Trucking accidents are a big problem in the United States. Unfortunately, the end results of most crashes come at the expense of everyday drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2021 truck driver accident report, trucking accidents have increased by more than 50 percent in the last decade.
But why are trucking accidents so prevalent?
While there are many reasons to point to, one of the biggest culprits is ongoing truck driver shortages. To fill the void, we’re seeing many unqualified truck drivers on the road – despite the country’s strict regulations.
These accidents are commonly caused by truck driver error, which can often be attributed to a lack of adequate experience and qualifications. There’s no questioning the severe danger unqualified drivers pose. Per the trucking accident statistics noted in the NHTSA report above, more than 70 percent of fatalities in large truck crashes were occupants of other vehicles.
The good news is not all large truck accidents are fatal. If you or someone you love has been injured, you have options. In this post, we want to discuss the nature of trucking accidents, and what you can do to seek compensation for your suffering.
The Minimum Requirements for Truck Drivers
The US Department of Transportation has strict guidelines in place for drivers operating commercial vehicles. These rules are in place to keep drivers safe on the road and prevent unqualified drivers from driving large trucks.
DOT Requirements for Truck Drivers Under 49 CFR § 391.11
- 21 years of age or older
- Sufficiently reads and speaks English to converse with the general public, understand highway safety signs and signals, respond to official inquiries, and make entries in reports and records
- Safely operate a commercial motor vehicle with proper experience and training
- Currently possesses a valid commercial motor vehicle operator’s license issued by only one state or jurisdiction
- Prepared and furnished the motor carrier that employs them with a list of violations or the certificate as specified by § 391.27
- Do not have a suspended commercial motor vehicle license
- Have successfully completed a driver’s road test with a certificate of completion
If a driver does not meet these criteria, they do not have a valid CDL (commercial driving license). Additionally, a driver can lose their CDL – due to certain traffic law violations or inability to maintain their qualifications.
The Ongoing Federal Requirements for Truck Drivers
In addition to the minimum trucking requirements set by the Department of Transportation, several requirements must be passed periodically, which include:
- Physical/medical exam
- Random drug and alcohol testing
- Hours of service regulations
When is a Driver Deemed “Unqualified?
An “unqualified truck driver” can mean several different things – even if they meet all the qualifications.
In some cases, even a driver with a CDL can be unqualified. For instance, a truck driver may have a CDL, but lacks the proper endorsement for the commercial truck they are driving. In this scenario, the driver would be unqualified.
The biggest reason why truck drivers are unqualified is they lack proper training and experience to maneuver a commercial vehicle.
Training Requirements for Truck Drivers
- Entering/exiting roadways safely
- Executing safe lane changes
- Aligning the truck’s mirrors properly
- Paying proper attention to blind spots
- Understanding the specified hours of service rules;
- Properly inspecting their vehicle for potential mechanical failure before the trip
- Being aware (and abiding by) substance abuse and cell phone use regulations
Based on DOT requirements, drivers are required to pass the renewal process of their CDL every five years.
Why Do Trucking Companies Hire Unqualified Drivers?
The trucking industry is seeing unprecedented driver shortages. Based on the trends, it’s estimated these issues will continue to get worse as more drivers reach retirement age. With demand still very high, some trucking companies have resorted to desperate measures – including hiring unqualified drivers.
What Dangers Do Unqualified Truck Drivers Pose on the Road?
Unqualified truck drivers pose an extreme risk on the roads – especially highways. To put it in perspective, the average midsize car weighs around 3,500 lbs. An empty semi truck weighs around 35,000 lbs. – and can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. when fully loaded. In other words, passenger vehicles almost always come out on the losing end in trucking accidents.
The dangers created by unqualified truck driver negligence are commonly tied to:
- Unsafe lane changes
- High speeds in unsafe conditions
- Failing to stop in time to avoid collisions
- Following at unsafe distances
- Inattentiveness to blind spots before executing maneuvers
What If You’ve Been in a Trucking Accident Due to an Unqualified Driver?
The risk of extensive damage (or death) in a trucking accident is extremely high. If you or a loved one has suffered damages due to an accident caused by an unqualified truck driver, you have a right to seek compensation.
Recovering a fair settlement requires a personal injury attorney specializing in trucking accidents. Knowing whether or not the at-fault truck driver was unqualified is not always crystal clear. Truck accident lawyers are experienced in conducting investigations, negotiating with insurance companies, and earning the highest possible compensation.
Attributing Liability to an Unqualified Driver
The first order of business is determining the cause of the trucking accident – and if the driver at fault was unqualified. Unsurprisingly, most truck drivers (and the company that employs them) will not flat out admit if they are unqualified. The attorney will have to review the driver’s credentials to make the determination.
Placing liability on an unqualified driver is not a task most victims can manage on their own. In some cases, the unqualified driver won’t have the proper insurance to provide adequate compensation. This means the attorney will need to file a claim against both the driver AND the trucking company.
Victims need a skilled attorney to attribute liability to both at-fault parties: the unqualified driver and the trucking company for hiring them without proper credentials.
Compensation to Pursue in Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Victims of trucking accidents may be eligible for significant compensation depending on their injuries. These include (but are not limited to):
- Coverage of all medical and hospital bills
- Future medical treatment
- Lost income and benefits
- Lost earning potential
- Punitive damages
- Pain and suffering
- Reduced abilities or enjoyment of life
How to Receive the Maximum Trucking Accident Compensation
The most important factors in seeking compensation after a trucking accident are timeliness and thoroughness. The more information/evidence you quickly provide your attorney, the higher the settlement will (ideally) be.
Following the accident, your first steps should be to:
- Report the crash
- Seek medical attention
- Identify the parties involved and exchange information
- Look for witnesses – and collect contact information
- Document the accident with photos
Now, you may not be in a condition to take these steps following a trucking accident. We recommend installing a 360° dash cam to document the scenario. The camera will help to identify the liable party, capture the license plates of witnesses, and serve as key evidence in the claim.
The Next Steps
Truck accidents are all too common in the United States. Unfortunately, labor shortages in the industry do not provide a positive outlook for the rising number of unqualified drivers on the road. The best thing you can do is arm yourself with knowledge about the process.
Trucking accident lawsuits can be worth a lot of money. But you need a skilled attorney to manage the long, complicated journey of seeking full compensation.
Midwest Injury Lawyers specializes in trucking accident law. We are happy to answer any questions you might have – regardless of whether or not you have a claim. Give us a call at 312-786-5881, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a message online.