Sharing the road with big-rig trucks—especially on the highways surrounding a major city—is a scary experience for many drivers. Surprisingly, though, some car drivers find comfort by the presence of 18-wheelers carrying enormous loads. “These are professional drivers who travel hundreds of miles a day without accidents,” we’ve been told. “There’s a lot more risk from a timid car driver who gets on the highway once a month.”
Trusting the skills of a truck driver makes sense if, indeed, the driver is trustworthy. But what if he’s not? What does it mean for your security if the trucker in the next lane isn’t a safety-minded professional, but a fake, a phony, or a fraud?
Some Truck Drivers Simply Should Not Be Behind the Wheel
People who drive trucks for a living are required to have a commercial driver's license (CDL), which is a product of a unique federal-state partnership. State governments issue CDLs, just as they issue licenses for other drivers, but the federal government sets the eligibility rules. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is responsible for regulating all commercial drivers and vehicles—not just big-rig trucks, but also buses, tanker trucks, and other large motor vehicles.
There are many requirements before a prospective driver can obtain a commercial driver’s license. Highlights of the rigorous process include:
- Supplying proof of identity, proof of residence, and proof of age.
- Submitting a 10-year driving history record. Candidates may be rejected for driving offenses on their records.
- Undergoing a complete physical exam that rejects candidates with poor vision, uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes, and other conditions that jeopardize the driver’s ability to control the vehicle.
- Undergoing a screening test for drug use.
- Passing a written examination.
- Passing a road skills test in a truck similar to the one the driver will use professionally.
As you can imagine, many people who want to work in the trucking industry are excluded because they cannot qualify for a commercial driving license. This has led to a significant problem of CDL fraud throughout the United States. Some drivers acquire fake licenses; others find people to take the required tests on their behalf. A few truck-driving schools have been caught helping their students get CDLs illegally.
Wait! The Problem Isn’t Limited to Fake Licenses
Clearly, it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that dangerous truckers stay off the road. Operator error is the top cause of fatal truck accidents, but eliminating drivers with fraudulent licenses would solve only part of the problem. Some drivers with legitimate licenses are simply not qualified to be driving commercial vehicles.
Trucking companies must be held responsible for a big part of this problem. You’ll remember that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes rules on truckers, right? Well, the FMCSA also sets rules for transportation companies that employ truckers. Every trucking company must maintain a file for each driver hired. That file will have to include...
- The driver’s initial employment application.
- Commercial driver’s license information (both current and for as many as three prior CDLs).
- Social Security number.
- A report from each state where the driver has held a CDL on his driving record, extending back at least three years.
- Verification of the driver’s employment history for the last three years.
- A history of the driver’s drug and alcohol violations for the last three years.
- A report from FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Program, which will contain information on any traffic accidents for the prior five years and the results of roadside vehicle inspections for the prior three years.
- Certificate of the driver’s road test.
- Certificate for the medical exam.
- A pre-employment drug test.
- Results from a search for the driver’s criminal history.
- Results from a search of national and state sex offender registries.
- An annual review of the driving record.
- An annual certification of the driver’s violations
Depending on circumstances, more reports may be needed before the driver is hired or needed periodically over the course of his employment.
Where Trucking Companies Make a Wrong Turn
Gathering together all this information is both expensive and time-consuming. Some trucking companies simplify matters: they just don’t do it. Yes, failure to collect and retain these records is a violation of the law, but some companies simply don’t care.
When the trucking company fails to make sure its drivers are fit to drive, they assume a huge risk. If the driver is found to be at fault in a serious truck collision in which someone is injured or killed, the employer may be held accountable for hiring the dangerous driver. If you have been injured in such an accident, then the transportation company may be required to pay for:
- Your medical bills.
- Your lost income while you cannot work.
- Any lasting disability that limits your potential future income or alters your quality of life in a significant way.
- Pain and suffering caused by the event.
Likewise, if your family member died in a truck crash caused by a driver who was not qualified to be on the road, the driver’s employer may be held liable for funeral expense, the income and human interactions the deceased person would have shared with the family, and other losses.
The first step is finding out whether you have a valid claim. At Kennedy Hodges, LLP, we will listen to your story in a FREE consultation and give you our best advice on how to move forward. You can connect with us right now by pressing the Live Chat button on this page or by calling our toll-free telephone number. We’ll take it from there.