Truck Drivers Drinking on the Job
Despite decades of safety campaigns, alcohol impairment remains the leading cause of highway accidents across the country. Truckers who drive drunk in Florida put both themselves and other drivers at risk. Truckers undergo extensive training; they complete commercial driving courses and must pass a stringent licensing process. During this preparation, truckers learn about the consequences of driving drunk on the job. Accordingly, they are familiar with cause and effect and how drunk driving can result in serious injuries and fatalities. Still, some truckers choose to drive drunk anyway.
Truckers have no excuses. They understand their ability to cause extensive damage, and they know that truck crashes often result in fatal and catastrophic injuries. Because of a drunk trucker’s inherent potential for devastation, even one drunk trucker on a Florida highway is one too many.
Truckers Driving While Impaired
The publication Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts documents the 2016 U.S. Department of Transportation’s statistics on fatal crashes involving large trucks, which show that of all the long-haul truck drivers involved in fatal accidents, 3 percent had a BAC of 0.01 percent, and two percent had a BAC of 0.08 percent. That’s the legal drunk driving BAC limit for drivers in all fifty states.
As the National Transportation Safety Board explains, even a minimal blood alcohol concentration can change a trucker’s driving behavior. When a truck driver loses control of a big rig because of alcohol impairment, there’s a lot at stake. Weighing in at a minimum of 10,000 pounds, a large truck is far heavier than a typical private passenger vehicle. Large trucks involved in fatal crashes averaged 26,000 pounds, and they’re capable of causing extensive damage.
Trucks are big machines with technically complex control systems. When they share the road with other vehicles, truckers must also be aware of load shifts, road conditions, blind spot visibility, and other critical driving issues. Alcohol impairment is an added problem that makes truck driver safety awareness even more critical.
When a truck collides with a smaller vehicle, the truck’s weight and speed determine the outcome. Given the weight and mass differences, a large truck can push, crush, or virtually destroy a car. When a truck collides with a pedestrian, a motorcyclist, a bicyclist, or a passenger vehicle, it’s no surprise that the accident often results in extensive property damage and catastrophic or fatal injuries. Alcohol may cause a trucker to lose control of his rig, and it increases the chances of adverse events.
A Trucker’s Brain on Alcohol
Although 0.08 percent is the legal BAC level for intoxication in most U.S. jurisdictions, experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) emphasize that impaired driving begins at far lower levels. Alcohol reduces brain function as it enters a trucker’s blood stream. It impairs critical reasoning skills and muscle coordination. One NHTSA article discusses behavior at five different BAC levels, both lower and higher than the legal DUI limit. Below we discuss a few of the agency’s observations concerning what happens at different BAC levels:
- 0.02 percent BAC: Loss of judgment, altered mood, relaxation, and reduced visual functions.
- 0.05 percent BAC: Exaggerated behavior, impaired judgment, and released inhibitions, which can cause reduced coordination and difficulty steering.
- 0.08 percent BAC: Poor muscle coordination, judgment, self-control, memory, and reasoning affect concentration, short-term memory loss, speed control, and perception.
- 0.10 percent BAC: Reduced reaction time, slurred speech, and poor coordination can change a driver’s ability to keep lane position and brake when necessary.
- 0.15 percent BAC: Less muscle control, possible vomiting, and lost balance cause severe impairment in vehicle control ability, as well as negatively affect a driver’s ability to hear and process information.
Large Truck Accidents Cause Catastrophic Injuries
Catastrophically injured individuals pay a heavy price for truckers’ poor judgment. When a drunk truck driver decides to get behind the wheel, he’s putting other drivers’ lives at risk. Consider the following statistics:
- Serious vehicle accidents cause 51 percent of traumatic brain injuries. Brain injuries from open and closed head wounds can affect every bodily function. They can cause balance, emotional, cognitive, speech, and many other difficulties; they also may cause disabilities and impairments that prevent an injured person’s return to normalcy.
- Vehicle accidents cause 38.3 percent of spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries can cause paralysis and loss of bodily and organ functions. These profound physical changes may cause ongoing medical difficulties and reduce the injured victim’s life expectancy.
- Truck accident victims also may experience complex fractures and crushed bones. Multiple fractures to weight-bearing bones require complex surgical intervention, often with pin and plate fixation. Catastrophic fractures and crushed bones defy setting attempts and cause significant healing difficulties and disabilities. Once bones are broken severely, they often remain weak and painful.
- Extensive burns occur when a damaged vehicle’s gas ignites and causes a fire or explosion. Vehicle gas tanks are vulnerable because of the major vehicle damage trucks can cause. When vehicle fires occur, they cause inhalation injuries, second and third-degree burns, and rare fourth- and fifth-degree burns that scorch skin and flesh down to the bone. Burns alter a victims’ appearance, and they can cause range-of-motion issues, severe skin irritation, and a lifetime of scarring and discomfort.
Online resources—like the Model Knowledge Systems Translation Center and other sites—offer support for catastrophically injured victims. They provide encouragement and self-help information for those recovering from catastrophic injuries and describe the process of adjusting to a new normal. As injured individuals recover from their injuries, they often endure hospitalization, rehabilitation, ongoing medical evaluations, and challenges with completing daily activities. Even after maximum healing, some catastrophically injured patients can’t participate in the activities they once enjoyed. Some may require assistance performing even basic personal care tasks.
Catastrophic injuries can disrupt family and marital relationships; they can also derail career tracks and alter lifestyles profoundly. Unfortunately, depression is often a long-term consequence.
Testing Truckers for Alcohol Consumption
Drinking and driving is a personal problem. Because of the potential for widespread public consequences, federal, state, and local agencies continue to strive to reduce the occurrence of drunk driving around the country. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) directly oversees programs that focus on monitoring, counseling, and correcting commercial drivers with drinking issues.
