Truck Accidents Caused By Inexperienced Drivers
The vast majority of the products people in the U.S. use daily arrive at local stores and warehouses through commercial trucking. Around 3.7 million commercial trucks serve the United States. However, the trucking industry has suffered severe driver shortages, leading to various outreach efforts to attract new drivers. Unfortunately, the immediate need for drivers can result in inexperienced or unqualified drivers operating 80,000-pound vehicles on congested roadways.
Experience isn’t the only qualification necessary to protect other roadway users from accidents caused by the drivers of commercial trucks. Federal regulations mandate many more qualifications and requirements to encourage safety. If a truck driver has injured you, a truck accident lawyer can provide a careful look at the documentation that truckers and trucking companies are required to keep to see if the driver was qualified to operate the vehicle.
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 that 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 crossmembers to ensure structural soundness.
- Air lines 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.
The Importance of Truck Driver Qualifications
The massive size of a commercial truck makes it challenging to maneuver and presents several hazards. Commercial trucks have significant blind spots, struggle to stop quickly or make wide turns, and a high center of gravity makes the vehicle prone to rollovers if the driver swerves or takes a corner too fast.
According to the National Safety Council, around 118,000 injury accidents involving commercial trucks occur yearly, causing more than 5000 fatalities. Most injuries and deaths in truck-involved crashes were to the occupants of other motor vehicles or vulnerable roadway users such as motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Seeking Compensation After an Accident Caused by an Unqualified Truck Driver
Individuals injured in an accident caused by an unqualified truck driver can seek compensation through a personal injury claim. Those who have lost a loved one from this type of accident can seek compensation through a wrongful death claim.
Each of these processes generally begins when your attorney submits a demand to the at-fault party’s insurance carrier for payment of the value of your claim. The insurer can opt to pay, deny the claim, or offer to settle the claim for less than demanded. If the insurer offers a settlement, your attorney can negotiate to increase the offer to fairly compensate you for your injury or loss.
If the at-fault party’s insurer fails to pay the claim or offer a fair settlement, your attorney can file a lawsuit. In court, a judge or jury determines if you have proven liability, and the at-fault party owes you the compensation you claimed.
Determining liability is one of the complexities in seeking compensation in an accident caused by an unqualified truck driver. Many truck drivers are owners/operators or independent contractors, meaning they are solely liable for meeting the qualifications of the job. However, many are employees of trucking companies who ensure drivers have met all the qualifications required. Depending on these circumstances, you might hold the truck driver or the trucking company liable.
To prove liability, you must be able to show:
- The truck driver owed an increased duty of care to operate their vehicle safely according to state and federal laws.
- The truck driver breached this duty of care by failing to meet the requirements to operate the vehicle or violating traffic laws.
- This failure resulted in an accident that injured you or killed your loved one.
- Your injury or death of a family member caused you to incur expenses and affect your life.
The Type of Compensation You Can Receive
Personal injury claimants can seek compensation for the expenses, such as medical expenses, damage to their vehicle, wage loss, and loss of future earning capacity if the injury prevents you from earning an income equal to what you were earning before the accident. They can also seek compensation for non-economic impacts, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
Family members filing a wrongful death claim can seek compensation for expenses, such as medical treatment for the deceased’s final injuries and funeral and burial costs. Additionally, you can seek to recover the loss of wages and other benefits that the deceased would have likely earned in their lifetime if they had survived and the loss of services and support they provided to their family. Other losses include loss of companionship, society, and moral support the deceased offered to their family members.
Injured by an Unqualified Truck Driver?
The regulation of truck drivers and the trucking industry protects those using public roads in much smaller and more vulnerable vehicles. Unfortunately, unqualified truck drivers still cause accidents despite these regulations.
If you were injured or lost a loved one in an accident involving an unqualified truck driver, let an experienced lawyer help you understand your legal options for seeking compensation. Contact a truck accident lawyer for a free case evaluation and begin your path to recovery.