If you keep your distance when you see a big-rig in traffic, it’s probably because you recognize the risk. When large trucks crash, they cause far more damage than private passenger vehicle accidents. At 10,000 pounds plus, large trucks are massive compared to cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. When a large vehicle and a smaller vehicle collide, the consequences are often severe. Large trucks’ weight and speed often combine to cause crushing damage, and vehicle occupants often sustain life-altering injuries.
Truckers often speed because they’re driving to beat a deadline. Some truckers drive while exhausted due to lack of sleep and from traveling long distances in short times. Other truckers engage in bad driving habits, such as speeding, driving while distracted, or driving after consuming alcohol or drugs. Sometimes, truck drivers cause a serious accident because they’re simply unqualified to take a big rig on the road. below our experienced truck accident lawyers discuss what your avenue is for compensation after a unqualified truck driver accident and which parties can be held responsible.
What Is an Unqualified Driver?
Qualified truckers undergo rigorous training to obtain a commercial driver’s license. They must log practice driving hours and pass a written commercial driving test as well as a series of skill tests. These truckers are deemed qualified once they’ve gone through this rigorous screening and qualification process, as mandated by federal transportation codes. Truckers are also qualified to share the road with other vehicles once they acknowledge their ability to cause damage and drive accordingly.
All commercial driver’s training, testing, and licensing must comply with federal transportation laws. These regulations spell out qualifications and circumstances that disqualify a driver from obtaining a CDL. Certain criminal and traffic offenses bar drivers from CDL qualification. Certain medical conditions, such as poor vision, poor hearing, drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, and others, prevent drivers from qualifying for an interstate CDL.
Once a driver obtains a CDL license, certain criminal and traffic-related offenses subject the driver to temporary disqualification. Repeat offenses may lead to lifetime disqualification.
Consider the following consequences of certain violations:
- Alcohol violation, leaving the scene of an accident, or certain felony crimes: One-year disqualification, lifetime ban after the second offense
- Alcohol violation, leaving the scene of an accident, or a felony crime while using a vehicle with a hazardous materials placard: Three years, up to a lifetime for subsequent violations
- Two serious traffic offenses: 60 days
- Three serious traffic offenses: 120 days
Despite meeting stringent CDL requirements, some truck drivers operate vehicles in ways that cause horrific accidents. Does that make them unqualified? The facts speak for themselves. When truckers drive in ways that jeopardize property and destroy people’s lives, those drivers are unqualified to drive commercial trucks.
All Commercial Drivers Must Meet Stringent Qualifications
When drivers are in a state’s CDL licensing system, they’ve technically qualified to drive large trucks. These drivers begin the process by completing the required training, and they first obtain a CDL Learner’s Permit. All truckers must pass knowledge and skills tests. They must also have a valid driver’s license, verify citizenship, obtain medical certification, and provide a fingerprint.
Once a CDL applicant complies with these and other rules, he or she must pass knowledge tests that cover:
- Commercial rules
- General knowledge
- Combination (Class A only)
- Applicable air brake tests
- Applicable endorsement tests
Next, a CDL applicant must pass skills tests that cover: basic vehicle control, road test, and air brakes. Testers also inspect the vehicle the applicant uses before taking the test.
Once commercial truckers obtain their license, they qualify to operate only the types of vehicles included within the class designated on their licenses.
- Class A: Vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds and over or a combination that includes one towed vehicle up to 10,000 GVWR
- Class B License: Vehicles up to 26,00l pounds GVWR plus a towed vehicle up to 10,000 pounds, and vehicles that transport 24 passengers or more
- Class C License: A single vehicle or a vehicle combination may transport hazardous materials or 16 to 23 passengers
CDL holders must also qualify to operate vehicles designated under special license endorsements:
- T: Double or triple trailer
- P: Passenger vehicle
- N: Tanker
- H: hazardous cargo (state and federal background check)
- S: School bus
- X: Tanks and hazardous cargo
Being Unqualified Isn’t Always About Driver Credentials
When unqualified truckers have their CDL, they have the same driving privileges as qualified truckers. Based on their CDL designations, classifications, and endorsements, truckers drive different types of large and oversized vehicles. Intrastate licenses restrict truckers to operate only within their designated state. Interstate licenses grant truckers the authority to transport cargo, passengers, and hazardous materials anywhere in the country.
After a trucker has an accident, there’s usually an evidence trail that suggests whether they were unqualified, and it’s not always about their credentials. Even when truckers have a valid license, some commit unsafe acts while behind the wheel. These trucks either can’t or don’t control their vehicles. They may drive too fast for conditions, use drugs or alcohol, or drive while distracted. Truckers commit the same risky behaviors as other drivers, but when truckers do it, they put multiple lives at risk.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates the worst transportation accidents in the country. It keeps track of truckers and recommends solutions and regulations to prevent the problems that it uncovers.
Truckers and their employers could address most of the recommendations themselves, including:
- Distraction: The NTSB sees electronic devices as unnecessarily hazardous. It wants all such devices banned from truckers’ cabs while on the road.
- Fatigue: When truckers operate on tight deadlines, they don’t always get enough rest. The NTSB recommends education, sleep disorder treatment, technological controls, better scheduling policies, and better hours-of-service regulations.
- Drug and alcohol impairment: Tuckers know better than to drive when they’re using drugs or alcohol, but it happens anyway. Any driver that thinks it’s acceptable to drive after drinking is unqualified to work as a commercial driver. Federal regulations already have random testing, drug treatment requirements, and other controls in place.
- Medical fitness: As truckers age, they often develop sleep apnea and other medical issues that may disqualify them from driving big rigs. The NTSB recommends mandatory sleep apnea screening and treatment.
