Articles Posted in Drugs in trucking

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One of the leading causes of tragic tractor trailer crashes is the influence of drugs – even perfectly legal prescription or over-the-counter medications — on drivers’ motor skills, balance, coordination, perception, attention, reaction time, and judgment. Even small quantities of some legal drugs can have a crucial impact on driving ability.

In 2009, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported results of a study finding that 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drug. Perhaps more significantly, drugs 7 times as likely as alcohol to be present in weekend nighttime drivers — 16% testing positive for drugs compared with only 2% above the legal limit for alcohol. In our practice, we have also seen the catastrophic impact of drivers who combined some alcohol with a mix of various legal and illegal mind-altering drugs.

When you combine the witch’s brew of drugs and alcohol with the huge kinetic force of an 80,000 pound tractor trailer, the danger is exponentially greater than when a similarly intoxicated person is driving a small passenger car.

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The Safe Roads Act, proposed bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Mark Pryor and John Boozman, both of Arkansas, would tighten the handling of truckers‘ drug and alcohol tests. If passed into law, this bill would require medical review officers, employers, and service agents to report to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) any positive drug or alcohol test results
The bill would also establish a drug test database for commercial drivers and require employers to check it prior to hiring a truck driver. The database is the recommendation of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Currently, some big rig commercial truckers keep driving tractor trailers Drug and alcohol testing requirements do exist, but some truckers keep driving big rigs even after they test positive. Not all job applicants report their drug test history when seeking a job, not all carriers do full background checks, and some self-employed drivers just ignore the rules. In recent studies, about 68,000 commercial drivers tested positive for drug use, out of a total of 3.4 million.

In my Georgia trucking accident trial practice, I have sued trucking companies that show a nearly total disregard for rules requiring drug tests and truck driver background checks. In one recent case, a trucking company had been cited for dozens of violations of drug test and background checking rules within three years before a crash involving a newly hired driver. The new driver, as you might suspect, had not been subjected to a drug test and his background had not been checked before he crashed into a lady in rush hour traffic.

Unfortunately, such scofflaw conduct is all too common among some trucking companies. The Safe Roads Act, if passed, would help, though I have no delusion that it would stop the cheating.

The process of investigation and discovery to uncover such a record of violations requires an attorney experienced in trucking litigation and who knows how to dig out hidden information, and then get it into evidence at trial.
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A Kansas federal court jury has awarded a $23.5 million verdict for a serious spinal cord injury arising from a 2006 wreck in New Mexico, according to a news story by Ron Sylvester of the Wichita Eagle. The judge reduced the amount to $15.3 million because the jury decided the driver of the other truck was only 65 percent at fault.

A Swift Transportation truck driver was backing up from a rest stop onto the highway when she hit a Yellow Freight truck. The driver of the Swift Transportation truck tested positive for methamphetamine but claimed she was rear-ended. Accident reconstruction proved that story to be false.

The driver of the Yellow Freight truck was killed and the passenger / co-driver had a severe spinal cord injury. This verdict was for the spinal cord injury victim. The wrongful death case is set for trail next spring.

This was not the biggest verdict against Swift Transportation. Last year an Arizona jury awarded $36.5 million to the family of a man killed in a collision with Swift trucks.

At this firm we frequently represent truck drivers who are injured by the negligence of other truckers.
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As an Atlanta trial lawyer handling trucking accident cases throughout Georgia, and occasionally in neighboring states, I watch doings at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) with considerable interest. The news about FMCSA coming out of Washington this week was pretty scathing.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development report on the FMCSA blasted the agency for its failure to put the top priority on safety, expressing “immense frustration.” See reports by Barb Kampbell on TheTrucker.com and by Justin Carretta of Fleetowner.com.

A few key points are:

* “FMCSA has shown a pattern of undermining its safety mission by proposing weak regulations and failing to provide adequate oversight and enforcement of existing regulations.”

* Regarding the Hours of Service rule, “the rules that FMCSA has proposed fail to achieve maximum safety benefits, and in some instances may undermine safety … clear and consistent regulations are critical to the industry, so that they can manage operations in a compliant way; FMCSA has not provided that consistency.”

* In the area of drug testing, investigators from the Government Accountability Office found that 22 of 24 drug testing centers failed to follow sample collection protocols. In some instances, drivers fail drug tests at one location and are simply transferred to another area to continue driving.

* A 2001 National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to FMCSA that it take action to prevent medically unqualified drivers from operating commercial vehicles has not been satisfied.
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In my trucking trial law practice as an attorney in Atlanta, I see too many trucking accidents where drug use — including prescription medications — is a contributing factor. Recently the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on truckers’ drug tests that explains why and how.

The GAO report describes a defective oversight system that lets truckers fail a drug test but easily move on to driving for another company. Fewer than half of the roughly 85,000 truck drivers who test positive in random drug tests each year are believed to complete the required treatment and follow-up testing to return to their jobs, according to a news report by Gregg Jones of the Dallas Morning News.

The report noted that some trucking companies don’t bother to conduct the required pre-employment and random drug tests and have limited incentives to do so. Since only about 2 percent of all trucking companies undergo checks each year by state agencies and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there is little incentive to comply.

Truckers who choose to do so can beat the testing system by using false IDs and chemicals to alter their urine for drug tests. If caught, they can move on to other trucking companies, which the GAO described as “job-hopping.”

When those tactics wear out, they can “state-hop.” The states agencies generally don’t communicate well with each other. Therefore, one of the report’s recommendations is creation of a national database of truckers who fail drug tests.

Drug use could be significantly higher among truck drivers than what the random test data indicates because not all companies actually test, urinalysis can be unreliable, and results can be altered. For example, at 10 of 24 sites investigators who posed as truckers appearing for drug tests were not required to empty their pant pockets, although that is a requirement designed to prevent a driver from substituting clean urine samples or using drug-concealing agents.
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As a trucking accident trial attorney in Georgia, I’ve become acutely aware of how often a truck driver’s medical condition and even perfectly legal prescription medications can impact safety.

Recently the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a warning on the anti-smoking drug Chantix, advising medical examiners “to not qualify anyone currently using this medication for commercial motor vehicle licenses.” Manufactured by Pfizer, Inc., Chantix, ahs seizures, dizziness, heart irregularity, diabetes and more than 100 accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation warned all of its agencies almost immediately after seeing the report which reported that Chantix was linked to 988 serious events in the last quarter of 2007. This was reported in many places in the media, including this article by Alicia Mundy and Avery Johnson of the Wall Street Journal.
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