The federal transportation code outlines regulations for monitoring alcohol and substance use among CDL license holders. Transport regulations place driving within the definition of safety-sensitive functions. This general category encompasses truck driving and related functions, such as waiting to be dispatched, loading cargo, and inspecting a commercial vehicle.
Drivers are not allowed to consume alcohol or take drugs prior to or during any safety-sensitive function. The regulations also establish the following requirements:
- Trucking companies must test new drivers for alcohol/substance use before hiring them and before they perform any safety-sensitive functions.
- Employers must test drivers that they suspect of having alcohol-impairment issues.
- Drivers must be tested when involved in a fatal accident or after receiving a citation for an accident with injuries.
- Self-employed truckers must self-monitor and report.
- Employers must participate in FMCSA-administered random drug tests.
- A driver is in violation of controlling regulations when he or she has a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher.
- When a driver’s BAC tests at or above 0.04 percent, the employer must refer the driver for evaluation and treatment.
Random Alcohol Test for Commercial Drivers
Periodically, the FMCSA conducts extensive CDL driver random alcohol testing/surveys. The most recent event took place in 2017. During this time, the agency sent forms to 4,479 motor carriers selected at random. 2,807 companies returned the forms with information on random controlled substance test results for 317,131 drivers and alcohol tests for 135,135 drivers.
The results of the recent random alcohol tests showed that an estimated 0.08 percent of CDL drivers randomly tested at 0.04 percent BAC. A test result of even that level mandates driver evaluation and treatment. While the numbers are small, it’s a potential sign of a bigger problem.
The test included only 135,135 of the drivers in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates is a pool of 1,871,700 truckers nationwide. The results identified slightly over 100 drivers under the influence. A similar 0.08 percent result across the entire trucker pool could conceivably qualify 1,400 hundred drivers as under the influence. Consider that total as enough drunk truck drivers for at least 25 drunk truckers to travel the roads in every state simultaneously. In this scenario, there’s an obvious potential for increased highway danger.
Trucking Accidents Have Complicated Legal Issues
When a drunk trucker injures you in an accident, he or she is just one of the multiple potentially responsible parties. If a trucker works for a motor carrier, his or her employer may face a negligent hiring and/or negligent entrustment claim. If another company owns the truck, that company might face some level of liability as the vehicle owner.
Those responsible for repairing, maintaining, or inspecting a vehicle have may be held liable if the accident involved maintenance or truck condition issues. Manufacturers are responsible for defect-related injuries. If a load shift contributes to an accident, shippers and loading contractors may be negligent if they improperly packed a truck’s load.
When you face complicated legal issues, it’s important to connect with an attorney who knows and understands your rights and legal issues. Our Florida truck accident lawyers have used our knowledge, experience, and legal resources to resolve our clients’ injury cases in the past. We’ve taken care of complicated legal issues and allowed our clients to concentrate on healing from their injuries.
Personal Injury Protection Benefits
When a drunk trucker injures you, you must submit a claim to your PIP carrier. With catastrophic injuries, you will likely easily reach the tort threshold required to move beyond your Personal Injury Protection benefits claim. These injuries may include:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
Our personal injury attorneys understand the legal implications involved in a truck accident claim. We’ve worked with insurance companies, defendants, and their insurance companies in presenting and resolving claim issues that present obstacles to settlement.
Compensation for Your Injury
Settlements won’t heal your injuries, but they can help you cover future medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and income losses. When a person sustains catastrophic injuries, these costs often continue over a lifetime. Any compensation you receive should include economic damages as well as general damages.
Economic damages include current and future expenses for injury-related treatment, services, and economic losses, including:
- Lost income
- Medical expenses
- Mobility and prosthetic devices
- Physical and mental therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Medical transportation
- Replacement services
- Funeral expenses
General damages are often difficult to evaluate, especially after an extreme injury. They usually take into account an injured person’s emotional and psychological wellbeing and other subjective issues. General damages often include these and other elements:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Diminished marital and familial relationships
- Functional losses
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Temporary and permanent disabilities
In rare instances, juries may award an injured victim punitive damages, as permitted under Florida law. Punitive damages are meant to punish a wrongdoer. To receive a punitive damage award, an injured person must present clear and convincing evidence of the defendant’s intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Meeting this evidence standard can prove quite difficult.
The Focus on Avoiding Drunk Driving
Federal agencies like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and NHTSA understand the damage that drunk truck drivers can cause. Accordingly, these agencies have created education and safety campaigns that target all individuals who choose to drive drunk and strive to motivate behavior changes.
Florida statutes criminalize and punish drinking and driving. Convicted offenders receive punishments designated by a graduated system that includes fines, license surrender, incarceration, and other punishments for subsequent drunk driving events.
The NTSB conducts on-site investigations for catastrophic transportation investigations nationwide. The agency sees tighter restrictions and controls as a solution to the drunk driving problem. The NTSB hopes to challenge existing alcohol and drug safety guidelines. The agency’s 2019 Most Wanted List recommends that all states adopt new restrictive measures, including:
- A per se BAC limit of 0.05 percent or below
- Broadened use of high-visibility law enforcement
- Stronger screening and toxicology testing for the commercial transportation industry
The NTSB also recommends collision avoidance technology as standard equipment for all new vehicles. This technology enables a vehicle to react and stop automatically when confronting adverse conditions, even if the driver doesn’t notice.
If you or a family member was seriously injured by a trucker driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances, it’s important to take immediate steps to protect your legal rights. At the Dolman Law Group, our attorneys have recovered millions in settlements and jury awards for our injured clients. Let us determine if we can help you. Call the Dolman Law Group today at (727) 451-6900, or complete our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765