There were 129 fatal accidents in Texas involving large trucks during 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That’s 3 percent of the total fatal accidents in the state. While that percentage may not sound like a lot, this relatively small amount caused 649 deaths—far out of proportion to the number of accidents. In other words, truck accidents in Texas can be deadly. And even one death from a vehicle accident is too much. If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck related incident speak with a skilled Texas truck accident lawyer to discuss your options.
Truck Accidents Are Often More Dangerous Than Car Accidents
Truck accidents are far more dangerous than accidents involving other types of vehicles. As all Texas motorists who have seen tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers, and other types of trucks on our roads know, big rigs are huge. They can extend for as long as 80 feet and weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. As a result, any collision with another vehicle can cause massive injuries, fatalities, and property damage. And trucks take as much as 40 percent more time (and distance) to stop when braked than smaller vehicles do, so often drivers cannot stop in time to prevent an accident.
Trucks are also subject to specific types of accidents that can cause massive damage. Because of their height, weight, and the way cargo is packed, they are far more susceptible to rolling over than smaller vehicles are. A rollover can cause a big rig to hit other vehicles and, if it occurs across lanes of traffic, to cause smaller accidents. They can also jackknife, in which one part of the truck turns perpendicular to the other (as in an open jackknife). Jackknife accidents can also cause danger to vehicles and traffic patterns.
Because of their height, trucks can be in a type of deadly accident known as an underride, in which a smaller vehicle goes underneath the truck. These can cause loss of limb, crush injuries, and even decapitation to the occupants of the smaller vehicle.
Finally, some trucks carry flammable liquid. If they are in an accident—particularly a rollover or jackknife—the liquid can catch fire, causing death and injuries.
Unqualified Drivers Increase the Danger
Truck accidents can be caused by many different factors, including inadequate maintenance, improper loading (which can unbalance the truck), and other vehicles not giving trucks adequate room to change lanes or pass.
But, as in all vehicle accidents, driver error can also be a cause. The danger of driver error—even of highly significant mistakes in driving—is heightened if trucking companies hire unqualified drivers.
What is an unqualified driver? Both the U.S. government and the state of Texas have specific rules and regulations for truck drivers. Drivers who don’t follow the rules and abide by the regulations are unqualified.
What a Driver Must Do to Qualify
So, an unqualified driver is someone who, first, may not have qualified through the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These regulations specify that a driver must have a physical examination by a medical professional on the FMCSA’s National Registry every 24 months.
A physical examination is necessary for several reasons. Truck drivers need to be alert, physically able to drive a large truck, and not subject to conditions that would make safe driving difficult.
An examination can also flag issues with abuse of alcohol or drugs, which can impair a driver. Drivers are sometimes required to drive long distances to make their deliveries on time. Fatigue and sleepiness can be a problem as a result, and some drivers turn to stimulants like amphetamines or cocaine to keep them awake. The problem is, using these substances can impair a driver’s judgment, prudence, and reaction time.
Second, an unqualified driver may not have the knowledge required by Texas law—knowledge that is designed to maximize safety by making sure truck drivers can effectively operate their vehicles and know about best practices in transporting cargo, although they do not load the cargo themselves.
Texas has an extensive set of regulations to ensure that truck drivers are qualified. Every commercial truck driver in the state is required to have a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). They must qualify for a commercial driver’s license permit (CDLP) beforehand, so that they may practice driving a truck hands-on with supervision, much as a beginning car driver does with a learner’s permit.
They also must take a number of tests assessing their degree of knowledge beforehand. There is a test of general knowledge on how to drive a truck. There is an air brakes test, as truck brakes are complicated and operate differently than those of other vehicles. Since big rigs are often combination trucks, there is both a combination test and a doubles/triples test, for folks who want to drive these types of trucks. There is a hazardous materials test, for people who want to drive hazardous materials. (These folks must also pass a background check for the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA.) Prospective school bus drivers must pass a school bus test.
Truck drivers are also evaluated by examiners in three areas: vehicle inspection, basic vehicle control, and on-road driving.
CDLs are divided into three classes, A, B, and C. Drivers with the appropriate CDL may also need one or more of six potential endorsements to drive certain kinds of commercial motor vehicles and transport certain items. Each endorsement carries with it additional testing and may require an additional CDLP for a minimum of 14 days before the driver can add the endorsement to their license. Operators of trucks hauling hazardous material, for example, must get an endorsement for it.
These regulations and testing standards make clear that a qualified driver in Texas will know a great deal about driving a truck generally, and a great deal about driving specific types if applicable.
An unqualified driver, however, may have little or no knowledge about how to drive a truck. That can be extremely dangerous, because trucks are more complicated than cars and operate differently than cars.
An unqualified driver may also hold a CDL for one type of truck, but not for another—and a company may hire that driver to drive an unfamiliar, and untested-for, type.
Why Are Unqualified Drivers on the Road?
Although companies should take care to hire qualified drivers, they may attempt to cut corners and hire the unqualified.
First, unqualified drivers can be paid less. Companies may try to save on costs.
Second, there is a nationwide shortage of qualified truck drivers. The shortage is estimated at 50,000 drivers of tractor-trailers currently, and it is projected to climb to a whopping 174,000 in seven years. The total shortage is 278,000. The shortage is enough to have attracted notice in the Texas oilfields, where both equipment and products need to be transported via truck. Companies may be tempted to turn to the unqualified to fill the ranks of people driving trucks.
All of that can lead to unqualified truck drivers crashing their vehicles and causing damage to other people. In the end, however, it all adds up to negligence—negligent driving and negligent hiring.
If you were injured or a loved one was killed in a truck accident caused by an unqualified driver, the hiring company may bear liability. If you need further information or assistance about the rights of those injured in a Texas truck accident, contact a licensed truck accident attorney.