Although the trucking industry is critical to our country’s economy, accidents involving these massive vehicles can lead to catastrophic injuries, crippling pain, and astronomical medical expenses that will affect not only the victim, but also the whole family.
Semi-truck crashes are often devastating. However, if a crash results because a truck driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the situation can become unbearable, especially since the crash was entirely preventable. In these incidents, you deserve justice and compensation for the harm and losses you endure.
That is why in this blog post, we want to help you understand your legal remedies if you are involved in a crash with a semi-truck so you can fight for the money you need. First, however, we want to discuss the drug and alcohol issues and prohibitions that are unique to the trucking industry.
General Prohibitions Regarding Drugs and Alcohol Use
The potential for use of drugs and alcohol in the operation of a semi-truck is recognized as a serious problem by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Consequently, the FMCSA has created rules and procedures to be followed by trucking employers and employees prohibiting the use of drugs and misuse of alcohol in the operation of semi-trucks.
The rules and procedures related to drugs and alcohol are spelled out in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The use and testing procedures are found at 49 CFR part 382, “Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing.” 49 CFR part 40, “Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs,” lays out the drug and alcohol testing methods to be followed. According to the FMCSA, “the ultimate goal for the FMCSA and the trucking industry is to achieve a controlled substance and alcohol-free workforce in the interest of the health and safety of employers, employees, and the public.”
Unlike use and alcohol concentration levels that apply to drivers of ordinary passenger vehicles, the use of alcohol for semi-truck drivers is more strict. No truck driver may use or be under the influence of alcohol within four (4) hours of going on duty. The blood-alcohol level at which a trucker is deemed to be “under the influence” is .04–half the typical level of .08 for passenger vehicle drivers. “On-duty” includes time beyond merely driving a semi-truck, and is generally described as “all time from the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work.” As such, this particular prohibition extends to a significant time period before truck drivers actually get behind the wheel of their rig. It also includes a prohibition against using or being under the influence of alcohol at any time. The on-duty alcohol regulations prohibit possession of alcohol while on duty or driving.
When it comes to controlled substances, the regulations are similar to alcohol prohibitions. However, they also specifically describe what is considered a controlled substance and which substances are prohibited. The regulations include prohibitions against the use or possession of any type of amphetamines (like ‘pep pills,’ and ‘bennies”), any narcotic drug, or the catch-all “[a]ny other substance, to a degree which renders the driver incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.”
In addition to the drug and alcohol prohibitions related to on-duty and driving, there is also a wider prohibition related to the performance of safety-sensitive functions in the trucking industry. The phrase “safety-sensitive function” essentially includes any time a driver is doing any work. It is broadly defined under the regulations as “all time from the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time he/she is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work.” Among a long list of work-related functions, it includes driving a semi-truck, loading or unloading a trailer, and inspecting semi-truck equipment.
Under the FMCSRs, truck companies are responsible for ensuring their truck drivers follow the drug and alcohol regulations. Section 390.11 of the regulations place an obligation on the trucking company to ensure that its drivers follow the regulations: “whenever … a duty is prescribed for a driver or a prohibition is imposed upon the driver, it shall be the duty of the motor carrier to require observance of such duty or prohibition.” In essence, the regulations support the idea that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Section 390.3(e) of the regulations requires that all motor carriers, their employees and drivers, shall be knowledgeable of, and comply with, the FMCSRs. This section further requires that truck companies provide instruction to all their drivers regarding the FMCSRs.
Thus, although many trucking regulations can be technically categorized as being applicable to either the “driver” or the “company,” the reality is the company is responsible for everything. This principle of shared responsibility between the drivers and their trucking companies is embodied in the definition of “employees,” which includes an independent contractor operating a commercial motor vehicle on behalf of a trucking company. Courts throughout the United State have held that trucking companies are responsible for the negligent driving of these “employees” when that negligence occurs while the semi-truck involved is under lease to a trucking company.
Testing For Drugs or Alcohol
The FMCSRs set forth multiple scenarios where testing for drugs and alcohol is required. Generally, the six major types of testing include:
- Pre-employment Testing
- Reasonable Suspicion Testing
- Post-Accident Testing
- Random Testing
- Return-to-Duty Testing and
- Follow-Up Testing
According to these regulations, these tests are not optional. Rather, they are mandatory. As a result, any truck driver that does not submit to such tests may not drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle or perform safety-sensitive functions.
Get the Legal Help You Need, Reach Out to an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer Today
Following a truck accident, you are already going through a lot. You should not have to worry about figuring out which of these rules and issues apply to your case. Fortunately, with a skilled truck accident attorney on your side, you will not have to. Once retained, these lawyers can provide you with the legal help you need, including:
- Determining whether you have a viable injury claim and figuring out the legal options you can pursue
- Answering all of your questions and concerns and providing you the legal support you require during this challenging time
- Investigating your truck crash and securing the evidence needed to show what happened and who was at fault
- Bringing in the experts such as doctors and accident reconstructionists to prove your claim
- Making sure that all your legal motions and documents are filed before time expires
- Handling all the negotiations and discussions with the insurance company and fighting for a just settlement
- Taking your case to trial, if required, and going after maximum damages
If you or a loved one was injured because of a trucking accident due to drug or alcohol issues, do not wait any longer to get the legal help you need. Instead, contact an experienced truck accident lawyer today or call us at 317-669-9445, and let our legal team show you how we can fight for you and go after the justice you deserve.