Everyone is aware of the dangers of impaired driving, but when a truck driver is operating an 18-wheeler or other large commercial vehicle while impaired, those dangers are exponentially greater due to the sheer size of the big rig. Most trucking accidents are caused by driver error. In fact, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver error causes more trucking accidents than weather, road conditions and vehicle performance combine.
Impaired drivers are naturally more likely to commit errors. While most people think of impaired driving as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, those are not the only ways a driver can be impaired. Often times, drivers are impaired by a lack of sleep, exhaustion or the use of over-the-counter medications. A study conducted by the FMCSA found that almost half (44%) of the truckers involved in a trucking accident were taking over-the-counter or prescription medication. Another 18% of trucking accidents were due to driver fatigue.
Drug & Alcohol Use
Drug and alcohol use not only impairs a driver's judgment, but also slows reaction times. Truck drivers who are operating a commercial vehicle under impairment are an extreme hazard to other motorists on the road. Sadly, it's not an uncommon occurrence. A study conducted by the Institute for Traffic Safety found that while fewer than 1% of drivers were under the influence of alcohol while on the job, 15% had marijuana in their system, 12% had non-prescription stimulants (including cocaine) and another 5% had prescription stimulants.
While most states set laws for private citizens governing drug and alcohol use while operating a motor vehicle, the federal government and FMCSA regulate the use of drugs and alcohol amongst truck drivers. While most states set the legal limit .08 blood alcohol content (BAC), truck drivers are held to a higher standard. The legal limit for a truck driver while on-the-job is .04 BAC. The FMCSA also requires employers to perform drug and alcohol test as a condition of employment.
A federal program that would provide a national database to track drug and alcohol offenses for commercial driver's license holders throughout the country is also under consideration. Under current screening programs, many states such as Texas check driving records for commercial driver's licenses, but they are only able to see offenses that occurred in Texas. This leaves the door open for out-of-state truck drivers with prior drug or alcohol related offenses to go undetected in the screening process.
Another common impairment for truck drivers is driver fatigue. This is usually caused by a driver simply being tired from working long hours or too many consecutive days. While the FMCSA regulates the number of hours a truck driver may work over a given time period, those rules are often ignored by truckers seeking more pay or trucking companies pushing drivers to work more than allowed in order to expedite or fulfill their shipping demands.
Current regulations state that a truck driver can work no more than 14 hours per day (of which only 11 hours can be spent driving). Truck drivers must have been off-duty for 10 consecutive hours prior to starting a shift. The FMCSA regulations also place limits on the number of hours a truck driver can work in consecutive days. A driver can work no more than 60 hours in seven consecutive days and no more than 70 hours in eight consecutive days.
Fatigued driving can cause a driver to have:
- Slowed reaction time
- Impaired judgment and vision
- Problems with information processing
- Decreased performance
- Increase in aggressive behaviors
Unlike with drugs and alcohol, there is no "breathalyzer" that can determine if a driver was fatigued. However several studies have shown that fatigued drivers have reaction times and motor skills equivalent to a person with a blood alcohol content 1.5 times the legal limit.
Impaired driving remains one of the leading contributors to accidents involving commercial trucks. If you were involved in a commercial trucking accident, you need to consult with an experienced, commercial trucking attorney to learn about your legal rights. Contact our truck accident attorneys for a free consultation.