We’ve all seen it — distracted drivers making poor, dangerous driving decisions, but what if the compromised driver is barreling down at you in an 80,000 pound missile?
While driving home from work, I recently encountered an erratic truck driver. Unfortunately, he was driving a 53′ semi-trailer. I was behind him at a light that brought us onto I-70. When the light changed, he proceeded more slowly than I thought possible. I marked it up to vehicle problems or unfamiliarity with the road. I passed him, travelling 60 mph in a posted 55 mph zone, when he suddenly ran up on my bumper, swerved around me at 70-75 mph, then steered back into my lane, forcing me to brake and change lanes to avoid being hit. Something was wrong. Was he ill, fatigued, disoriented, or inebriated? I don’t know. I DO know he was a threat to other drivers, and he was exposing his carrier to liability.
Truck Driver or Carrier — Who is Liable?
If you Google “trucking lawsuits,” you’ll find thousands of studies, reports, and cases. You’ll learn that trucking carriers are liable for their driver in an accident. What if it’s not due to fatigue or sickness? What if the driver is using drugs or alcohol? What can a company do to protect itself? Discovering a driver has an alcohol or drug abuse problem after they are hired may NOT be grounds for dismissal. Carriers may be sued for attempting to discharge the driver. Trucking companies are between a rock and a hard place.
What’s the Answer?
On March 26, 2013, FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) submitted this abstract: “This rulemaking would create a central database for verified positive controlled substances and alcohol test results for commercial driver´s license (CDL) holders and refusals by such drivers to submit to testing. This rulemaking would require employers of CDL holders and service agents to report positive test results and refusals to test into the Clearinghouse. Prospective employers, acting on an application for a CDL driver position with the applicant´s written consent to access the Clearinghouse, would query the Clearinghouse to determine if any specific information about the driver applicant is in the Clearinghouse before allowing the applicant to be hired and to drive CMVs…”
In other words, a carrier would have a resource to know if a driver had failed drug or alcohol tests, or refused to submit to testing before hiring them. In his recent post, Todd Dills from Overdrive Magazine explains how the National Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse would’ve saved one owner-operator, time, stress, and continuing expenses.
Trucking companies want safe drivers representing them. Not only is liability a concern, but reputation as well. There isn’t a company that wouldn’t benefit by being informed of a driver’s verified drug and alcohol testing before hiring. No one wants to put 80,000 pounds, travelling at 55 MPH, in the hands of an incapacitated driver. Are you in trucking? Is the Clearinghouse a good thing for the industry, or an infringement on drivers’ rights?