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Can Truck Driver Drug & Alcohol Test Results Be Used as Evidence?

How Drug Tests For Truck Drivers Are Supposed to Work.

Our experience has shown us that in many cases of truck drivers causing accidents, alcohol or drugs have been an influence. According to federal regulations, all trucking companies are required to submit employees who have a commercial driver's license (CDL) to random drug and alcohol testing.

But more importantly, after an accident, drivers often submit to two drug tests: one from the police, the other from their employer. Below, we'll discuss how all this works, and how the evidence obtained by this testing can be used to prove your case against a trucking company. If you haven't already, make sure you read our popular Guide to Truck Accident Law before you go.

Questions Answered On This Page:

  • Who is responsible for ensurig that truck drivers are drug tested?
  • After an accident, is drug testing mandatory?
  • If a truck driver was under the influence when a crash occurred, are they automatically liable?
  • What can drug test results do for my case?

When do employers drug test truck drivers?

Responsible trucking companies require drivers to undergo random drug testing. While it may be annoying for drivers, this serves an important purpose: identifying drivers with drug problems before their use of substances causes a wreck.

However, regulators don't just count on these companies to voluntarily do the responsible thing by requiring their drivers be tested. There are also numerous federally-imposed regulations for when and how employers must test their employees for drugs. The most relevant for our purposes are pre-employment and post-accident testing.

  1. Preemployment: Before any driver hits the road for the first time after being hired by a trucking company, he must undergo a test called a toxicology screen to test for drugs and alcohol. Under the rules, if the driver tests positive for anything at all---even trace amounts of alcohol, marijuana, meth, or another intoxicating substance---they're not allowed out onto the road. This applies to many prescription drugs as well.
  2. After a deadly accident: Regardless of whom the police believe was at fault for the incident, professional truck drivers must be tested for drugs and alcohol after any accident involving a fatality. This is to remove any guesswork about whether substance use contributed in these most serious cases. This required drug testing must happen within 32 hours of the incident, and any alcohol test within 8. If they fail to perform these tests within the required interval, the employer must be able to explain why, and is potentially subject to penalties for noncompliance..
  3. After a non-fatal accident where police cited the driver: Where there was serious injury or damage to vehicles AND the police issued a citation for the semi-trucks driver, his employer must drug test that operator.

Keep in mind, if the police or state troopers secure a drug test within that time frame, the employer doesn't technically have to do their own. This being said, responsible trucking companies will generally go ahead and have their drivers tested after an accident. Even where employers don't have to test their drivers, it's considered a best practice to do so.

When do the police drug test 18-wheeler drivers?

Unlike employers, the police cannot simply demand that drivers submit to an alcohol or drug test. The 4th Amendment prohibits non-consensual testing without a warrant from a judge. Consequently, after an accident involving serious bodily injury or a fatality, the police often detain the driver, go before a judge or magistrate, and secure a warrant for a blood draw.

Once this happens, a police or hospital nurse then takes a sample for analysis. We are able to get this data from the cops through an open-records request.

How we use the results of drug and alcohol tests

It may seem like common sense that the presence of drugs or alcohol in a driver's system just after a collision means that your case is open and shut. After all, a truck driver with illegal substances or alcohol in their system around the time of an accident surely has at least some responsibility for what happened, right?

The truth is, it's not what happened that matters in litigation, but what you can prove. Your truck accident attorney must be able to show that, but for the driver's use of drugs or alcohol while on the job, the accident wouldn't have happened. Here are two scenarios explaining what we mean, both involving a truck swerving into our client:

  • After an accident, the driver's blood test shows he had a great deal of THC---the active chemical in marijuana---in his system. His driving pattern prior to the accident showed a distracted, drowsy demeanor. In all likelihood, this combination of evidence shows it's more likely than not that his marijuana use was the cause of the accident.
  • A driver's blood test comes back positive for alcohol, putting his blood-alcohol level at .10. As you know, this is DWI-territory. But, the investigating authority also found that the 18-wheeler had a factory defect, which impaired the mechanical integrity of the truck and was likely the actual cause of the wreck. In this case, the driver's intoxication, while it may have violated regulations, is less significant, since it wasn't the most direct cause of the wreck.

The point here is that your lawyer must be able to draw a straight line from the intoxication to the accident. Many inexperienced lawyers get tripped up here and just assume that a bad intox screen equals a big payday. It doesn't. In order to help a jury understand the connection between the driver's substance use and the subsequent collision, an experienced truck accident attorney will retain the following experts, among others: 1) a toxicologist to explain to the jury exactly what the level of intoxication means in real terms, and 2) an accident reconstructionist to detail how the accident truly happened.

It's time to call an experienced attorney.

If you've been injured or lost a loved one in an accident with an 18-wheeler that you have reason to believe was being operated by someone who was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, you need an experienced 18-wheeler accident attorney. At Grossman Law Offices, we've been litigating truck accident cases involving intoxicated drivers for more than 25 years. We can subpoena the records of the trucking company, and then sift through those records to determine whether or not the trucking company was following regulations as required, or merely pretending to do so.

To learn more about how we can help you or just to ask any lingering questions you may have about what happened, call us now for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 (toll free).

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