Impaired Driving Truck Accidents
Truck accidents caused by impaired driving remain a serious threat to all drivers on the roadways. While there are rules and systems put into place by federal regulators to help address this problem, driver impairment remains one of the most common causes of truck accidents in the U.S. today.
According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver impairment was the number two cause of fatal truck accidents for the latest year on record.
How Prevalent Are Impaired Driving Truck Accidents?
One study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and The National Institute on Drugs used comprehensive blood testing to investigate the impact of drugs and alcohol in fatal-to-the-driver trucking accidents. They found that:
- About 67% of the drivers tested positive for at least one drug, while 33% had detectable blood concentrations of psychoactive drugs or alcohol.
- Cannabinoids and ethanol were the most frequently detected substances, each found in 13% of the drivers. In 8% of the cases, cocaine or benzoylecgonine was detected.
- In all cases where the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration exceeded 1.0 ng/mL, impairment due to marijuana use was a contributing factor to the crash.
- In all accidents where the blood alcohol concentration was 0.04% wt/vol or greater, alcohol impairment was a contributing factor.
- Substance use contributed to the fatal accident in 50 out of 56 cases where psychoactive drugs or alcohol were detected.
According to data for the last year on record from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), three percent of drivers of large trucks in fatal accidents had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. While the NHTSA explains that this is low compared to drivers of other vehicles, it’s important to remember that semi-truck accidents tend to be much more severe than other types of crashes.
Federal Regulations Addressing Impairment by Truck Drivers
Lawmakers understand the risk impaired truck drivers create for all other drivers on the road. Several federal regulations exist to ensure the public’s safety and maintain the integrity of the transportation industry. Federal regulations that address truck drivers drug and alcohol use on the job include:
- Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse (49 CFR Part 382): The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a centralized database created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to monitor and manage drug and alcohol testing violations committed by commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers. As per this regulation, employers of CMV drivers must report any violations and conduct queries on potential employees before hiring them.
- Prohibition on Alcohol Use (49 CFR Part 392): Part 392 prohibits CMV drivers from using or possessing alcohol while on duty or within four hours of going on duty. Violation of this regulation can result in serious consequences for both driver and employer.
- Alcohol Concentration Limits: The FMCSA has set a BAC limit of 0.04% for commercial drivers, which is lower than that for non-commercial drivers.
Federal Regulations Regarding Drug and Alcohol Testing for Commercial Truck Drivers
Here are the key federal rules concerning drug and alcohol testing for commercial truck drivers:
- Pre-Employment Testing: Commercial truck drivers must undergo mandatory drug testing before employment.
- Random Testing: Employers must conduct random drug and alcohol testing using a scientifically valid method, such as a random number generator. The selection of drivers for testing must be unbiased.
- Post-Accident Testing: After certain types of accidents, truck drivers who are involved may be required to undergo drug and alcohol testing. These accidents usually involve fatalities, injuries that require immediate medical attention away from the scene, or when the driver is cited for a moving violation.
- Reasonable Suspicion Testing: If a supervisor or company official who has undergone training has a reasonable suspicion that a driver might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they have the right to ask the driver to undergo testing. Such suspicion may be based on the driver’s behavior, appearance, or odor.
- Return-to-Duty Testing: After violating drug or alcohol regulations, drivers must complete a return-to-duty process, which includes evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and a return-to-duty drug and alcohol test before resuming safety-sensitive functions.
- Follow-Up Testing: Once a driver has completed the return-to-duty process, the Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) may require them to undergo unannounced follow-up testing. This testing is designed to monitor the driver’s continued compliance with drug and alcohol regulations and typically lasts for a specific period, up to five years.
- Refusal to Test: Refusing to submit to a required drug or alcohol test is treated as a violation and has serious consequences, including disqualification from safety-sensitive functions.
Your Legal Options After a Truck Accident Caused by Impaired Driving
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident caused by impaired driving, you have legal options to seek compensation for your losses. Filing a personal injury claim may allow you to recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages due to time off work, pain and suffering, and other damages.
In the unfortunate event of a fatal truck accident, surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek compensation for their loss.
Liability for Truck Accident Caused by Drug or Alcohol Use
Liability can extend to various parties in a truck accident resulting from impaired driving. While the impaired truck driver is the primary at-fault party, other parties may also be responsible. These can include the trucking company if they neglected to carry out proper background checks, the truck’s owner if it differs from the driver, and even the entity responsible for maintaining the truck if mechanical issues contributed to the accident.
Determining liability in such cases often requires a complex investigation and legal expertise to identify all parties responsible and seek compensation for the victims.
Proving Your Claim for Compensation After an Impaired Driving Truck Crash
Your truck accident attorney will build strong evidence to build a strong case on your behalf. These are some types of evidence that may indicate that a truck driver was impaired at the time of an accident:
- Police Reports: The initial police report filed at the accident scene is critical as it may contain information about the officer’s observations, statements made by the truck driver, and any field sobriety tests conducted.
- Breathalyzer or Blood Test Results: If the police administered a breathalyzer or blood test to the truck driver, the results would provide direct evidence of their blood alcohol concentration or the presence of drugs in their system.
- Witness Statements: Witness testimony about the truck driver’s behavior before the accident, including slurred speech, erratic driving, or signs of impairment, can be strong evidence.
- Driver’s History: The history of a truck driver, including prior DUI/DWI convictions or violations of hours-of-service regulations, may establish a pattern of negligence.
- Drug Test Results: If drug impairment is suspected, drug test results can be used as evidence, including urine or blood tests showing illegal or prescription drugs.
- Expert Witnesses: Personal injury lawyers may employ experts such as accident reconstruction specialists or toxicologists to testify about the accident’s cause and the impact of impairment on the truck driver’s abilities.