Trucks are dangerous enough already – add substance abuse and impaired driving to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. From over-the-counter medications to marijuana and stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines, these substances can play a role in causing devastating truck accidents that leave victims and their families searching for answers.
In the aftermath of a trucking accident, determining what caused the accident and who is at fault is the first step in getting justice for your injuries, losses, or the wrongful death of a loved one. California has strict laws that forbid truck drivers from operating their vehicles under the influence of substances that can affect their driving. Trucking companies are also required to conduct regular drug testing of their drivers. But drug testing methods that rely on urine samples may not be as accurate as you’d hope, with many users flying under the radar.
Truck drivers may struggle with substance abuse caused by the emotional toll of spending so many weeks out of the year on the road alone, away from family and loved ones. They may resort to uppers to stay awake if their employer pressures them to drive beyond the legal hours of service limits. Whatever the reason, you can hold drivers and their employers accountable under California’s personal injury, wrongful death, and survivor’s rights laws.
Over-the-Counter Medications and Impaired Driving
Over-the-counter are a common sight in almost every household. Because you don’t need a prescription, these medications may seem harmless. But antihistamines, cough syrups, pain relievers, and other over-the-counter drugstore products can cause side effects including drowsiness, dizziness, changes to vision or light sensitivity, or cognitive difficulties.
The sobering reality is that while these drugs are legal and easily accessible, they can severely impact a truck driver’s ability to react in time and make good decisions on the road. One recent study found that over-the-counter medications played a part in causing 17% of all commercial truck accidents involving injuries or fatalities.
Lack of awareness compounds the problem with OTC drugs – truck drivers may not realize the extent to which these medications can impair their driving abilities. But trucking companies are legally responsible for educating their drivers about the potential risks of over-the-counter remedies and encouraging safer alternatives that don’t compromise road safety.
The Rise of Illegal Drug and Stimulant Use in Trucking
The long hours and solitary nature of truck driving can lead some to turn to substances like cocaine and amphetamines for temporary relief or help staying awake and alert.
Recent studies based on hair instead of urine testing now show that truck drivers abuse cocaine more than marijuana. Compared to urinalysis, positive hair tests uncovered 16% more cocaine users and 14% more opioid users in major national trucking carriers.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Transportation only requires trucking companies to carry out one type of test – a urinalysis. However, trucking fleets and carrier alliances can legally require additional drug testing methods throughout the hiring process or even randomly during employment as a way to increase their safety.
Stimulants like cocaine may provide short-term alertness, but they also bring dangerous side effects including agitation, hallucinations, and severely impaired coordination and driving ability. If a commercial driver tests positive for these drugs, they are legally prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle or other safety-related functions until they pass a return-to-duty process.
Trucking companies and fleet managers have the legal responsibility to be aware of the substance abuse issues in the industry and take steps to ensure a safe team of drivers. If they fail to do this and an accident results, they can be held liable for their negligence.
The Effects of Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation on Truck Drivers
Fatigue and sleep deprivation are silent threats in the trucking industry. Demanding schedules and long hours on the road can lead to chronic sleep deprivation among drivers, significantly impacting their driving performance. Fatigue can slow reaction time, reduce vigilance, impair decision-making, and in some cases, lead to brief moments of sleep called microsleeps.
One Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) by the U.S. DOT found that 13% of commercial truck crashes involved fatigue on the part of the truck driver.
The trucking industry has strict rules and regulations that limit the amount of time that drivers can operate their vehicles before they must take a break required by the law. Unfortunately, not all truck drivers and trucking companies respect these Hours of Service laws. Violations can lead to catastrophic crashes, the kind that these laws are designed to prevent.
What to Do After an Accident With an Impaired Truck Driver
If you get involved in a truck accident where you suspect the truck driver was impaired by drugs, alcohol, or another substance, you can take steps to protect your rights. If your loved one lost their life in a crash with an impaired truck driver, you can still get justice on their behalf.
- It’s important to act quickly, prioritize your safety, and report the accident as soon as possible. When you start this process, you also create an official record. If a police officer arrives on the scene, mention your suspicion that the truck driver may have been under the influence. This information should prompt the law enforcement officer to investigate further, potentially conducting sobriety tests on the driver.
- Even if you feel “fine” after an accident with a truck, it’s important to get a medical evaluation ASAP. Some injuries, especially internal injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, may not be immediately obvious. A medical report can also be a vital piece of evidence if you need to pursue legal action against the trucker.
- Avoid confronting the truck driver. The situation can be sensitive and confrontation can lead to further complications or safety issues. Leave the assessment of the driver’s state to the police and first responders who are qualified to handle the situation.
Handling the challenges of a truck accident, especially when you suspect impairment is at play, can be overwhelming. Dealing with insurance companies who want to minimize your claims can be frustrating. By consulting with a truck accident attorney experienced in these types of incidents, you can ensure that your rights are protected.
A good lawyer can guide you through the legal process, help gather the evidence you need to prove your case, interact with insurance companies, and handle all legal proceedings. This allows you to focus on recovering and moving forward with your life. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we work on a contingency fee basis so that you don’t have to worry about paying legal fees unless we win your case. Contact us now to get started with your free consultation.