When Drinking and Driving Truckers Cause Accidents

November 11, 2019 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
When Drinking and Driving Truckers Cause Accidents

Driving Under the Influence

Drunk driving is the most dangerous behavior on the road. It's even more alarming when the drinking driver is operating a large truck. In 2017, drivers under the influence of alcohol claimed 10,874 lives on American highways. That's primarily because alcohol changes the way drivers interact with everything around them. While under the influence, drivers disregard speed limits, drive distracted, and participate in other risky driving behaviors that endanger others. That risk increases for everyone when a trucker has a few drinks and decides it's still okay to hop into his cab and hit the highway. Truckers have fewer documented drunk driving accidents than non-commercial drivers but the consequences are far more extreme. Large trucks damage multiple vehicles simultaneously. They cause more extensive damage, more injuries, and more fatalities per accident. Because truckers ride in a reinforced, protective environment, the most serious accident-related consequences affect occupants in the other vehicles.

Driving a Large Truck Is Already Complicated

Large trucks are the biggest most formidable vehicles on the road. There's a potential for danger even before a driver adds alcohol. Large trucks are complex machines so they're far more difficult to operate than private passenger vehicles. You can't simply jump into the cab, crank the ignition and go. A trucker needs formal instructions to learn how to start, operate and drive a tractor, a garbage truck, dump truck or any other large heavy-duty commercial vehicle. It takes time on the road to acquire and master proper navigation, steering, and stopping techniques. When a trucker drives at highway speeds, poor driving skills increase his ability to cause damages and injuries. His inexperience becomes more apparent when a tractor-trailer combination weighs more than 10,000 pounds or when the driver is hauling a trailer full of shifting cargo. It takes only an alcoholic drink or two to further enhance a trucker's driving inadequacies.

Real World Truckers DUI: A Delivery Truck Driver Demonstrates How Drinking Compromises Driving Ability

A commercial driver demonstrated how alcohol complicates driving under everyday circumstances. Surveillance video captured the driver as he lost control of his delivery truck. As the allegedly drunk driver completed a turn, he rolled from his truck onto the street and his vehicle continued on without him. Fortunately for nearby drivers and pedestrians, the delivery truck stopped after striking a pole. The driver wasn't wearing his seatbelt when he fell from his truck.

Statistics for Truckers Driving Under the Influence

The 2019 edition of the US Department of Transportation's “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts“ confirms that 4,600 truckers were involved in fatal accidents during 2017. The numbers include combination tractor-trailer rigs and single-unit trucks such as large delivery vans, garbage trucks, and other large commercial vehicles. In the documented 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, the legal BAC limit in most states. Trucker alcohol-related accident statistics seem insignificant when compared to alcohol-related private passenger deaths. In 2017, of the 20,895 private passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes, 20 percent had a BAC at 0.08 percent or above. BACs are deceptive when you think of them in terms of legal blood alcohol levels versus illegal blood alcohol levels. Any alcohol consumption reduces a vehicle operator's ability to drive safely.

Drinking and Driving Is Not Just About Illegal BACs

Truck Accident DUI FloridaIf you simply compare the legal vs illegal BAC percentages, it certainly seems that most truckers are driving sober. It's important to remember that the issue of drinking and driving isn't just about illegal BAC numbers. Trucks can be a hazard on the road whether or not the driver is under the influence. It takes only a small amount of alcohol to increase that hazard.
  • Drinking affects muscle coordination, reaction time, and vision, critical skills that are important to safe driving.
  • Truckers travel on rural and urban interstates across the country. They deliver goods on local streets, access roads, parking lots, and driveways in big cities and small towns. When a trucker drinks and drives, it becomes a factor in whatever he does, wherever he goes.
  • NHTSA statistics in “Traffic Safety Facts: Large Truck “ show that 72 percent of the people killed in fatal large truck accidents were occupants of other vehicles. That's important because no matter what a trucker does, he'll probably make it back home safe and sound. His accident victims might not return home at all.
  • 79 percent of the large trucks involved in fatal accidents were “heavy” trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 26,000 pounds. Alcohol makes it more difficult to control heavy loads. They require a driver's complete attention.
  • 20.7 percent of the large-truck drivers involved in alcohol and non-alcohol-related fatal accidents in 2017 had a history of prior crashes.
  • By the time a long-haul trucker gets caught drinking or drunk behind the wheel, he might very well have endangered drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists over hundreds of miles in multiple states.

Real World Truckers and DUI: An Illinois Court Convicts a Texas Trucker of DUI Charges

When an Illinois State Trooper arrived at an accident scene, a Texas trucker's semi was in a ditch. The driver's clothes and cab smelled like beer, according to the officer. The officer found a half bottle of beer on the ground and a full bottle among the trucker's personal effects. The trucker explained that his brakes and the truck “...wouldn't slow down.” He also said that he was tired as he'd only had two to three hours of sleep. He admitted to having three beers with his dinner. Fortunately, he didn't injure anyone. The trucker failed his field sobriety tests, and his BAC exceeded the legal limit. Because he'd had six or more prior DUI charges, the officer charged him with two Class X aggravated DUI felonies and related charges.

