In recent weeks, a U.S. District Court in Arkansas made a monumental ruling that may transform truck driver pay nationwide. Ultimately, it may have a positive effect on negative aspects of the industry, such as the looming driver shortage, a push to side-step hours-of-service regulations and the hard to ignore fact that many of the drivers on the road today are overworked, under-trained and a potential safety hazard to those who share the road with them.
The case arose from events of 2016, when three drivers who worked for PAM Transport, an Arkansas trucking company, sued PAM with the support of 3,000 other drivers for allegedly violating the Fair Labor Standards Act—a federal law that establishes minimum wage for workers in the private sector as well as government jobs. The drivers involved believe that PAM Transport should be paying them for all of the hours they spend on the road, including minimum wage for the time when they are resting, sleeping, or waiting for shipments.
Since filing, PAM has fought the case and the company’s attorneys have made a motion to dismiss it. Yet, Judge Timothy Brooks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas rejected the motion along with declaring current federal laws “ambiguous” in regards to driver regulation. For the employees, the issue centers on a better definition of “on duty”. Previous federal categories only included “on duty; driving” and “on duty; not driving,” but this case now has the court considering what constitutes “hours worked” under federal code.
If truck drivers were compensated for the hours they are not on duty, there might be more candidates willing to take on the profession while those on the road could get the rest they need without jeopardizing the safety of others. Driver fatigue is a more widespread and dangerous problem than many people realize. In fact, a recent study done by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that 13 percent of commercial vehicle crashes are directly linked to fatigue (other studies have estimated a causal rate of more than double this number). Just this July, a tractor trailer drove off of a highway in Washington State and destroyed two homes when the driver reportedly fell asleep. The very same day, a Nevada truck driver who dozed off slammed into a line of four stopped vehicles, ejecting and killing two men from their car.
While this court case is promising for the future of commercial vehicle safety, developments are still far from enacting change with federal regulations. Yet, there are similar cases that show promise; pushing for fair pay from transport companies that would rather see higher profits than ensure the best people are attracted to the job. For instance, C.R. England—a major carrier in the industry—had to pay $2.35 million in back wages to more than 6,000 drivers in 2016. And Werner Enterprises found itself on the wrong side of a 2017 ruling in a Nebraska court that ordered the trucking giant to pay $780,000 to thousands of student truck drivers for pay practice violations.
This is not to say that the decades old practice of paying truckers by miles hauled is about to receive an overhaul, but possibly it will make the point that drivers shouldn’t be penalized for time not spent behind the wheel. It’s often the only time they get to rest and recharge, thus keeping driver fatigue at bay and reducing the risk of major crashes out on the road.
Michael Leizerman is a truck accident attorney specializing in catastrophic multi-axle collisions. He understands all facets of truck accident litigation; including federal regulations, drug and alcohol testing and hours of service requirements. He has authored a treatise entitled Litigating Truck Accident Cases and often educates other attorneys on trucking laws and regulations. You can learn more about Leizerman & Young by visiting their website, www.truckaccidents.com.