Every 51 minutes, an innocent victim dies in a motor vehicle accident due to an intoxicated driver. This leads to 30 deaths occurring every day because a reckless driver decided to ingest alcohol before getting behind the wheel. In addition, 18% of truck drivers who were killed in trucking accidents caused by their own negligence tested positive for one or more drugs. These drugs included illegal narcotics such as cocaine, as well as legal prescription and OTC drugs. Driving under the influence and operating while intoxicated laws across the country forbid drivers from getting on the road when they are impaired. Impairment can occur even when the driver is ingesting a medication that was prescribed by a physician. Have you ever noticed how many medications, even OTC medications like Nyquil and Benadryl, state, “Do not operate heavy machinery while using this medication?” This is because many medications cause drowsiness and delayed reaction timing, which can become fatal while driving.
Federal and state laws require trucking companies to regularly drug test their drivers and log the results. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations mandate that all CDL drivers undergo frequent drug testing, both random and nonrandom. At least 50% of all drivers must be randomly drug tested for narcotics and 10% must be randomly drug tested for alcohol.
Each year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducts an annual drug and alcohol survey. The FMCSA is the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing the trucking industry, including enacting rules and regulations, investigating noncompliance, and enforcing transportation laws. As part of the annual survey, the FMCSA collects all of the drug test results from 2,000 various truck companies and reviews the results. While FMCSA does not review every drug test, of the 80% or so that are analyzed by FMCSA, there are approximately 97,000 positive drug tests each year for truck drivers operating commercial vehicles across the country. The last results were released for FY 2012, in which drug use increased by 4.1% among truck drivers.
In addition to collecting data from the truck companies, FMCSA also conducts randomized drug testing. These drug tests check for narcotics, legal prescription medication, and alcohol. In 2012, 37.2% of truck drivers were suspected of using illegal narcotics due to reasonable suspicion positive test results. This marked a spike of 32% from 2010. In fact, 24% of these drug test results involved serious controlled substances like heroin and methamphetamine.
In response to the astronomical increase in positive drug tests, FMCSA has created a Strike Force that will be responsible for hunting down intoxicated drivers, revoking their CDLs, and punishing truck carriers that do not properly enforce FMCSA’s prohibition on positive drug tests. Thus far, 205 drivers have been identified and prosecuted for testing positive. 138 freight carriers have been served with violation notices for permitting drivers to continue driving despite positive drug tests. Many of these carriers were permitting drivers carrying passengers and hazardous materials to remain on the road.
To prevent carriers from avoiding their drug testing responsibilities, FMCSA selects carriers at random to participate in the annual drug and alcohol survey. These randomly selected carriers must submit their results by a specified deadline or face enforcement action.
Driving under the influence can lead to catastrophic accidents. Freight trucks are large in size, difficult to maneuver, and carry immense weight. A collision with a large truck often results in severe, debilitating injuries and even death. State and federal agencies like the FMCSA will continue to monitor drug and alcohol use by truck drivers in order reduce the number of intoxication-related truck accidents.
If you were injured in a truck accident and suspect that the truck driver was under the influence, you may be able to pursue punitive damages against the driver and carrier, in addition to compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress. You can reach me, Charles H. Thronson, Attorney at Law, by calling my office today at (800) 856-5417 or by e-mail at CThronson@parsonsbehle.com if you would like to schedule a free consultation.