An unqualified truck driver is a driver that does not have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Drivers must go through special training to drive a truck. The driver must obtain a commercial learner’s permit, complete entry-level driver training, and meet several other requirements before the driver can earn a CDL license.
Without the training and the license, the driver is an unqualified truck driver with a higher risk of causing an accident. In case of an accident, it is advisable for the victims to seek the assistance of a truck accident lawyer. A skilled lawyer can help the victims understand their legal options and guide them through the process of pursuing compensation for their losses.
What Qualifications Does a Truck Driver Need to Have?
If you peruse job listings for truck driving positions in the U.S., the necessary qualifications listed are often a high school diploma or a GED and a commercial driver's license (CDL). A CDL is a special license for operating a commercial vehicle required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency regulating the trucking industry.
After passing skills and knowledge testing, most truck drivers get their CDL through their home state. Additionally, there are other requirements a driver must meet to obtain and maintain their CDL or to obtain endorsements to haul hazardous materials or particularly heavy loads.
Those requirements include:
Individuals who want to drive a commercial truck transporting products across state lines must be 21 years of age or older. 18-year-olds can obtain a CDL and operate a commercial truck within their home state. However, in late 2020, the FMCSA proposed that 18-year-old truck drivers could cross state lines under the direct supervision of a more experienced truck driver. Congress wrote this into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
It created the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program, which would revoke the 21-year-old requirement for interstate commercial truck travel. The trucks used in the program would be required to have safety technologies such as automatic emergency braking, forward-facing video cameras, and a top speed that is limited to 65 miles per hour.
Not everyone is on board with the program, however. The Truck Safety Coalition has been publicly opposing the program due to the hazards posed by teen drivers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has cited a Michigan study that found that truck drivers under the age of 21 have a 500 percent increase in the risk of being involved in an accident when compared to the overall accident risk for truck drivers. Several other transportation safety agencies have objected to the idea as well.
Clean Driving Record
Commercial trucks, commonly called semi-trucks or tractor-trailers, are massive vehicles, weighing up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded and measuring around 72 feet long, 13.5 feet tall, and 8.5 feet wide. To obtain a CDL, a driver must not have any DUIs, license suspensions, or moving violations. Maintaining the CDL requires that the driver avoid getting traffic tickets or engaging in unsafe driving behavior.
CDL-holders are subject to a reduced alcohol impairment limit of 0.04 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, which is half the blood alcohol content permitted for standard drivers over 21. CDL drivers who get a DUI will likely lose their license for a year for a first offense and receive a lifetime suspension for a subsequent offense.
Physical Fitness Requirements
To obtain a CDL, a driver must show that they are physically able to handle the rigors of the job.
A Department of Transportation-approved medical examiner must examine drivers to inspect the following:
- Vision: At least 20/40 on the Snellen eye test, with or without corrective lenses.
- Color Blindness: The ability to distinguish red, yellow, and green hues as needed to follow traffic lights. Colorblind applicants can drive a truck, provided they can get corrective lenses that allow them to distinguish colors.
- Blood pressure: Less than 140/90
- Hearing: The ability to hear a whisper from five feet away, with or without hearing aids
- No current cardiovascular issues.
- No medications that impair driving.
- No untreated medical conditions endanger others. Some types of medical conditions, if not properly treated or controlled, can cause risks of accidents, including diabetes, sleep apnea (truck driver fatigue), and epilepsy.
- No past injuries or surgeries that limit the driver's range of motion or ability to perform the job.
Drivers must obtain DOT physical exams every two years to maintain their CDLs.
Knowledge of the Truck
Truck drivers must perform a pre-trip inspection on their vehicle before every trip to look for visible signs of wear or potential safety issues.
Some aspects of the pre-trip inspection include:
- Check the engine compartment for leaks and ensure that all components are properly mounted and secured.
- Mirrors, door hinges, and door handles to ensure they aren't cracked or broken.
- Frame and cross members to ensure structural soundness.
- Airlines to the trailer to ensure properly connected and do not contain cuts, abrasions, or bulges.
- Check to make sure the vehicle is not leaking fuel, the fuel cap is tight, and the gasket is not missing.
- The driveshaft, catwalk, and steps are not cracked, bent, or broken.
- The suspension system and brakes on the drive axles are not bent, cracked, or broken, the brake linings are the proper thickness, and the airbags are appropriately inflated.
- Check the coupling system to ensure they're properly mounted on both ends, not bulging or cut, and not leaking air. The electrical line should have no wires exposed.
- Checking to ensure the trailer is in good repair and that all the lights on the vehicle are working.
