes of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes is trucker fatigue.
Whereas bad weather, poor road conditions or a defective part may be the source of some trucking-related wrecks, driver behavior is known to be a major factor in precipitating traffic collisions between CMVs and other motor vehicles on Maryland beltways and interstates. Drowsy driving has been implicated in numerous roadway collisions, which can occur at high speeds and quite frequently result in potentially greater injury to the victims.
Being aware of the symptoms that signal driver fatigue is an important part of avoiding a serious highway accident between an 18-wheeler or other commercial truck and one or more passenger cars. Some of the physical warning signs include a feeling that things along the roadway are “jumping out” at motorist, the sensation of having “heavy eyelids,” and simply recurrent yawning while behind the wheel.
Fatigued driving can also manifest itself in terms of vehicle operation, such as frequent drifting or wandering outside of roadway lane dividers, significant and undue changes in vehicle speed, as well as slow or delayed response on the driver’s part to changing traffic situations. It is this last point that can often get a commercial truck driver in trouble.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), almost two-thirds of adult drivers in the U.S. have said they felt drowsy behind the wheel within the past year. More disturbing to traffic safety experts is that over one-third of motorists say they have actually fallen asleep at one time or another while driving a motor vehicle. Based on data collected by the NSF, over 10,000 drivers admitted to being involved in a traffic collision due to drowsy driving or because they completely feel asleep behind the wheel.
Commercial trucking experts have known that drowsy or fatigued operation of large commercial vehicles has been and continues to be a serious problem. Because of this, the federal government and state legislatures have adopted what is known as “hours of service” (HOS) regulations in order to limit the number of driving hours that truckers and bus drivers can put in during any period of time. The HOS regulations established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA Part 395.1-15), which now govern truck drivers’ working hours, limit the number of daily/weekly hours expended in the performance of their jobs, as well as regulating the minimum amount of time drivers must spend resting between shifts.
As part of the FMCSA regulations, CMV operators are required by law to maintain a log of their working hours by detailing the total time they spend behind the wheel and resting. The law also requires drivers to record the times at which the change of duty status takes place. Whether kept in a physical logbook or recorded in an electronic on-board recorder (EOBR), the main purpose of tracking a trucker’s driving and resting hours is to prevent fatigue-related accidents.
The effort by federal and state commercial trucking authorities has helped to reduce drowsy-driving accidents over the years. The regulations also aim at keeping fatigue to a minimum by attempting to keep truck drivers on a 21- to 24-hour schedule, which is important to maintaining what sleep experts refer to as a “circadian rhythm,” or natural sleep. By requiring a minimum daily rest period, as well as longer periods of “weekend rest,” the HOS rules are designed to combat potential cumulative fatigue that can take place over the course of a week.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation/cumulative fatigue can begin to affect an individual who fails to get a proper amount sleep -- generally 7 to 8 hours a day (24hrs). Those who remain awake longer than the traditional 16 to 17 hours will often suffer from some amount of sleep deprivation (or sleep deficit). It is important to note that researchers have found that breaking daily sleep into two separate and shorter periods (as opposed to a single, prolonged sleep period) can cause a sleep deficit just as easily as getting less and less sleep overall. Furthermore, sleep deficit cannot be instantly reduced by taking a 7- to 8-hour rest period to make up for earlier lost sleep -- based on scientific studies, it can take two or three traditional sleep cycles for a person to fully regain his or her unimpaired performance.
FMCSA regulations require drivers to note in their log book or EOBR the time/day that each change of duty status takes place, as well as the name of municipality (or highway number/milepost) and the state in which the change occurs. In addition, total miles driven for the day, truck/trailer number, carrier name, and bill of lading number must be recorded. All CMV drivers are required by law to keep in his or her possession a copy of each log page from the previous week (seven days) in the case of a police or motor carrier inspection. There are exceptions, but most long-haul truckers are required to follow these rules.
Enforcement of HOS regulations is typically overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), through the activities of DOT officers in each state. At state-run weigh stations, truckers may routinely have their logbooks checked by law enforcement officials, though random motor carrier stops are not uncommon along interstate corridors. Drivers who do not follow the law, by maintaining an up-to-date log book, or whose information shows a discrepancy, may have their vehicle taken out of service until police can be assured that the driver has accumulated enough off-duty time to be back in compliance.
In cases of commercial vehicle accidents involving injuries or death, the authorities as well as a victim’s attorney will usually want to view the trucker’s logbook to determine if HOS rules were being followed prior to the crash. Repeated, non-accident-related violations can garner thousands of dollars’ worth of fines and possible downgrading of a driver’s rating. In cases of trucking-related injury accidents or fatal commercial vehicle wrecks, the lack of following federal and state HOS regulations may point to negligence on the part of the commercial truck driver.
As Maryland automobile and commercial trucking accident lawyers, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen understands how frustrating it can be to be placed in a physically compromised situation, such as that caused by a bad car or truck collision, and not be able to perform the daily activities that one is used to. Furthermore, to be laid up in a hospital bed while trying to file a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent trucker or commercial trucking company can be nearly impossible. As personal injury attorneys, our goal is to assist victims recover damages represented by medical expenses and lost wages, as well as compensation for pain and suffering.
Those who have been severely injured by a negligent CMV driver should contact a qualified legal professional who understands auto accident law and who has worked with insurance companies to negotiate fair compensation following a bad traffic accident. The professionals at the law offices of Lebowitz & Mzhen are here to help. Please feel free to contact us to arrange a no-obligation consultation at no charge. We can be reached at (800) 654-1949; or you may send us an email, either to Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen so that we can set up a meeting to discuss your case.