In our last post, we began looking at the federal Hours of Service rules, which govern the amount of time commercial vehicle drivers may spend behind the wheel. The Hours of Service rules have gone through some changes in recent years, particularly with respect to the so-called 34-hour restart rule, which specifies the amount of rest required for a trucker to restart his or her work week.
While the current rule does not require drivers to take their rest at specific times, it used to require truckers to include two periods of rest between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. within their 34-hour break. That rule was suspended in 2013 after the trucking industry successfully pressed for the change. The contention was that the rule significantly decreased productivity and had little or no positive effect of highway safety. The rule was suspended so that the matter could be investigated. The matter has yet to be addressed by Congress.
Whatever happens to the 34-hour restart rule, the Hours of Service rules as a whole will continue to be an important avenue for holding fatigued truckers accountable for the injuries they cause when they fall asleep behind the wheel. While these and other safety rules are not necessary to hold negligent truck drivers accountable, they can in some cases help to establish liability. They may even, at least in some cases, possibly affect the types of damages that are available.
Ordinarily, motor vehicle accident victims who build a strong case for negligence will be able to obtain damages for things like medical bills, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. When a commercial vehicle driver voluntarily violates federal safety regulations, though, an additional type of damages may be available. We’ll look at this issue in our next post, and how an experienced attorney can help an accident victim to build the strongest possible case.