- Check the inside of the cab to ensure the truck has all required emergency equipment, all gauges are working properly, as well as windshield wipers, seatbelts, the horn, and lights.
- Check the parking brakes on the tractor and the trailer, as well as the air brakes.
Do Truck Drivers Get Drug Tested?
Yes, CDL-holders are also required to submit to regular and random drug and alcohol screenings to maintain their license and if they are involved in a fatal accident.
Steps to Becoming a Qualified Truck Driver
Becoming a qualified truck driver takes time and money. Thus, some will drive a medium-duty or heavy-duty truck without obtaining the appropriate training and license. The first step to becoming a qualified truck driver is to get a commercial learner’s permit. That requires checking the driver’s driving record in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia for the past ten years.
The driver must also obtain a copy of his or her medical history, take a DOT physical, and obtain a DOT medical card. On top of that, the driver must pay the fees to obtain a commercial learner’s permit.
The second step is to complete the entry-level driver training and any additional requirements the state might have in addition to the federal requirements. After completing the training, the driver can take the test. The driver must pass three parts of a skills test, including the vehicle inspection test, the basic controls test, and the road test.
After passing the test, the driver can submit the required information. Some states will give the driver the CDL on the same day, while other states mail the CDL to the driver. Finally, a driver must be 21 to obtain a CDL.
A truck driver could be unqualified for many reasons, including never having a commercial driver’s license or because the CDL expired.
Other factors include:
- The driver cannot pass an alcohol or drug test.
- The driver has vision issues that cannot be corrected or make the driver a danger to others on the road.
- The driver has hearing issues that cannot be corrected or cause the driver a danger to others on the road.
- The driver does not know how to operate a truck safely.
- The driver does not have the strength to maneuver the truck.
- The driver has road rage issues or other psychological issues that could harm others on the road.
- The driver’s driving history shows that the driver has a history of dangerous driving.
A driver might not pass a physical exam but will still drive. The driver must pass a physical every two years to obtain and keep a CDL.
The physical could include checking the driver’s:
- Eyesight and hearing.
- Blood pressure.
- Vascular system.
- Urine (for substance abuse).
- Reflexes and balance.
- Weight and overall health.
- Existing medical conditions.
Certain health issues could cause the driver to wreck. Because of the size and weight of the truck, a wreck often causes catastrophic injuries or even death, so a driver in poor health will not be able to pass the physical.
A trucking company must also complete background checks on drivers to ensure that they do not have too many accidents, a criminal history, indications of alcohol and/or drug abuse, or other red flags that could be a disqualifying factor for driving a truck.
You can hold a trucking company responsible for accidents the driver causes if it knowingly hires someone that does not pass a medical or background check.
The Risks Unqualified Truck Drivers Present
As with other companies, trucking companies are concerned about their bottom lines. Some unscrupulous companies will hire drivers who do not have a CDL, the driver’s CDL is not valid and current, or the driver is not otherwise federally qualified to drive a truck.
Even hiring inexperienced truck drivers and allowing them alone on the road is a significant risk. However, with the shortage of truck drivers, which has been going on for several years, some trucking companies will take that chance.
Inexperienced, unlicensed, or unqualified truck drivers are more likely to get into accidents. Because of the size and weight of the truck, those accidents are likely to cause catastrophic injuries or death. For example, an inexperienced or unlicensed driver might not remember to check blind spots or know how to turn wide. An unqualified truck driver might drive recklessly or under the influence. Someone who does not pass the physical test could have a heart attack while driving.
It is the duty of a trucking company to only hire qualified drivers who pass medical and background checks.
Recovering Damages After an Unqualified Truck Driver Causes an Accident
If you have not already, seek medical attention. Then, contact a lawyer for truck accident to help you through the process.Even settling a truck accident is complicated, especially since more than one defendant might be responsible for your injuries and other losses.
For example, even though the truck driver is at fault, the company might share the responsibility for your injuries and losses with the driver because it hired an unqualified truck driver. Even if the company did not know a driver did not have the qualifications, it should have known, and you could hold the company responsible.
You could recover compensatory damages in the form of economic damages and non-economic damages.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value and include:
- Current and future medical expenses.
- Current and future loss of earning capacity.
- Replacement or repair of personal property.
- Death-related expenses include burial and funeral expenses, cremation expenses, and probate attorney’s fees and costs.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make life-long changes, such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or participate in family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a foot or an arm.
- Loss of bodily function use, such as your bladder or eyesight.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home repair and maintenance.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in an accident with an unqualified truck driver, contact a personal injury lawyer in Chicago for a free case evaluation.