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Alcohol or Drug Involvement in Truck Accidents
Alcohol or Drug Involvement in Truck Accidents
Truck driver drug and alcohol abuse is a serious problem. Driving while impaired, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is the obviously extremely dangerous behavior. It’s even more alarming when the intoxicated or inebriated driver is operating a large truck. Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are supposed to be drug and alcohol-free. In 1991, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act, which requires Department of Transportation agencies across the nation to regularly test their drivers for drugs and alcohol.
A driver who fails a drug and alcohol test or is arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be disallowed to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Section 383.37 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Regulations require an employer to disqualify such a driver from operating a CMV from a year to life, depending on the violation(s).
Perhaps due to those consequences, truckers do have fewer documented drunk driving accidents than non-commercial drivers. But that statistic can be a bit misleading. According to the 2019 edition of the US Department of Transportation’s “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts“ 4,600 truckers were involved in fatal accidents during 2017. In those fatal accidents, 3.6 percent of the commercial drivers tested positive for Blood Alcohol Concentrations of 0.01 percent and above. Only 2.5 percent of the drivers tested positive for a BAC of 0.08 percent or above, which is the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration in most states.
So, based on those statistics, it indeed seems that alcohol related trucking accidents are much less than to alcohol-related private passenger deaths, which is around 20% with a BAC at 0.08 percent or above. But BACs are deceptive when you think realize ANY alcohol consumption reduces a vehicle operator’s ability to drive safely.
If you simply compare the legal vs illegal BAC percentages, it certainly seems that most truckers are driving sober. But trucks can be a hazard on the road regardless of whether the driver is under the influence. It takes only a SMALL amount of alcohol to increase that hazard. Some of the ways drugs or alcohol can affect one’s ability to drive safely include:
- Impaired muscle coordination, reaction time and vision.
- Impaired ability to concentrate. Alcohol makes it harder to concentrate and make split-second decisions. A driver may look away from the road for a little too long or fail to see oncoming traffic.
- Poor decision-making ability.
- Delayed reaction time.
NHTSA statistics show that 72 percent of the people killed in fatal large truck accidents were occupants of other vehicles.
Commercial drivers should understand the issues concerning alcohol-consumption, truck-driving, and safety. It’s included in their CDL licensing training materials. The FMCSA CDL guidelines mention alcohol 47 times. Truckers should know better than to drink and drive.
Despite industry-wide testing for both drugs and alcohol, truck DUIs still happen. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has conducted studies concerning drug usage in truckers, finding that drug abuse has been a major contributor to both non-fatal and fatal truck accidents across the country.
Statistics for Drug & Alcohol Use Among Truck Drivers
A review published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine indicated that drug and alcohol use among truck drivers was high due to job stress, the long hours, and the availability of drugs and alcohol at rest stops and gas stations. Amphetamines and cocaine can help drivers stay awake, but can also cause dangerous side effects such as hallucinations and vertigo.
The problem continues for many reasons.
- Commercial truck drivers spend most of their work time alone in their trucks. If they want to drink or take drugs when they’re on the road, there is little ability to monitor.
- The FMSCA holds trucking companies accountable for driver testing and monitoring. When truckers drink and drive, it’s the employer’s duty to figure it out and resolve the issue. Testing guidelines are federally required. But compliance may be another matter.
Drug use is common in the trucking industry due to the long hours behind the wheel. Methamphetamines and other stimulants tend to be popular among truck drivers as they combat driving fatigue. Some of these substances are not easily detected by drug tests. An NTSB study indicated that 85% of truck drivers admitted that methamphetamines are easily found at truck stops.
Other Responsible Parties
The driver may not be the only one to blame in a trucking accident involving alcohol or drugs. The employer or trucking company may have to pay damages as well. Identifying and making a claim against the company, employer or other defendants is important. They may have “deeper pockets,” or a greater ability to pay damages if they are liable.
Liability may be imposed upon the employer or trucking company through one of several legal theories. An employer is usually liable for the negligent actions of its employees or agents. So, if the truck driver drives while drunk or on drugs, the employer may also be liable for damages that result.
The direct actions of an employer may also lead to liability, For instance:
- The driver was held to an unrealistic deadline: The U.S. Department of Transportation outlines the maximum number of hours that drivers can drive in a given time and the amount of time off that they must have in between shifts. If an employer requires its employee to drive beyond the legal limits, the employee may resort to narcotics or other substances to stay awake. While the employer did not directly supply the drugs, a jury may determine that the employer’s actions had a direct effect on the driver’s choice.
- The driver had a previous record: Employers may be liable if they knowingly hired someone with a previous alcohol-related offense or if the employer knew that the driver had a drug or alcohol problem and allowed the driver to continue to work.
- Employee training does not address drinking: It is an employer’s duty to outline appropriate workplace behavior. This should include a policy regarding drinking on the job. A company may be liable if it does not have a policy regarding drinking, if it failed to disclose the policy to the employee, or if it did not have an appropriate disciplinary process.
Common Injuries After Truck Accidents
In 2017, over 4,100 people died in an accident involving a large truck. With the average truck weighing 20 to 30 times that of a passenger vehicle, the potential for damage is extraordinarily high. Even low-speed accidents can result in serious injuries. Some of the most common injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries: A TBI occurs when there is damage to the brain due to a blow or even whiplash. This can be from a blow to the head or a penetrating wound that reaches the brain. Signs of a traumatic brain injury include loss of consciousness, headaches, memory issues, dizziness, and vomiting.
- Spinal cord injuries: A serious accident can cause irreversible damage. In many cases, a spinal cord injury will result in permanent paralysis.
- Fractures: Broken bones are some of the most common injuries after an accident. It can take months for the bone to fully heal.
Potential Damages for Alcohol, Drug Abuse & Trucking Accidents
Whether you are making a claim against an employer / trucking company or against the drunk driver, or both, an experienced truck accident attorney can help you get the compensation to which you are entitled. Compensation is designed to make you whole or put you back in the position you would have been in if the accident had not occurred.
The damages to for which you may be entitled to compensation may include:
- Medical costs: Injuries may require extended hospital stays or ongoing treatment. Medical costs can include doctor visits, medical imaging, medication, physical therapy, surgeries, and medical transportation.
- Lost wages: An injury can leave you unable to return to work. Lost wages cover actual time missed from work as a direct result of the accident. If the accident resulted in a permanent disability, you may have a claim for future earnings and lost earning capacity.
- Pain and suffering: An accident can cause tremendous physical and emotional pain. Pain and suffering include physical pain, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These damages can also include loss of enjoyment and loss of companionship.
- Wrongful death: Accident involving large trucks often result in fatalities. After the death of a loved one, the surviving members can file a claim for wrongful death to help alleviate the financial hardship of an accident and financially compensate for the emotional grief. Costs may include unpaid medical bills, funeral costs, loss of consortium, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering.
- Punitive Damages: These damages punish individuals or companies who engage in bad behavior that goes beyond negligence. If a truck driver who drinks or takes drugs, and drives, is considered to have been reckless and shown disregard for the safety of others on the road, punitive damages are possible.
The Importance of Legal Representation
If you are injured in a truck accident, you deserve fair and just compensation. Though money won’t take away your pain, it can help you get the care you need, or assist family for any loss they suffer due to the accident victim’s injuries or death.
Truck accidents are complex and may involve multiple parties subject to different rules and regulations. An experienced personal injury attorney can fight for your rights and make sure that all parties are held responsible. If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident involving a drunk driver or a driver under the influence of drug, the truck accident lawyers of VanDerGinst Law can help. Call 800-960-8529 or click here for a FREE, no obligation consultation.
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