The Dangers of Unqualified Truckers
Driving a tractor-trailer is as big a responsibility as the size of a truck itself. The enormous size and weight of a typical tractor trailer, which measures around 60 feet long and can weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully-loaded with cargo, is why truck drivers need to meet strict qualifications before being allowed to climb into a cab and take the wheel.
The rules and regulations establishing the required qualifications exist to keep roads safe for the truckers themselves, and for the other motorists with whom they share the road. Drivers who fail to meet those qualifications, and employers who allow them to drive anyway, put the public at risk of disaster.
Around 115,000 people are injured in truck accidents every year across the nation, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, it is usually not the truck driver that has to deal with the worst injuries after a crash. Over three-quarters of the time, occupants in the other vehicle are the ones struggling with catastrophic trauma.
In this blog post, we discuss the danger of sharing the road with an unqualified truck driver. If an accident with a truck driver who lacked proper qualifications has left you or a loved one injured, contact an experienced truck accident injury attorney right away.
Qualifying for a License
It is not easy to get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), nor should it be. Drivers who want to take the wheel of a big rig need to pass tests, get permits, and receive endorsements before they can drive. When they finally receive a CDL, drivers must also stay current with their qualifications and maintain a clean driving history to keep it. Violations remain on a driver’s record and they can quickly result in lost CDL qualifications.
One of the first and most important elements in obtaining a CDL is receiving a clean bill of health or, at a minimum, having a solid health record with the proper exemptions. For drivers to obtain and maintain a CDL a medical examiner must periodically certify that they physically can operate a commercial vehicle. Truckers must get check-ups at least every two years and possibly more to monitor any hazardous conditions. Passing the health screening is important, but passing honestly is the only way that matters. Truckers who use deceit to make the medical grade risk being declined for a CDL or losing their driving privileges when their lies are revealed.
Drivers who pass the medical screening can receive a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). CLPs are essential for new drivers to learn the ropes, but California has stringent laws outlining under what circumstances a rookie can drive. The applicant needs to be at least 18 years old with a non-commercial driver’s license to accompany the permit. A CLP isn’t good for any more than 180 days unless the state renews it. The hard limit for the lifespan of a CLP is 360 days. The permit will also have codes on it to detail exactly what truck set-ups the drivers can handle, such as whether they can haul tractor-trailer combinations connected by a fifth-wheel across state lines.
When a driver finally gets a license, it may come with limitations on the class of vehicle the driver can operate. Licenses fall into Class A, Class B, and Class C, which qualify drivers to drive vehicles of differing weights and to pull certain trailers. The terms are very clear as to what each Class allows, and the state prohibits driving a commercial vehicle that isn’t covered by the classification.
Hazardous materials add another layer of certification. Any load over 500 lbs of a material that regulations consider hazardous requires proper “endorsement” to a CDL. California tests drivers on federal and state requirements before it hands over a hazardous material endorsement, and CPL drivers are not allowed to haul hazardous materials. An operator must know how to identify hazardous cargo, how to load the shipment, how to transport materials, and how to display the appropriate placard.
Also, applicants cannot receive a hazardous materials endorsement if they:
- Are not a lawful U.S. resident;
- Renounce their U.S. citizenship;
- Have been identified as a security threat by the Transportation Security Administration;
- Are wanted or under indictment for certain felonies;
- Have been convicted in a military or civilian court for certain felonies; or
- Have been committed to a mental institution.
Keeping the License
Once a driver has a license and relevant endorsements, the driver can hit the open road. However, that does not mean that the testing is over. A driver may face additional scrutiny outside the normal requirements for health checks when he or she returns to work after an extended absence. While the FMCSA doesn’t explicitly mandate an examination after recovery from an illness or injury, a motor carrier can test its drivers as it sees fit. Failure to show renewed competency can signal that an operator is not ready to be back behind the wheel.
Drivers must also pass regular drug and alcohol screens. The FMCSA has strict anti-drug and alcohol standards in place to protect the public, and drivers need to sign off that they are aware of the consequences of violating them. An employer will need to regularly screen for substances and can administer a test if it has a reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence, or if the driver shows signs of withdrawal symptoms associated with banned substances. The employer must also keep records of these tests.
Employer reviews are not the only path to transgressions for a trucker, either. Run-ins with the police can also put a driver’s CDL status on the line, and conviction of certain crimes comes with serious consequences for truck drivers.
A driver will likely lose their right to operate for a year on the first offense, and longer for any subsequent conviction, for any of the following offenses:
- Driving with a BAC over 0.04 while in a CMV
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
- Refusing a blood test
- Driving while under the influence of a controlled substance
- Leaving the scene of an accident with a CMV
- Committing a felony with the use of a CMV
- Driving a CMV when the CDL is under suspension/revocation
- Causing a fatality through negligent operation of a CMV
Drivers must also self-report even minor traffic violations to the proper authorities. They have 30 days to comply, or they lose their CDL. If they do report a serious violation, they could also lose their license after repeated violations. Reckless driving, excessive speeding, traffic offenses tied to a fatal accident, and more could all lead to months-long suspensions.
Did the Truck Driver in Your Accident Have the Proper Qualifications?
If a truck accident causes injuries and losses in your life, contact an experienced truck accident injury attorney right away, so that the attorney can get started investigating whether the trucker had the proper qualifications to be on the road.
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