Maryland Commercial Trucking Injury Update: Relating Traffic Accidents to Federal Regulations for Hours of Service

As a Maryland personal injury attorney who represents victims of trucking-related crashes, I understand the various factors that contribute to serious tractor-trailer collisions with passenger cars, minivans and sport utility vehicles. As anyone who has been involved in a traffic wreck with an 18-wheeler knows, the force of such an accident can severely injure or even kill the occupants of the smaller motor vehicle.

Here in Baltimore and other cities and towns across our state, these kinds of car-truck crashes happen fairly often. Similarly, delivery truck and motorcycle wrecks are also common, especially in congested urban areas, as are bicycle-related injury accidents.

In many cases, trucking-related traffic accidents can result in cuts and bruises at one end of the spectrum, while broken arms, crushed tibias, and fractured vertebrae are a examples of more serious bodily injury. Of course, some of the worst would be traumatic brain injury and spinal cord damage. These last two can result in a lifetime filled with multiple surgeries, continuous therapies and even around-the-clock nursing care.

Fatalities are not uncommon, especially when one considers the weight difference between a fully loaded cross-country big rig and a 3,000-pound minivan. Occupants in these smaller vehicles are at much greater risk of being killed when struck by a large tractor-trailer than if their vehicle is hit by another passenger car or light truck.

A percentage of commercial truck crashes can be traced to fatigue, which has become somewhat of a hot-button topic in traffic safety circles. Nearly as dangerous as drunken driving, drowsy driving presents the same threat to the road-going public since the end result — a trucking-related accident — can be just as deadly as that caused by impairment as a result of alcohol or prescription drug use.

Drowsy driving can lead to numerous traffic violations — running a red light, ignoring a red signal, failure to yield and speeding – all of which can lead to an accident. In an effort to reduce the number of fatigue-related trucking accidents the federal government has regulations in place that limit the number of hours a truck driver can spend on the road before taking a break, as well as other requirements.

In fact, the Hours-of-Service regulations found in 49 CFR Part 395 establishes limits for truck drivers and other commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators. Based on extensive scientific research into the effects of fatigue on long-haul truckers, these regulations are meant to ensure that CMV operators get the needed rest in between driving shifts for safe vehicle operation.

Per federal regulations, CMVs are vehicles used as part of a business operation that involves interstate commerce. They fit into the following categories:

— Weight of greater than 10,001 pounds
— Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of over 10,001 pounds
— Designed (or used) to transport 16 or more passengers (driver included) not for compensation; or to transport nine or more passengers (driver included) for compensation
— A vehicle involved in interstate/intrastate commerce that transports hazardous materials in quantities that require safety placards

Several regulations apply to the driving time an operator is limited to, depending on particular circumstances. For operators of property-carrying vehicles (non-passenger, such as buses or limousines) this includes:

1) An 11-hr limit following 10 consecutive hours of being off-duty

2) A 14-hr limit for drivers coming on duty following 10 consecutive off-duty hours; additional off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour limit.

3) A 60- (or 70-) hour on-duty limit over 7 (or 8) consecutive driving days. This means that a driver may not drive any additional hours following 60 (or 70) hours of on-duty operation in a 7- (or 😎 day continuous time period. Once a driver reaches this limit, he or she may restart a 7 (or 8) consecutive day driving period following a minimum of 34 hours of consecutive hours off-duty.

4) A sleeper berth provision requires drivers that have access to a sleeper berth to take at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus an additional two-hour period either off-duty or, again, in the sleeper berth; or any combination of these last two.

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