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How Often Do Drunk Truck Drivers Cause Truck Accidents?

Was your truck accident caused by a drunk truck driver? Attorney Michael Grossman can help.

No one needs to be told that drunk driving is incredibly reckless behavior, endangering the lives of not only the intoxicated driver, but every other innocent person who has to share the road with them. If the message somehow hasn't gotten through before a person even thinks about getting a commercial driver's license, then while they are in truck driving school and learning Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations the message is repeated again. Drunk driving, a scourge even when someone is driving a 2-ton vehicle, can have absolutely catastrophic consequences when the driver is behind the wheel of a 40-ton 18-wheeler.

Despite all of this, alcohol is still found far too often at truck accident scenes. This is not to say that all truckers, or even the vast majority of them, are driving drunk. They're not. However, in our 25 years of fighting for the victims of truck accidents, here in North Texas and across the nation, we cannot help but notice that alcohol-related truck accidents are far from rare, and in many instances their employers were aware of the driver's history of drunk driving. That is why we feel it is important to share with you how our team of personal injury lawyers holds drunk truck drivers, as well as their employers, accountable for the injuries and loss of life they carelessly inflict on others.

Questions answered on this page:

  • What are the Texas and United States laws relating to truckers drinking while driving?
  • How does a driver's intoxication factor into your personal injury claim?
  • How does a truck accident attorney gather evidence that a truck driver was drunk?
  • Are bars held liable for truck accidents caused by drunk truck drivers?

The law on truckers and alcohol.

Truck drivers, like anyone else operating a motor vehicle, are barred from operating their big rigs while intoxicated. We realize that such a statement is obvious, but apparently some drivers still think they can get away with it. Tragically, it usually takes an accident to prove them wrong.

Texas DOT and federal rules specifically prohibit the consumption of alcohol for commercial drivers while on duty. Further, they require trucking companies to actively monitor their employees by conducting periodic drug and alcohol tests. In addition to these regulations, commercial vehicle operators are still expected to abide by the same drunk driving laws as the rest of us. A regular driver is considered intoxicated if he meets either of these two tests set in Title 10 Chapter 49 of the Texas Penal Code:

  • (A) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
  • (B) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

But with respect to commercial drivers, Texas and the federal government lower the arrest-able BAC to less than 0.04%, meaning that once they cross that threshold, they are driving while intoxicated. At the same time, the FMSCA states in Chapter 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations sections §382.205 and §382.207, respectively, that:

  • No driver shall use alcohol while performing safety-sensitive functions. No employer having actual knowledge that a driver is using alcohol while performing safety-sensitive functions shall permit the driver to perform or continue to perform safety-sensitive functions.
  • No driver shall perform safety-sensitive functions within four hours after using alcohol. No employer having actual knowledge that a driver has used alcohol within four hours shall permit a driver to perform or continue to perform safety-sensitive functions.

With regards to testing, 49 § 382.211 goes on to state:

No driver shall refuse to submit to a pre-employment controlled substance test required under § 382.301, a post-accident alcohol or controlled substance test required under § 382.303, a random alcohol or controlled substances test required under § 382.305, a reasonable suspicion alcohol or controlled substance test required under § 382.307, a return-to-duty alcohol or controlled substances test required under § 382.309, or a follow-up alcohol or controlled substance test required under § 382.311. No employer shall permit a driver who refuses to submit to such tests to perform or continue to perform safety-sensitive functions.

When all of that information is distilled, what you get is that a truck driver who has consumed alcohol, driven a vehicle, and caused an accident has broken multiple state laws and numerous federal regulations. If the driver refuses, or is not administered a post-accident test, you can add another broken regulation to the list.

Proving the driver was drunk is not always simple.

In some cases, a driver will admit to a police officer that he had been drinking prior to the accident. At this point, Texas law requires the cops to go secure a warrant from a magistrate to draw blood for analysis. We've had cases where, even several hours after the accident, the driver's BAC was well over the legal limit. That's your best-case scenario. However, relying on best-case scenarios is a dangerous legal strategy, which can undermine your legitimate claims.

