Truck driver fatigue causes up to 19 deaths and 560 injuries every year, and it impairs other professional drivers too. However, it isn’t actually the most common cause of large-truck accidents. A federal study of accidents caused by truck operators revealed that 18% of these drivers were sleep-deprived, but 44% were under the influence of over-the-counter or prescription drugs.
Impaired driving is one of a few major “driver errors” that cause personal injury and property damage every year. Drivers and trucking companies are responsible for preventing driver errors, but their specific responsibilities depend on the cause of each accident. If a driver took any drugs before causing an accident, a Chicago truck accident attorney may prove this error and hold them or their employer responsible.
Effects of Over-the-Counter Drugs
If truck drivers don’t take recreational drugs and aren’t addicted to prescription drugs, they’re not necessarily immune to drug-related accidents. Many over-the-counter drugs also have side effects that impair judgment, vision, response times, and other capabilities that drivers need to focus.
Dangerous over-the-counter drugs include cold and flu medications with psychoactive ingredients. One federal study focused on the effects of antihistamines on drivers. The study wasn’t limited to professional truck drivers, but it revealed the huge scope of antihistamine use. This accessible category of drugs is used to treat a variety of chronic conditions and symptoms, including:
- Motion sickness
- Allergic conditions
Unfortunately, antihistamines have strong active ingredients that cause behavioral and mental changes as they take effect. Sedation and hallucination are two common side effects that make it impossible to operate heavy machinery safely.
Illegal Drug Use by Professional Truck Drivers
The Department of Transportation decides which trucking companies must test their drivers for illegal drugs. Drivers who use illegal drugs, including narcotics and amphetamines, do not qualify for the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) license. Some prescription pills are also banned, but the list of off-limits drugs depends on the truck driver’s occupation.
What happens if a driver fails a random drug test? When a truck operator is caught with alcohol or drugs in their system, their employer usually decides what happens next. The employees may be removed from maintenance, mechanical, and driving work or fired altogether. They may also be required to work with a substance abuse professional (SAP).
Treatment is an important way for businesses and governments to prevent repeat offenses. Truck drivers who don’t lose their jobs may return after completing therapy with a licensed professional. Drug violations may occur because of accidental or minor offenses, or they may be a sign of a long-term addiction problem. Federal health regulations treat substance abuse disorder (SAD) as a health condition, so employers cannot terminate anyone who seeks professional help for their addiction.
Federal Regulations to Prevent Impaired Driving
Sleep deprivation is a well-known risk because truck drivers work long hours and drive at night. That’s why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) passed new truck safety regulations in 2013. The update effectively shortened daily and weekly driving hours (to 11 and 70, respectively) and required drivers to get plenty of rest.
Tired drivers aren’t fully alert, so employers must prevent accidents by requiring periods of rest. Professional truckers must take half-hour breaks during the first eight hours of each shift. If they reach their weekly maximum of 70 hours, they must rest for at least 34 hours before hitting the road again. The FMCSA even specifies that this rest period should include two nights of sleep from 1 AM to 5 AM.
Of course, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, opiates, marijuana and other drugs may cause fatigue too. Employers may try to prevent drug-related errors by implementing drug testing requirements, but prescription and over-the-counter drug use isn’t easy to ban. They may simply warn drivers about the effects of over-the-counter drugs.
Federal agencies have studied and debated different ways to detect drug use in drivers. Unlike alcohol, drugs may be detected but exact percentages are difficult to measure. For example, the antihistamine study used blood samples from more than 1,800 drivers who died in truck accidents. Six had the drug in their blood, but the testing methods made it impossible to link the drugs to the drivers’ fatal errors.
Holding Truckers and Trucking Companies Accountable
When an individual is injured in a truck accident, driver recklessness is always a possibility. A Chicago truck accident attorney will investigate the commercial truck driver to see if drugs or other distractions were to blame. Logbooks provide evidence of Hours of Service violations for fatigue-related crashes. Drug tests will identify amphetamines and opiates in a driver’s system.
Personal injury truck accident claims may result in compensation for lost income, medical costs, and even long-term disability due to driver error or recklessness.