The very nature of being a long-haul truck driver involves spending many hours driving. Naturally, spending many hours sitting behind the wheel may induce fatigue in the driver. This fatigue increases the risk of danger for both the truck driver and anyone else who may be on the road.
It comes as no surprise then that long-haul truck drivers may cause serious and devastating injuries due to excessive work demands that have them working incredibly long hours. In 2015 alone, nearly 4,000 people died in accidents involving large trucks. Nearly seventy percent of those deaths were occupants of cars and passenger vehicles. Another fifteen percent were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists. Large Trucks, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety- Highway Loss Data Institute, http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucks#cite-text-0-0 (last visited June 30, 2017).
Recognizing the inherent danger that comes with driving for extended periods of time, various federal and state regulations have been passed. On a generalized scale, federal regulations prohibit the operation of a motor vehicle “while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him to begin or continue to operate the motor vehicle,” except in cases of emergency. 49 C.F.R. § 392.3.
More specific to trucks, the United States Department of Transit has promulgated regulations limiting the number of hours that long-haul truck drivers may log without resting. 49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a). Under this regulation, drivers may operate a truck for up to 11 hours within a given 14-hour period following at least 10 hours off duty. Id. Of those 11, one may drive up to 8 consecutive hours without a rest. Id.
New Jersey has adopted this regulation, albeit with some modifications. N.J.A.C. 13:60-2.1. In New Jersey, a driver may drive for up to 12 hours within a 16-hour period following at least 10 hours off duty. Again, up to 8 hours may be consecutive before a 30-minute rest is required. N.J.A.C. 13:60, Appx.
Despite these regulations, surveys indicate that many drivers work more than permitted. Anne T. McCartt, et al., M.G., Work Schedules of Long-Distance Truck Drivers Before and After 2004 Hours-of-Service Rule Change, 9 Traffic Injury Prevention 201 (2008). This may occur for various reasons. Sometimes employers set performance expectations that do not allow for breaks. Some drivers simply choose not to obey them. Other times drivers work while fatigued because noise, vibration, movement, climate control, or light make it difficult to obtain adequate rest while on the road.
When trucking accidents happen, the employer may become liable for the driver’s carelessness under what is known as respondeat superior. Carter v. Reynolds, 175 N.J. 402, 408 (2003); see also Galvao v. G.R. Robert Constr. Co., 179 N.J. 462, 467 (2004) (“The employer, having set the whole thing in motion, should be held responsible for what has happened.”). Accordingly, where a truck driver becomes involved in an accident with the truck, the employer may be held liable for the driver’s negligence. The employer may also face liability for failing to ensure that the employee complied with maximum hours regulations, for creating job expectations that require the employee to drive beyond the normal limits of endurance, or for establishing a trucking operation that does not take driver fatigue into account. David N. Nissenberg, Law of Commercial Trucking: Damages to Persons and Property § 7.18 (Joseph Bannon ed., 3d ed. 2017).
If you believe you may have suffered an injury as a result of the negligence of a truck driver, or a truck driver who violated federal regulations, contact Cliff Bidlingmaier at 215-970-2755 for your free consultation.