When that best-case scenario does not present itself (and you would be surprised how often the police and trucking companies fail to order a post-accident drug and alcohol test) it takes more effort to establish that the driver was impaired. This can be done through several ways:

  • Testimony. There are often witnesses who were present at the scene of a wreck. They may have noticed that the driver was woozy, smelled of alcohol, or had bloodshot eyes. Further, there could have been people present with the driver when he was drinking, such as restaurant staff, co-drivers, work associates, or friends.
  • Medical evidence. Drivers in these incidents are often injured themselves. When they are taken to a hospital, their blood is drawn as a matter of course. We can subpoena the results of that analysis to find this crucial piece of evidence for your truck accident injury claim.
  • The driver himself. When we file suit, the courts allow us to put the driver under oath prior to trial and ask him any questions related to the incident. We always ask drivers if they consumed drugs or alcohol the day of the incident.

Who ends up being held responsible for these accidents?

Naturally, if someone is driving a truck while intoxicated, they certainly have their share of responsibility for an accident. However, often other parties can share just as much, if not more blame for the accident. We know that this may sound counter-intuitive, but the trucker's employer, as well as the bar that served him, have just as much duty to the public and our safety as the truck driver himself.

The driver's employer will often act as if they had nothing to do with the accident. This line of thinking is a classic case of denial. We all know that alcohol abuse is almost always a progressive downward spiral. The next person who was a "family man," who never abused alcohol in his life, until the one day that he happened to drink too much, get behind the wheel, and injure someone through his negligence, will be the first one that we have ever heard of. When it comes to substance abuse, there are almost always warning signs of danger and it is the employer's responsibility to actively look for those signs and act appropriately.

Obviously, it's also possible that the trucking company regularly drug and alcohol tested its drivers, was diligent about contacting former employers and references when hiring a driver, and never noticed anything suspicious about their employee's behavior. However, the likelihood of all of that being the case is quite slim. While it's natural to blame the drunk truck driver who caused the accident, it is pretty clear that trucking companies owe us all a duty not to employ those with a history of alcoholism. In fact, according to FMSCA regulations, untreated alcoholism is a disqualifying medical condition.

Per FMSCA regulations, a first conviction for any drunk driving offense results in a mandatory one-year suspension of a driver's commercial license. A subsequent conviction results in an automatic life-time ban. While there are procedures for a driver to get their license reinstated after a lifetime ban, it is difficult to imagine the circumstances that would make that driver employable again.

A negligent bar or restaurant may also have played a role in a crash caused by intoxication. If we can prove that an alcohol provider continued to serve a commercial driver after they had already become intoxicated, then they can be sued under a dram shop theory of liability for what you've lost. We know that some people have issues with holding bars accountable for over-serving patrons. After all, it was the person who decided to drink that chose to do something illegal. While we respect peoples' right to hold that opinion, it is one with which we strongly disagree.

Serving alcohol is not a right, but a privilege. As a condition of that privilege, businesses agree to abide by both the laws we have established here in Texas, and those set forth in other parts of the United States. When bars over-serve truck drivers, or anyone else, they are putting their own economic self-interest over the duty they owe to everyone else in the community. Contrary to what many people believe, suing a bar for a truck accident that resulted from their negligent service is not an attempt to shift blame away from the driver. It is merely holding the bar accountable for failing to serve responsibly, just like they agreed they would when they received their liquor license.

It's bad enough when a truck driver gets drunk on their own and injures or kills someone. Can you imagine the rage you would feel if someone helped get that driver drunk, and they went on to hurt you or a member of your family?

Bars and trucking companies don't just randomly get tossed into a lawsuit in an attempt to spread the blame around. In our experience, other parties are named in a lawsuit because they failed to do something required of them by the law and, as a consequence, an innocent victim was grievously injured or killed. While these businesses may not share in the driver's criminal liability, it cannot be said that they do not share an obligation to make victims whole. If their flouting of the law has no consequences, then in the end we end up with more semi-truck crashes caused by drunk driving. At our firm, we consider it our moral duty to hold them accountable, not just for their victims, but for the community at large.

We pursue drunk truck drivers. It's time to call us.

Time is not on our side in these cases. Sadly, when drunk driving truck accidents happen, companies and bars instantly go into damage control. Evidence is conveniently "lost" or destroyed. The only way to prevent that from happening and ensure that your interests are protected is to hire an experienced truck accident injury attorney. If you've been hurt or lost a loved one because of a drunk truck driver, call us at (855) 326-0000.

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