At 20 to 30 times the size of the average passenger car, commercial trucks are not only harder to maneuver, but they are capable of causing more severe accidents and injuries than most other vehicles on the road. Because of their size, special training is required to operate them. However, a persistent truck driver shortage has recently forced many trucking companies to choose between losing money or putting inexperienced drivers on the road.
If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by an unqualified truck driver, read on for more information about the legal process for pursuing compensation. An experienced truck accident attorney can answer any questions you might have.
Truck Driver Requirements
Some of the requirements an individual must meet to become a truck driver include:
- A commercial driver’s license (CDL): While there are no formal education requirements for truck drivers, they must obtain a CDL. This often requires attending a professional driving school and safety competency courses. Some employers in the trucking industry require proof of additional education, including a HAZMAT endorsement.
- A clean driving record and background check: The company that employs the truck driver can be found liable for injuries caused by the driver and must mitigate their liability by doing their part to ensure that they hire safe and legal drivers. Part of their responsibility is to obtain driving and criminal background reports for prospective employees to look for negative incidents, such as a felony record or repeated citations for risky driving behaviors.
- Physical requirements: To become a truck driver, you must be physically healthy enough to do the job. Driving a truck not only requires an individual to sit for hours at a time, but also often requires heavy lifting when loading or unloading cargo from the trailer. Drivers are required to pass a physical test provided by the Department of Transportation that ensures that their eyes and ears are healthy enough for the rigors of driving and that the driver can perform other relevant physical tasks. Drivers with sleep apnea or other conditions that can impair their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely must have a doctor declare them safe to drive.
- Age requirements: No one under the age of 18 can work as a commercial truck driver because that is the minimum age at which someone can obtain a CDL. Drivers under the age of 21 cannot haul hazardous materials and are not permitted to haul loads across state lines.
A Trucking Company’s Responsibilities
Trucking companies are responsible for ensuring that their employees follow the federal regulations for the industry.
- Making sure drivers are at least 21 years old if they are going to be driving across state lines.
- Ensuring that drivers can speak, read, and write English well enough to interpret road signs, complete reports, and converse with other drivers and police officers when necessary.
- Making sure the company has a copy of each driver’s CDL on record.
- Subjecting drivers to regular drug and alcohol testing to ensure that they are not abusing drugs while transporting goods or people.
- Requiring a copy of each driver’s medical report stating that they can physically handle the rigors of the job.
- Obtain a driver record in every state where a driver has held a license in the past three years.
- Obtain a driver safety performance record for the past three years for any driver who has been regulated by the Department of Transportation.
- Obtain three years’ worth of employment information on the driver, including any information about a drug or alcohol screening test that a driver has failed in the last three years.
Trucking companies must also regularly update their driver files to include:
- A driver’s record each year that shows that the driver remains qualified to drive a truck.
- Any violations the driver has received pertaining to FMCSA driver requirements or federal hazardous material regulations.
- A copy of the driver’s most recent medical clearance for the job, which must be updated every two years.
Common and Deadly Mistakes Unqualified Truck Drivers Make
Commercial trucks are massive vehicles that require a unique skill set to operate. With the driver shortage of recent years, many trucking companies are tempted to put brand new drivers behind the wheel alone, with very little on-the-job training.
Some of the common mistakes new drivers make that can lead to injury, accidents or a fatal crash include:
- Missing signs: Many new truck drivers are so focused on one aspect of the job that they neglect others. New truck drivers often fail to notice speed limit, exit, and other roadway signs. This can lead to a deadly situation if, for example, the sign indicated that they were entering a one-way road going the wrong way. It can also result in a driver realizing they missed a turn, panicking, and causing an accident due to carelessness.
- Failing to account for wide turns: New drivers often fail to account for the space they will need to turn their tractor and trailer together, sometimes resulting in accidents caused by the truck striking cars in other travel lanes while attempting to complete the turn.
