Drowsy Driving:  Do HOS Rules Make Us Safer from Fatal Truck Crashes?

Drowsy Driving:  Do HOS Rules Make Us Safer from Fatal Truck Crashes?

In an effort to reduce the number of serious and fatal truck crashes in the United States caused by drowsy driving, the federal government has mandated that commercial truck drivers follow Hours-of-Service (HOS) Rules.  We’ve discussed HOS Rules many times before, including the trucking industry efforts and litigation, to try and limit or delay changes to the federal truck driver service rules.   See, e.g.,

But are they effective?  Do HOS Rules imposed on those that drive big rigs, semis, tractor-trailer, and 18 wheelers through Indiana and Illinois as well as the rest of the country make any real difference?

Are we safer from fatal Drowsy Driving truck crashes because of Hour of Service Rules?

What are HOS Rules?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), as an agency of the Department of Transportation, has passed a series of federal regulations known as “hours-of-service” rules.  They’ve been around for a while, these “HOS Rules.”  And they get amended (or suspended) from time to time.

Right now, the FMCSA HOS Rules for drivers of commercial motor vehicles that carry property or passengers include the following requirements (we’ll discuss buses separately):

Commercial Trucks: Property – Carrying (Cargo) HOS Rules

The following Hours-of-Service Rules apply to commercial trucks that are hauling products and freight through Indiana and Illinois:

  1. 11-Hour Driving Limit: The driver can drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  2. 14-Hour Limit: The trucker cannot drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
  3. Rest Breaks: The truck driver can drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes. (Exception: short-hauls under 49 CFR 395.1)
  4. 60/70-Hour Limit: The commercial trucker cannot drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
  5. Sleeper Berth Provision: Truckers driving trucks with a sleeper berth must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.

The Goal: To Help Truck Drivers Get More Rest While Traveling On the Job

The federal government has mandated these hours-of-service regulations to combat the number of serious and fatal commercial truck accidents caused by drowsy driving.  The HOS Rules force rest breaks and sleep schedules into the commercial trucking industry.

Having federal law requiring truck drivers to stop and rest as they drive those big rigs and semis across the country should help the truckers drive more safely.  They should be more rested, and their bodies can depend upon a sleep schedule.

This should curtail drowsy driving in truckers, right?  Well, maybe not.

No Means to Effectively Monitor Truck Driver Hours Spent Driving

Back in 2004, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued a study dealing with the current and then new HOS Rules implemented by the FMCSA.  Their studies back then showed that the HOS Rules did nothing to help matters:  things were no safer with those Hours-of-Service rules insofar as fatal truck crashes and serious truck accidents.  See, “New work-hour rules for truckers won’t improve safety,” published in the IISH Safety Report of June 2003.

What was the problem back then?  According to IIHS, the reason that the federal regulations were not effective against Drowsy Driving was because they had no way to make sure that the truckers were obeying them. 

There wasn’t an effective method to double-check the driver’s schedule on the road and ensure that he or she was pulling over after the daily driving limit, etc.

Now, in 2017, things haven’t changed much.  The HOS Rules were amended after this IIHS Study.  (Read the current final Hours-of-Service Rule here).

Studies still show that truck crashes caused by Drowsy Driving are a real problem in this country.  See, e.g., Anderson, Jason R., et al. “An exploratory study of hours of service and its safety impact on motorists.” Transport Policy 53 (2017): 161-174.

As explained in a 2017 Study published by the University of Iowa and written by Ronald R. Knipling of Safety for the Long Haul, Inc., the Hours of Service Reports fail to include information involving internal validity, external validity, and construct validity, and are therefore incapable of confirming the effectiveness of the HOS Rules.

From Professor Knipling:  “If causal linkages are not real and/or dependent measures not representative of true risk, then changes to HOS rules will likely not result in true safety improvements.”

In other words, 2017 research shows the truck drivers’ reports of their HOS Rule compliance are not complete and trustworthy — there’s no way to verify what’s really going on out there with truckers and their sleep schedules.  (Just like back in 2004.)

Rising Number of Fatal Truck Crashes

So, how about the accident research?  If the HOS Rules are working, then we should be seeing accident statistics going down insofar as the number of fatal truck crashes, right?

From FMCSA’s latest statistics we know:

  • There was an 8% increase in fatal commercial truck and bus crashes in 2015 (from 2014).
  • The number of fatal accidents involving commercial truck and buses jumped 26% from 2009 to 2015.

This means that drowsy driving remains a serious threat to anyone on the roads of Indiana and Illinois.  Truck drivers carrying cargo through our part of the country may be fatigued, loopy, distracted, or downright falling asleep at the wheel.

Given that we drive in one of the most heavily traveled series of roads for commercial trucks here in Indiana and Illinois, it’s extremely important that we are all aware of this risk.

Accident Claims after a Fatal Drowsy Driving Truck Crash

Drowsy driving truck crashes will happen here – lives will be taken and families and friends devastated by the tragedy.  Truck drivers will not mean to crash, but they are under tremendous pressure to get their cargo delivered as fast as possible.  The pressure to keep driving and make time on the roads is immense.

After a fatal truck crash, claims advanced for the victims must include a serious and dedicated investigation into the causes of the accident.  It can be complicated to confirm that the truck driver was driving drowsy, even if there are HOS Regulations in place to try and track his or her daily sleep schedules and rest breaks.

Every day, we share the roads with these huge commercial vehicles.  It’s important to know that the drivers may be exhausted and driving drowsy.  Let’s be careful out there!


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