- Speeding: Excessive speed increases the likelihood that a vehicle will crash. When a crash occurs while a vehicle is speeding, it increases the potential for damage and injuries. Since some truckers won’t slow down on their own, NTSB recommends speed-limiting technology, including speed limiters to prevent commercial drivers from speeding while operating, heavy trucks, buses, and motor coaches.
A Trucker’s Driving Speaks for Itself
Each time a commercial truck accident occurs, it’s understood that the truck driver has gone through a rigorous training and testing program. Such drivers have also passed the appropriate tests for their license classifications and endorsements. When you review the risky driving behaviors that cause commercial truck accidents across the country, you realize that some seemingly qualified drivers probably should never have been driving a big truck in the first place.
Consider the following real-world scenarios:
- A Virginia trucker died in an accident on I-10 near Anthony, Texas. The authorities could find no reason why he veered into the median and struck an overpass support column. I-10 traffic shut down for over seven hours while crews cleaned up a non-toxic spill.
- A trucker was allegedly speeding on I-5 in Sacramento, California when he crashed his tractor-trailer into the rear of a vehicle in traffic. He allegedly continued speeding, struck several additional vehicles, and overturned, blocking the highway.
- Two tractor-trailers crashed while traveling eastbound on I-30 in Rowlett, Texas. One trucker went on to strike an eastbound car. The other truck crossed the median and hit two oncoming westbound cars. Several vehicle passengers sustained injuries, and both tractor-trailers overturned. Authorities shut down both the east and westbound travel lanes while crews cleaned up spilled fuel.
- A tractor-trailer carrying hazardous materials struck a second tractor-trailer that had jackknifed while crossing the I-75/I-71 bridge over the Ohio River. The drivers jumped to safety after their vehicles burst into flames upon impact. Diesel-fueled flames incinerated both trucks and seriously damaged the metal and concrete bridge. The bridge remains closed indefinitely, and 160,000 daily commuters must now find alternate routes between Kentucky and Ohio.
- A trucker allegedly caused a crash in Brownsville, Texas, while attempting to back his vehicle onto the median from State Highway 4. A pickup driver died, and three passengers sustained injuries after the smaller vehicle struck the tractor-trailer’s rear.
These are just a few of the types of large truck accidents that happen across the country each day.
Truck drivers cause these accidents after engaging in preventable and sometimes dangerous moves.
- Jackknifing: Trucks jackknife due to improper maneuvers on a curve and/or improperly loaded vehicles.
- Speeding: Speeding is a common factor in tractor-trailer accidents, often due to the trucks’ long stopping distances.
- Distraction: Distracted drivers cause accidents because they operate the same way as drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol do.
- Illegal maneuvers: Backing up on a highway and driving on a median are both illegal/and or reckless moves, especially on a highway.
The CDL licensing system qualified the above drivers to operate large commercial trucks and carry hazardous cargo. These drivers remain CDL-qualified until a licensing agency officially disqualifies them.
Why Are There Unqualified Commercial Drivers on the Road?
Some Drivers Hide Their Bad Habits
Most frequently, commercial drivers cause accidents because of bad driving habits. Unless they have past criminal convictions, commercial drivers can hide their bad driving tendencies long enough to get the CDL credentials they need. Others develop bad habits over time, such as drinking, speeding, and reaching for their smartphone at 65-miles per hour. If truckers develop bad habits that render them unqualified to do the job, they may keep working to maintain their current lifestyle and/or income.
The average trucker makes approximately $53,347 per year. That’s nearly twice as much as the average factory or office worker. Interstate truckers also have more freedom than workers who are tied to an office or a factory. As the Truck Driver Institute explains, a trucker’s lifestyle gives you a “profound feeling of freedom that can’t be beat.”
Some Drivers Scam the Qualification System
Some prospective truck drivers find assistance when they want to evade mandated driving requirements. Training and licensing scams allow truck drivers to skip critical training and testing steps in the CDL qualification process. These scams have occurred in training schools and third-party testing centers across the country.
- The FBI arrested an employee at the Texas Department of Public Safety commercial licensing division. He allegedly accepted bribes for issuing approximately 200 CDL licenses to Cuban nationals and other immigrant applicants. The bribes allowed them to bypass the required knowledge and skills tests.
- The Department of Justice prosecuted a California trucking school for accepting $2.3 million in benefits for classes the veterans didn’t take. The school allegedly enrolled trucking students and helped them get Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, promising the students that they wouldn’t have to attend classes. The VA paid an additional $1.9 million directly to trucking students. The owner recently received a four-year prison sentence.
- The owner of a Lee County, Alabama, trucking school pled guilty to bribing a licensing examiner. The examiner tested students who hadn’t had their learner’s permits for the required period. If the examiner knew that a student couldn’t pass a specific skill test, he avoided testing for that skill.
- 500 CDL operators in Pennsylvania had to retrain and retake their license tests. A Pennsylvania third-party testing contractor allegedly allowed the operators to receive their licenses based on improper testing.
Do You Need an Attorney if an Unqualified Trucker Injures You?
If an unqualified trucker has caused you to suffer injuries, you must consult a truck accident attorney immediately. Truck accidents often involve severe injuries and complicated circumstances that you shouldn’t handle on your own. When an unqualified trucker is behind the wheel, you may encounter complex liability issues as well. Truck accident attorneys intervene with insurers and defense attorneys. Attorneys resolve liability issues, evaluate your injuries, and work to get you the best settlement possible, all while protecting your legal interests while you take time to heal.
When you consult a truck accident attorney, your appointment is free. Your initial meeting is an information-sharing session. You spend time with a legal representative, explaining your accident and discussing your injuries. You learn more about your legal options, and you don’t have to make any decisions about filing a claim or a lawsuit until you’re ready.