Fatigued Tractor-Trailer Drivers are Recklessly Dangerous

On Behalf of | Nov 6, 2017 | Personal Injury, Semi Truck Accidents, Vehicle Accidents, Wrongful Death

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) indicates that “long daily and weekly hours are associated with an increased risk of crashes and with the chronic health conditions associated with lack of sleep.” The FMCSA implements hours of service (HOS) regulations with the goal of reducing the possibility of truck driver fatigue-related crashes.  To advance this effort, the FMCSA Regulations limit when and for how long drivers of commercial motor vehicles are allowed to drive in a given period.

Unfortunately, many drivers fraudulently and recklessly exceed the amount of allowed driving and/or on-duty time.  The Traffic Accident Commission estimates that around 20% of fatal accidents are fatigue-related.  By violating the HOS regulations, tractor-trailer drivers and their employers may be committing recklessly dangerous operations.

Truck drivers may be personally motivated or even pressured by the companies they work for to drive more hours than lawfully allowed.  Many drivers are paid by the number of miles they drive and may face pressure from their employers to deliver freight on a tight or unreasonable schedule despite fatigue, weather conditions, and other unforeseen issues.  These personal and company motivations have a common denominator – to make more money.

Not surprisingly, hours-of-service violations are some of the most common violations of tractor-trailer drivers.  Falsified log books, misreported log books, and manipulated log books are all too often common violations when truck drivers are pressured to deliver loads on tight schedules or make more deliveries or runs than they are legally allowed.

Paoli Law Firm has uncovered cases where tractor-trailer drivers have kept double log books or otherwise falsified log books so that they may under-report their hours “on-duty” or “driving.”  Ultimately, this under-reporting makes it appear that the driver has more available hours to drive, when in actuality violations of the FMCSA Regulations may and usually do exist.  Driving more than the regulations allow causes fatigue and may result in horrible and deadly crashes.

Tractor-trailer drivers and the companies for which they drive are required by federal regulations to monitor and track their hours-of-service whether it be driving, on-duty, in the sleeper berth, or off-duty.  Tractor-trailer drivers are required to keep “log books” and the companies they work for are required to monitor and audit log books.  The hours of service regulations imposed by the FMCSA are critical to the safety of the public to prevent fatigued tractor-trailer drivers from exposing all of us to the horrible risk and mayhem a crashing tractor-trailer rig causes.

Paoli Law Firm represented the family of a deceased young man, who was the victim of a FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (FedEx Ground) driver hauling double trailers from Portland to Minneapolis/St. Paul and New Berlin, Wisconsin.  Paoli Law Firm uncovered the reckless actions of the driver and FedEx Ground that stemmed from FedEx Ground’s complete failure to monitor and track its tractor-trailer driver’s hours-of-service.  This failure was a direct violation of the FMCSA Regulations as well as FedEx Ground’s own policies.  The driver did not meet the requirements of the FMCSA or FedEx Ground’s policies and procedures to be dispatched on any trip.

In its intensive investigation, Paoli Law Firm uncovered documents revealing that the driver routinely violated the hours-of-service rules and falsified his log books.  In fact, the driver was cited for the hours of service log book falsifications, which included the failure to retain his previous 7 days of logs just prior to the wreck, and placed out of service.

Despite the many and routine log book violations and falsifications recorded by FedEx Ground’s driver, on December 26th FedEx Ground assigned the driver a route from Portland, Oregon hauling double trailers.  The driver left Portland on December 27th sometime after 2:50 p.m. when he got fuel with two trailers.  One trailer was due in Minneapolis/St. Paul on December 31st and the second trailer was due in New Berlin, Wisconsin, the following day, 2,050 miles from Portland.  FedEx’s knew that the scheduled delivery of the trailer due in New Berlin, WI could not be accomplished legally.  FedEx Ground’s driver admitted that after driving all day, when he arrived in Mineral County, Montana, and just minutes before he caused a double-fatality wreck, he thought about taking a nap but decided to “go ahead and take off” because he “wanted to get good miles in.”  He also admitted that after reporting the double-fatality wreck to his employer, “all that she thought about was when will we get the load and get the tractor and take it back…”

Ryan Mower, Senior Linehaul Manager at the Salt Lake City FedEx Ground hub, testified in his deposition that FedEx Ground pays drivers by the mile and if a driver fails to deliver a run on time, also known as a “service failure” FedEx imposes adverse consequences in the form of “points reductions.”

If FedEx Ground had abided by the FMCSA regulations and its own policy, this driver should have never been dispatched and this double-fatality tragedy that claimed the lives of two young men would have never happened.  Unfortunately, FedEx chose to dispatch the driver and he proceeded on the route assigned by FedEx.  Tragically, the trip ended when the FedEx driver sped down Interstate 90 through the mountains on the cold, icy night of December 27, 2013.  The driver was exceeding the posted speed limit and was traveling as fast as the tractor-trailer rig would allow.

When the wreck occurred, in order to make the scheduled delivery in New Berlin, Wisconsin the semi tractor-trailer combination still had to be taken over 1,580 miles within 24 hours and stop to unload a trailer in Minneapolis/St. Paul.  All of this would have had to be accomplished on the icy, winter roads.

To improve compliance with the hours-of-service regulations, in February 2016 the FMCSA implemented a rule change that requires most tractor-trailer operators to install and use Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) no later than December 18, 2017.

…a motor carrier operating commercial motor vehicles must install and require each of its drivers to use an ELD to record the driver’s duty status in accordance with subpart B of this part no later than December 18, 2017.  FMCSA §395.8(i)

Electronic log device software automatically records driving time and certain other data and facilitates the completion of hours-of-service logs.  Electronic onboard recorders must be able to track when the truck’s engine is running, record its duty status and ensure that drivers aren’t working more than 14 consecutive hours, including a maximum of 11 actual driving hours within the 14-hour window.  These devices will be used as an alternative to paper logs to record drivers’ hours of service.  Paper logs are still allowed and required for certain drivers – for example, all tractors manufactured before model year 2000.

Some truck drivers adamantly resist electronic logging devices and the close monitoring of their hours-of-service.  Those drivers who are motivated to cheat on their logs may still find a way to do so, although this activity is in direct violation of the FMCSA Regulations.  For example, an approach used to cheat on electronic logs has been to obtain multiple driver ID numbers for an individual driver, thus the electronic system records hours for two drivers when there is actually only one driver.  This method is known as “ghost logs.”  In one tractor-trailer driver online forum a driver asks:

Question:  I’m just curious if anyone has figured out how to work around an eLog?

Answer:  Sure you can… you can drive on another’s log in… and they don’t have to even be in the truck…or in the state for that matter…I’ll explain this further in PM. Not in the forum.

There are also other hacks semi drivers have reported using such as taking the truck out of gear when stuck in traffic so that the log goes from “driving time” to “off duty not driving.”  The new ELD systems are not a fix-all for all driver fatigue scenarios, but are intended to reduce fatigued driving.

Whether paper or electronic hours of service logs are kept, falsified logs are a serious violation.  If you, a family member, or friend are the victim of a commercial motor vehicle accident, Paoli Law Firm has the expertise and knowledge necessary to uncover information and violations the at-fault party doesn’t want you to know.

Call Paoli Law Firm today to see how we can help you. 406-542-3330