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Impaired Truck Drivers

Traffic accidents are never a pleasant event. Accidents on highways at high speeds – even when the highway is not an interstate route, with the highest speed limits – are even more hazardous. Throw in a tractor-trailer into the mix, and the concoction is downright deadly. If the truck driver is drug- or alcohol-impaired, things are only getting worse.

Commercial trucks – the ubiquitous tractor-trailer combination that dominates highways throughout the country – pose a significant hazard when they are involved in a traffic accident. A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh 80,000 pounds, compared to less than 3,000 pounds for most passenger vehicles, including large SUVs and pickup trucks. That disparity in size and weight translates into a physics equation that turns a tractor-trailer into a deadly force in the event of an accident. Their size and weight make such trucks less maneuverable, harder to stop, and more prone to overturning when subjected to the kinds of sudden maneuvers that can take place during or leading up to a traffic accident. If the truck driver is impaired, the situation only gets worse.

Impaired Truck Drivers are Much Less Common, but Significantly More Dangerous than Impaired Automobile Drivers

Whether it is because of federal regulations, the requirements for obtaining a commercial driver’s license, which keep drivers with previous alcohol-related offenses from getting a CDL, or new federal employment screening databases, the number of truck drivers involved in fatal accidents while driving impaired are down significantly in recent decades. In fact, it is quite rare for tractor-trailer drivers killed in fatal crashes to have high blood alcohol content. In 2016, only 3 percent of truck drivers who died in traffic accidents had a BAC of .08 percent or more. That number is down 17 percent from 1982. In contrast, 29 percent of passenger car drivers who died in traffic accidents in 2016 had a BAC of .08 percent or more. While that is down from 51 percent in 1982, it remains significantly higher than comparable numbers for truckers.

In 2014, only 2 percent of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of .08 percent or more. That compares to 22 percent for drivers of passenger cars, 22 percent for drivers of light trucks and 29 percent for motorcyclists. In short, drivers of other vehicles are more than ten times as likely to have a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or more, as are truck drivers. A .08 BAC is the level that all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have set as the level at which a driver is presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. Truck drivers involved in accidents, fatal or otherwise, are far less likely to be at or above that level than are drivers of any other type of vehicle.

In fact, the vast majority of traffic accidents that year did not involve commercial truck drivers, impaired drivers or otherwise. Tractor-trailer rigs and other large commercial trucks made up only 8.3 percent of vehicles involved in fatal accidents in 2014.

Stiff regulations governing the licensing of commercial truck drivers likely contribute to the low rate of alcohol-impaired truckers. The Department of Transportation recently established a database to help commercial carriers weed out inappropriate driver candidates. The Pre-employment Screening Program lets companies screen new hires to avoid hiring drivers with alcohol-related offenses or other background factors that might make them problematic hires. The DOT claims that the PSP helps carriers using the database to lower their accident rate by 8% and cut their driver out-of-service rates by 17%, on average, as opposed to carriers that do not utilize the Pre-employment Screening Program.

The Focus on Impaired Drivers is Well-placed

Whether the impaired driver is behind the wheel of a truck or some other type of smaller vehicle, it is appropriate to focus on enforcing laws against impaired driving. Given the massive destructive potential of a commercial tractor-trailer with an impaired driver behind the wheel, concern for enforcement in that arena also is appropriate. In 2015, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents, a rate of an impaired-driving traffic fatality ever 51 minutes. Those deaths represented nearly 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. that year.

The economic costs of those accidents, while overshadowed by the human tragedy of the lost lives, were staggering in scope. Federal estimates of the economic cost of all traffic accidents in the United States in 2010, the latest year for which such economic cost data is available, hit $242 billion. Of that, $44 billion was attributable to accidents related to alcohol-impaired driving. Those economic costs included:

  • Lost productivity,
  • Workplace losses,
  • Legal and court expenses,
  • Medical costs,
  • Emergency medical services
  • Insurance administration, and
  • Property damage.

Those are just the tangible costs, easily quantified. Particularly in accidents that involve fatalities or serious injuries with long-term care and health implications, those easily quantifiable economic costs do not take into account intangible costs, such as quality of life. According to the NHTSA, when quality-of-life considerations are included in the valuation of losses, the total cost to society of traffic accidents in the United States in 2010 totaled approximately $836 billion. The NHTSA estimates that more than $201 billion of that amount arose from traffic accidents attributable to alcohol-impaired drivers. If you are injured in an accident caused by or involving an alcohol-impaired commercial trucker, you need to consider whether your damages include such intangible costs. Don’t assume that your case involves only a straightforward medical expenses-lost wages formula.

Call an Atlanta Truck Accident Attorney Today

If you have been in an accident that involved an alcohol- or drug-impaired tractor-trailer driver, you likely will have recovery options. Accordingly, you should seek professional advice to help you determine what those options are, and which option is best for your particular circumstance. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case by calling (404) 255-6677. Our attorneys serve the entire state of Georgia, including Smyrna, Decatur, and Marietta. You also can reach us through our online contact form.