- Getting lost: Inexperienced truck drivers are often unfamiliar with their routes and features such as one-way roads in the regions where they are driving. This confusion can result in the driver having an accident while trying to go under an overpass, getting caught on a bridge that is not designed to hold its weight, or causing wrong-way accidents.
- Improper passing: New truck drivers often wait too long before initiating a pass and then can’t find a sufficient gap in traffic. If the driver has also not made sure their blind spot is clear, the attempt to complete a late pass can result in a serious accident.
- Driving too fast for the conditions: New drivers often fail to realize just how much harder it is to maneuver a truck than it is to maneuver a smaller vehicle. This is particularly true if the truck’s trailer is fully loaded. Curving highways on and off-ramps are often where a new driver learns this lesson in a hard and dangerous way.
- Fear of using the air horn: A truck’s horn is a powerful tool for warning other drivers to get out of the truck’s way. This is useful if a mechanical issue such as a brake failure has occurred and the driver is attempting to avoid involving others in an impending collision. Unfortunately, many new drivers are either afraid to use the horn or simply forget to use it in an emergency.
- Improper steering when backing up: New drivers often struggle to turn while backing up, creating a wide angle with the trailer that may cause it to strike something or someone that the driver did not know was in the truck’s path.
- Failure to properly negotiate an on-ramp: New truck drivers are at risk of causing an accident while merging onto the highway. If the driver’s choices are either doing nothing, slowing down, or changing lanes, doing nothing is actually the right choice most of the time, as the truck takes longer to get up to speed than most other vehicles do and there is plenty of time for other drivers to see the truck merging and allow it space. The riskiest choice is to change lanes suddenly, particularly if the driver has not been paying full attention to their blind spot.
If You Were Injured Due to Truck Driver Inexperience…
In many jobs, it is expected that a trainee will make some mistakes. However, if the trainee is a truck driver, mistakes can cost someone their life or permanently alter it. If you have been injured due to truck driver inexperience, you can seek compensation for your injury-related expenses as well as the physical and emotional impacts of your injury through a truck accident lawsuit. The purpose of this legal claim is to prove who was liable (legally responsible) for the accident and to show the expenses and impacts you have incurred.
If an inexperienced truck driver caused an accident that resulted in your injuries, you can seek to prove that the truck driver was liable.
To prove liability, you must show:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. This duty is defined by what a reasonably prudent person would have done in a similar circumstance. For example, a reasonably prudent new truck driver would ensure that they knew the correct procedure for completing a wide turn before driving the truck on city streets. A reasonably prudent trucking company would make sure its drivers were properly trained before sending them out on routes alone.
- The at-fault party breached their duty of care. A breach is an action (or inaction) that was contrary to the duty of care the at-fault party owed. This could involve the new driver failing to obtain the training needed to safely operate the truck or committing an error or regulation violation as the result of inexperience. It could involve the trucking company not ensuring that drivers were properly trained or failing to check the driver’s driving and criminal history to ensure that they would be a safe driver.
- The breach of the duty of care resulted in the accident and caused you to incur expenses and quality-of-life impacts due to the injuries you sustained.
People often think that damages in a truck accident claim refers to property damage and injuries. In truth, damages refers to a payment made in compensation for harm. Economic damages are awarded in compensation for expenses the injured party has incurred or will incur due to the accident and their injuries.
Some examples of the type of expenses commonly included in an economic damages claim after a truck accident include:
- Medical expenses, including those related to emergency treatment, hospitalization, surgical or physician services, prescription medication, assistive devices such as crutches or a wheelchair, and physical therapy and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages, if you are too injured to work or you must miss work to attend accident-related medical appointments.
- Loss of earning capacity if your injury results in a disability that renders you unable to return to work or to earn in the same capacity as you did before the accident occurred.
- The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle that was damaged in the accident.
Non-economic damages are compensation for the impacts that your injury has had on your quality of life.
Common impacts that are experienced after this type of accident include:
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life, if your injury prevents you from participating in activities you previously enjoyed.
- Loss of consortium, which is collected on behalf of the injured person’s spouse for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship that often accompanies a severe injury.