According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), there were 415,000 police-reported crashes involving large trucks in 2020. Nearly a quarter of these wrecks caused injuries, and 4,444 resulted in fatalities. Roughly 5% of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol or other substances in their system.
Large trucks are complex machines that are difficult to operate even when sober. Adding alcohol or drug use into the mix while driving these dangerous vehicles (some of which weigh up to 80,000 lbs) is a recipe for disaster.
Why Might Truck Drivers Use Alcohol or Drugs?
A drunk or drugged truck driver is a hazard to everyone else on the road — so why would a trucker take such a risk?
Many truckers turn to alcohol or drugs to relieve stress, boredom, loneliness, or pain from untreated illness or chronic injury. But the most common reason they take mind-altering substances is to combat the effects of sleep deprivation from long hours on the road.
Even though federal standards restrict truck drivers on the total number of hours they are allowed to drive per day for safety and health reasons, truckers are often pushed by the trucking companies to break these rules to complete orders as scheduled. To cope with these stressors, truckers may binge drink or use marijuana to relax. Stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines, or prescription drugs like Adderall may be used to help concentrate and avoid falling asleep.
The use of these drugs, regardless of the reason, is dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. Taking such substances can cause a driver to speed, ignore obvious safety lights or signs, or make dangerous maneuvers.
How Prevalent Is Drugged and Drunk Driving Among Truck Drivers?
Although there have been several studies, the data is still somewhat unclear when it comes to the issue of drug and alcohol use among large vehicle drivers.
In one study, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) found that 1.8% of truckers tested positive prior to being hired, 0.7% tested positive in random tests, and 2.8% tested positive after an accident.
Testing measures have their limitations. Drugs can be tested for via urine or hair samples. Urine samples generally detect substances currently in a person’s system and are the only federally accepted form of testing. Hair root samples provide a more extensive history of drug use but are more expensive, take longer to process, and can lead to false positives.
Still, findings by the Trucking Alliance as reported to the House of Representatives in the “Under Pressure: The State of Trucking in America” painted an alarming picture. When both urine and hair follicle tests were given to new drivers, urine samples showed only a 1% positive rate. Meanwhile, hair tests showed a positivity rate of 8.6%. The issue of drugged driving, therefore, may be more prevalent than previously estimated.
Are Truck Drivers Tested for Drugs and Alcohol?
While the legal limit for blood alcohol content for most drivers is capped at 0.08%, the FMSCA caps truck driver's blood alcohol content at 0.04%. Truckers are also prohibited from consuming alcohol within four hours prior to operating a commercial vehicle or keeping alcohol in the cab.
Truck drivers need their full faculties to safely carry out their responsibilities as they traverse rural roads, heavily-trafficked interstates, tight corridors, steep inclines, and inclement weather. Consuming alcohol or drugs can affect vision, judgment, reaction time, and muscle coordination. Taking such substances while operating large vehicles like tractor-trailers and big rigs increases the risk of injuring or killing innocent motorists.
The U.S. DOT regulates drug and alcohol testing for employees with a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Drug and alcohol testing is required during the following times:
- Before employment
- At random intervals
- After an accident
- Upon return to duty
- When the employer suspects drug or alcohol abuse
- When recommended by a substance abuse professional
After a truck accident, the driver must be tested by their employer for any drugs or alcohol in their system. Failure to do so is grounds for negligence.
Who Can Be Held Liable After a Truck Accident?
The truck driver, the trucking company that employs the driver, and other parties may be held liable for the damages and injuries suffered in the accident.
The truck driver may be liable because they chose to drive while impaired. They are responsible for the harm they caused due to drinking, taking drugs, or using prescription medication while driving a heavy-duty commercial vehicle.
The trucking company may be liable because the employer is responsible for the negligent actions of their employees. It may also come out during the investigation that the trucking company knowingly hired the at-fault truck driver even though they had a prior DUI or had a history of substance abuse while driving that was swept under the rug.
Proving Drugs or Alcohol Caused the Truck Accident
A knowledgeable personal injury attorney can sort out which parties bear responsibility for the truck accident. They will gather crucial evidence to support your truck accident case, including:
- The accident report from the law enforcement agency that investigated the crash
- Photos and videos of the truck crash, including mobile phones, dashcams, traffic cameras, and security cameras
- Eyewitness statements regarding the truck driver’s actions leading up to the wreck
- Media reports about the truck accident
- Data from the truck to show the moments before and after the impact
- Medical records, drug tests, or testimony indicating that the driver was impaired or high at the time of the crash
- Employment records that confirm the trucking company knew about the driver’s history of drug or alcohol use
All of this evidence must be gathered quickly. The longer you delay starting a personal injury claim after a truck accident, the more difficult the case may be to resolve.
You have two years to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver and the trucking company, but it is better to get started now rather than wait.
Compensation for an Impaired Driving Truck Accident
Any losses and injuries suffered in a truck accident are considered damages. The types of damages you may be able to recover compensation for after an accident caused by a drunk or drugged truck driver include:
- Medical bills and future medical expenses
- Lost wages from time missed from work
- Reduced earning capacity after you return to work
- Costs to repair or replace the vehicle
- Disfigurement, scarring, or permanent disability
- Pain and suffering
- Reduced quality of life
- Wrongful death of a loved one
If proven that the truck driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash, you may also be awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages are used to punish drivers for reckless behavior.
Injured By a Drugged or Intoxicated Truck Driver?
Our Atlanta truck accident lawyers help drunk driving accident victims.
A serious truck accident caused by a drunk or high driver can leave accident victims with severe injuries, life-long disabilities, financial ruin, and an uncertain future. Our Georgia truck accident lawyers can hold these negligent drivers accountable in the following ways:
- Launch a thorough investigation into what contributed to the accident.
- Gather all the necessary documentation to establish who is at fault in your claim.
- Contact the insurance and trucking companies on your behalf.
- Manage your case so you can focus on rest and recovery.
- Explore all possible legal options to hold the drunk driver and the negligent trucking company responsible for your injuries.
If you were injured in an accident caused by a truck driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol, get in touch with our truck accident law firm immediately. Contact the truck accident attorneys of Gary Martin Hays & Associates for expert legal representation, peace of mind, and just compensation.