Long-distance trucking can be a very dangerous business for drivers and passengers in nearby vehicles. Trucker Andrew Bokelman recently learned this lesson firsthand in a most tragic way. In November 2013, Bokelman was indicted on felony charges stemming from a fiery crash caused when Bokelman nodded off during a 16-hour shift, causing his semitrailer to veer onto the left shoulder. Bokelman smashed head-on into Pennsylvania State Trooper James Sauter’s patrol car. Trooper Sauter died from his injuries and now Bokelman faces up to three years in prison if convicted.
Recognizing the dangers associated with driving with too little sleep, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently strengthened hours of service regulations, which limit how many hours truck drivers can drive without rest. The final rules impose several critical restrictions that became effective July 1, 2013:
1) Limits the maximum average work week to 70 hours per week (down from 82 hours per week)
2) Allows truck drivers to drive in excess of 70 hours per week if the driver rests for 34 consecutive hours ? including between the hours of 1:00-5:00 a.m.
3) Requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.
Under the regulations, drivers are still limited to 11 drive-hours per day and to 14-hour-long workdays. Employers who commit egregious violations of these driving limits (exceeding any limit by three hours) can face up to $11,000 per violation for each offense while drivers can face up to $2,750 for each offense. However, as illustrated by Trooper Sauter’s death, these accidents still occur even with regulations in place. It is still common for employees to feel pressure from their employers to log as many drive hours as possible during a shift.
Driving while exhausted can subject both the trucking company and the driver to civil liability if that sleepiness causes an accident.