Sharing the road with big rigs and semis is dangerous enough. They are massive vehicles with huge blind spots and long stopping times even in the best of circumstances. Add drinking, substance abuse, and distracted driving to the mix, and they can become lethal.
If you are struck by truck driver who has been drinking or abusing drugs, you should contact a legal professional immediately. Filing a claim against a truck driver or their company can be more complicated than filing against another driver, and we want to be sure you get the compensation you deserve after a serious accident.
Effects of Drinking and Driving a Big Rig
The same things that are true about drinking and driving a car are true about truckers driving under the influence. The difference is that a semi is 50 feet long and weighs up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded. It requires more than five times the distance to stop, and there is a slight lag between the front and back of the entire tractor-trailer rig.
For these reasons, although most states recognize .08% BAC as the legal limit for intoxication, .04% is the federal legal limit for a commercial license. Some comparisons explain why.
- Alcohol leaves the bloodstream at a specific rate, which is why blood and breath tests work to determine levels of intoxication. The amount of alcohol in a drink is the same in one 12-oz. beer, one 5-oz. glass of wine, or one 1 ½ oz. shot of hard liquor. Two of any of these equals .02% BAC in an average person.
- At .02% BAC, the average person experiences loss of judgment, mood changes, inability to multitask, and mild lightheadedness.
- At .05% BAC, (about 3 drinks) the average person experiences vision changes, slowed responses, reduced coordination, and difficulty speaking.
- At .08% BAC (about 4 drinks), the average person experiences short-term memory loss, impaired perceptions, difficultly concentrating, slurred speech, and balance issues.
- Above .10% (5 drinks or more), reaction time is severely impaired, vision and balance are degraded, time and spatial perception is altered.
These factors are dangerous enough in a small vehicle. Notice that higher cognitive functions begin to erode with only two drinks. That’s why people drink, to lower inhibitions and elevate their moods. However, a loss of judgment and difficulty multitasking are not things you want to have when driving a multi-ton vehicle down the road at highway speeds.
Drunk driving incidents involving truck drivers can be career-ending events. A single DUI can result in loss of a commercial license for up to a year for a first offense, and a permanent loss for a second offense. Under those circumstances, you might think truck drivers would avoid drinking on the job, but statistics indicate that is not the case.
White Line Fever: Truck Drivers and Drug Abuse
Although alcohol remains the biggest problem nationwide, mirroring the statistics among all drivers, truck drivers are using other drugs as well. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were more than 75,000 drug violations in 2021, a 50% increase over the previous year.
Despite the image of the trucker-on-speed, the vast majority of these drug violations were for marijuana, probably reflecting the national acceptance of marijuana as a harmless drug like alcohol. Whether that is true or not, it is not true that marijuana is safe for driving. It produces effects similar to alcohol, and drivers under the influence seem to respond the same way.
Amphetamines and methamphetamine were the second most frequent illicit narcotic used, followed by cocaine. This raises the disturbing specter of drivers using drugs to stay awake on long hauls and coupling the hyperfocus and erratic behavior of stimulants with the inattention and poor judgment of fatigue.
The FMCSA notes that their numbers come from drug tests administered and failed, and not from accidents. However, the inference can be made that if drivers are failing their tests, there are just as many out there who are not being caught by the tests. The FMCSA report also shows that the majority of failed tests are located in the states with the most trucks (Texas, followed by California). It is not impossible that some supply-chain issues suffered in late 2021 and early 2022 were due to this cause.
When You Need a Lawyer
Proving you have been involved in an accident with a semi whose driver was impaired by drinking or drugs can be difficult. Unless the driver was tested almost immediately after the accident, there will be no evidence that can prove they were intoxicated or impaired.
The first thing you should do is seek medical attention. You should also contact legal assistance to help with obtaining the electronic logging device (ELD) from the truck. This device keeps data about the truck’s performance and the driver’s hours on duty and is downloaded by the trucking company. They only need to keep it for six months, so you should have an attorney help you get it from them.
You should also make note of the truck’s and the trailer’s license plate numbers. It is common for the trucking company to be licensed in one state, and the shipping company to be based in another state, and they will have licenses from different locations. You will need both locations from both companies to file your insurance claims properly.
To help prove drivers were intoxicated, you may need witness testimony. This can include not only your own observations and those of your passengers, but also:
- Witnesses who observed the crash. Ask if anyone saw the driver swerving or having difficulty staying in the lane prior to the crash.
- Witnesses who observed the driver prior to the accident. This might include store clerks who sold the driver alcohol before the accident or saw the driver in a store behaving oddly, people who saw the driver the night before in a bar getting hammered, or others who know of the driver’s propensity to drink.
- Police records. The driver’s commercial license can be reinstated after a year if there are no further violations. Check if the driver has racked up any DUIs with their personal vehicle in their home state.
This should be done to see if the driver has a habit of drinking and driving and just hasn’t gotten caught before. It is very rare that a driver will drink and drive when driving a truck, and be sober when they are home driving the family car.