Driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription medications, or illegal street drugs significantly increases the likelihood of an accident. Even some over-the-counter medicines can have side effects, such as drowsiness, that affect a driver’s ability to operate their vehicle safely. Despite strict nationwide laws against drinking and driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nearly 30 people per day die in drunk-driving vehicle crashes across the country. According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, approximately 7,000 DUI crashes occur annually in our state.
In South Carolina, any driver with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more is legally intoxicated and not permitted to operate a vehicle. Commercial truck drivers are held to an even stricter standard. A crash involving a tractor-trailer, which can weigh up to 40 tons when fully loaded, is much more likely to result in catastrophic injury or death than a crash between two smaller vehicles. For this reason, truckers are prohibited from driving with a BAC of 0.04% or above. Commercial truck operators are also held to other rigorous safety standards set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for the purpose of reducing the number of truck crashes.
The Effects of Drugs or Alcohol on Truck Drivers
The use of alcohol or drugs by a commercial truck driver affects them in ways that can result in a serious crash. Due to the unique challenges of driving a semi-truck, impairment is much more dangerous in truckers than in drivers of smaller vehicles.
A semi-truck has very large blind spots in which nearby vehicles can travel without being visible to the truck driver. When changing lanes or making a wide turn, a trucker who’s under the influence might forget to check mirrors for vehicles in blind spots. If an accident results, it can cause injury or death to the occupants of the unseen vehicle and to other vehicles traveling on the road.
Slowed Reaction Time
A truck driver must be able to react quickly to the movement of nearby vehicles, road debris, dangerous weather conditions, and other hazards. Drugs and alcohol can slow a trucker’s reaction time and increase the likelihood of an accident when something unexpected happens on the highway.
The use of substances can reduce a trucker’s vision and make it harder to see and react to other cars, pedestrians, road signs, and debris, especially at night.
Bad Judgement Calls
The safe operation of any motor vehicle involves making a series of split-second decisions behind the wheel. A truck driver maneuvering an 18-wheeler at 55 to 75 miles per hour must think fast when slowing down, stopping, dealing with bad weather, maintaining a legal speed, avoiding wrecked or broken-down cars, negotiating curves, and reacting to animals and other hazards. If the trucker’s mind is clouded by drugs or alcohol, a slow or bad decision can result in disaster.
Common Truck Accidents and Injuries
Rear-end collisions, head-on wrecks, sideswipes, rollovers, underrides, and jackknife crashes caused by semi-trucks frequently result in catastrophic injuries for the occupants of any smaller vehicle involved in such a wreck:
- Fractured or crushed bones
- Broken ribs
- Burns, lacerations, and scarring
- Dashboard knee and other joint injuries
- Back injuries, spinal cord damage, and paralysis
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Eye injuries
- Severed limbs and surgical amputations
- PTSD and other psychological issues resulting from the trauma of the wreck
If you sustain any such injuries in a truck crash caused by a trucker under the influence, you’re entitled to file one or more insurance claims for your damages, which include medical bills, property damage, lost income, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. Because a truck crash claim is likely to be an expensive one, however, the insurance companies involved may try to dispute or deny your claim. In such a case, a truck crash lawyer can help you fight for fair benefits. If you’ve lost a loved one in a DUI truck accident, your attorney can help you to file a wrongful death claim against the appropriate defendant(s).
Post-Accident Drug and Alcohol Testing
FMCSA regulations require a commercial truck driver to be tested for drugs and alcohol within two hours after being involved in an accident that results in any of the following:
- A citation from law enforcement
- Physical injury requiring a victim to be transported for medical care
- Damage to another vehicle that necessitates towing from the scene of the crash
- A traffic fatality
The commercial driver’s license (CDL) of a trucker who fails the test can be suspended, and the driver may face criminal prosecution for DUI. A refusal to undergo the test can be used in court as evidence of the trucker’s guilt. A DUI conviction, however, will not provide you any compensation for damages you’ve suffered in the crash. To recover damages, you must file insurance claims or a lawsuit in civil court.
Multiple Defendants and Multiple Claims
One reason why you might need a lawyer after being hurt in a truck accident is the complexity of a truck crash claim as compared to a claim based on a passenger car wreck. Not only are your injuries likely to be severe and your medical bills high, but there also might be more than one defendant responsible for your damages.
Obviously, the truck driver who caused your accident while under the influence is primarily responsible for your damages.
The trucker’s employer is responsible for the actions of the trucker and for any equipment malfunctions or safety violations that played a role in your accident. A company that puts an untrained driver or an unsafe truck on the road is liable for resultant damages. If the trucker violated FMCSA guidelines limiting hours of service (HOS) and requiring rest periods between shifts behind the wheel, both driver and employer are responsible.
If faulty equipment contributed to your crash, the truck manufacturer or a manufacturer of replacement parts installed on the truck might bear partial liability.
Mechanic or Repair Service
If the truck was not properly serviced and maintained by an outside repair service, that company could bear partial responsibility for your damages.
Cargo Loading Personnel
Loading dock workers or others in charge of loading the truck can be found liable if improperly loaded cargo shifted and affected the handling of the truck before the crash.
How Your Lawyer Can Help
An experienced truck crash attorney can protect and strengthen your DUI truck accident claim in a number of ways that might include the following:
- Investigating your accident thoroughly to identify liable parties and determine their respective percentages of fault
- Obtaining the at-fault trucker’s drug and alcohol test results, driving record, criminal record (if any), and hours-of-service documentation from log books or electronic logging devices
- Interviewing eyewitnesses and soliciting statements or testimony from expert witnesses to prove the value of your claim
- Sending a spoliation letter to the trucking company to ensure that crucial data from the truck’s black box recorder and dashboard camera are preserved and made available
- Obtaining the truck’s maintenance records
- Demanding reasonable compensation from multiple insurers
- Negotiating fair settlements
- Filing multiple lawsuits and taking your case to court if fair compensation is not offered