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Sleepy Tennessee Truck Drivers at the Heart of New FMCSA Hours-of-Service Rules

Drowsy or fatigued driving leads to over 100,000 motor vehicle accidents each year, killing 1,550 people and causing over 40,000 injuries according to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are working to prevent fatal car accidents and other motor vehicle crashes that result in injury by focusing on preventing fatigued driving.

The FMCSA recently announced new rules related to hours of service for truck drivers, aimed specifically at curbing drowsy driving of semi- and other cargo-trucks. The current 11-hour daily limitation on truck drivers will remain, but limits on hours worked per week as well as mandatory rest breaks are part of the new rules that take effect in late February of 2012.

The specific number of Memphis truck accidents, as well as truck, crashes elsewhere throughout the country, directly attributable to fatigued driving is unknown. However, it is known that a fatigued driver, whether behind the wheel of a car or truck, usually has a slower reaction time, impaired judgment while behind the wheel and his or her ability to otherwise drive safely is directly interfered with by lack of sleep.

The FMCSA believes that the new hours of service laws will have the greatest impact on long-haul truck drivers who work 70+ hours per week. Although the 11-hour limitation is not new, the 70 hour average per week limitation is 12 hours lower than the current limit of 80.

The new rules change the definition of ‘on duty’ as used to calculate the hours driven in a day and in a week. Currently, any time a driver is in his or her truck and not in the sleeper berth is considered ‘on duty’ time. Under the new rules, drivers will be allowed to rest/ride for up to two hours in the passenger seat as well directly following or leading up to eight hours in the sleeper cabin. Drivers may also rest in the driving cabin of a parked semi without that time counting as ‘on duty’ time.

Truck drivers must take a 30-minute break after if they choose to drive longer than eight hours at a time. Drivers who violate the 11-hour limitation on daily work may face civil fines up to $2,750 for each offense. Trucking companies that encourage drivers to violate the 11-hour daily limit may face fines up to $11,000 per offense.