Truckers Should Know Better Than to Drink and Drive

A commercial truck driver controls powerful equipment. They should know that when they lose control on the road, their actions put other people's lives at risk. Truck driving requires skills that don't come naturally. That's a major reason why it's illegal for a driver with a private passenger license to drive a large truck. Truck drivers must train for the right to be truckers. They must complete course requirements and meet stringent guidelines to qualify for a Commercial Driver's Licences. Every state's CDL standard mirrors the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration CDL guidelines. A CDL candidate must obtain a learner's permit, pass written tests, and complete timed skill tests. They must obtain a US DOT Medical Card to confirm that they are physically able to perform the necessary tasks. Commercial drivers should understand the issues concerning alcohol-consumption, truck-driving, and safety. It's included in their CDL licensing training materials so it's hard to miss. In fact, the FMCSA CDL guidelines mention alcohol 47 times. When truckers become active commercial drivers, they must comply with random alcohol and drug testing and enforcement. Of all the drivers on the road, truckers should know better than to drink and drive. Despite all of their training, it happens anyway.

Real World Truckers DUI: An Unlicensed, Drunk and Distracted Trucker Causes a Pileup That Kills Three People

A trucker's dashcam captured the horrific scene as he failed to stop in time and plowed into the rear of vehicles in traffic. The trucker admitted that he'd had five double-shot margaritas. That didn't prevent him from getting into his cab and driving to Pennsylvania. He made it as far as I-83 in Lower Paxton Township before he caused a 12-car pileup that killed two adults and one child. The trucker ran from the scene without talking to anyone. The police tracked him down, and he eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident. The trucker was also driving without a valid license at the time of the crash.

The Problem of Drinking and Driving Truckers

It takes only a small amount of alcohol to diminish a trucker's safe-driving ability. Truckers should understand this because it's a key part of their CDL training. Why, then, do they keep drinking and driving? Although it sounds redundant, the most obvious answer is that truckers who drink on the job despite the consequences most likely have a drinking problem. That problem continues for many reasons.
  • Truckers are mostly self-policing: Long haul drivers, delivery drivers, dump truck operators, and many other commercial truck drivers spend a large portion of their waking hours alone in their trucks. When it comes to alcohol consumption, truckers are essentially self-policing. If they want to drink when they're on the road, there's nobody to stop them or even know what's going on. Given the number of alcohol-related accidents that occur when truckers self-police, the CDL system needs additional monitoring and enforcement consequences.
  • The trucker shortage: The American Trucker Association's “2019 Truck Driver Shortage Analysis“ says there is currently a 60,800 shortage of drivers nationally. Despite the trucking industry's obvious need for truckers, the report further explains that the shortage exists primarily because trucking companies only hire qualified drivers. It's difficult to reconcile this statement with news reports about truckers who not only drink while driving but also drive without a valid CDL.
  • Trucking companies: The FMSCA considers trucking companies the first line of defense in keeping drinking truckers off the road. When truckers drink and drive, it's the employer's duty to figure it out and resolve the issue. Trucking companies are responsible for implementing new-driver testing and existing-driver random testing. Testing guidelines are federally mandated: Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter III, Subchapter B §382, Controlled Substance and Alcohol Use Testing.
Trucking companies must also adhere to §382.217 Employer Responsibilities, which requires trucking companies to make sure employees comply with return to work guidelines after alcohol or substance abuse violations.

Real World Truckers DUI: A Trucker Crashes into a State Trooper and His Car

A trucker struck and injured an Illinois State Trooper while he was directing traffic after an earlier accident. He also damaged the officer's patrol car. The police cited the trucker with DUI, aggravated reckless driving, improper passing of an emergency vehicle, failure to reduce speed, driving with expired license plates, and overweight registration.

The National Transportation Safety Board Has Ideas for Reducing DUIs

Truckers are subjected to random alcohol testing, employee monitoring, job suspensions or losses, and police inspections. Despite active and passive discouragement, some truckers continue drinking and driving. The NTSB deals with alcohol and drug issues across all modes of transportation. Based on their experience investigating serious transportation accidents, they have a few recommendations to help end alcohol and drug-related accidents.
  • 0.05 percent per se BAC Limit: The NTSB believes that a 0.05 percent legal intoxication BAC will motivate drivers to make a choice: Drink or drive. Their research shows that 63 percent of Americans support this change. As of December 2018, Utah was the only state to adopt the 0.05 percent BAC intoxication level. It's the level used by most industrialized nations.
  • High visibility enforcement: A visible police presence reduces alcohol-related crimes. The NTSB also recommends that police officers use alcohol-sensing devices during traffic stops, sobriety checkpoints, and other police contacts.
  • Ignition interlock laws in all states: The NTSB recommends interlock devices for all drivers convicted of alcohol-related offenses. Currently, only 31 states have Interlock laws.
  • Informative programs: Drivers need more information. They need to understand drinking and driving dangers.
  • Stronger laws: Alcohol, legal drugs, illegal drugs, and prescription drugs are a growing concern in all states. The NTSB recommends stronger laws to prevent both drug and alcohol driving violations. At present, there are no standardized drug levels to confirm drug impairment as there are too many variables.

What Should You Do If a Trucker Injures You While Drinking and Driving?

If you're injured in an accident with a trucker who is under the influence of alcohol, you should consult with a truck accident attorney as soon as possible. When drinking and driving are involved, you could encounter unanticipated legal and insurance issues. The driver may have permissive issues due to participating in activities outside of the scope of his employer's permission. The insurance company may choose to deny coverage because drinking and driving is a crime and the consequences are often expected. If you were seriously injured, you need someone with the experience to properly evaluate your case and help you recover damages for your injuries. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/truck-accident-attorneys/


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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