Why Drug Abuse is a Growing Crash Risk Factor for Truck Drivers

truck driver pouring pills out of a bottle into his handTruck drivers face grueling challenges on the job, from long hours on the road to dealing with the daily pressure of meeting tight deadlines. For many big-rig operators, this has led to a growing problem of self-medicating with various drugs just to get them through the day. Not only do these drivers put themselves at risk when they get behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound truck while impaired, but they also place other motorists in harm’s way.

Greg Coleman Law discusses the connection between the trucking industry’s ongoing battle with substance abuse and the increased risk for crashes. We also discuss who may be liable for injuries and damages caused by an impaired truck driver.

Injured in a truck crash and not sure where to start? Many victims harmed in serious truck crashes may feel overwhelmed by the size and power of trucking companies and their insurance providers. You do not have to handle your legal claim alone. A qualified attorney can help to level the legal playing field and protect your interests. Contact our law offices for a free case review with a qualified attorney. We are here to help.

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Pressures May Cause Truck Drivers to Self-Medicate

There is no argument that truck drivers face hard-to-meet deadlines, irregular shifts and sitting for long periods of time, day in and day out. This sedentary, but high-pressured type of lifestyle may cause many truck drivers to suffer from a variety of health issues, including:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
  • Obesity

Despite the challenges of working in the trucking industry, these commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators owe a duty of care to prevent harm to themselves and others while driving. Unfortunately for many, rather than letting employers know about their health issues, some truck drivers may opt to self-medicate rather than risk losing their jobs. 

Truck Drivers Are Using High-Risk and Illegal Drugs

There are many types of legal and illegal drugs used by CMV operators during their work shifts, including:

  • Cocaine – may be used by some truckers to give them an energy boost and help them stay awake longer
  • Amphetamines – another drug used as a stimulant and mood booster
  • Prescription opioids – often used as a painkiller for truck drivers trying to manage chronic pain
  • Marijuana – truck drivers may use marijuana to help take the edge off
  • Alcohol – one or more drinks may be consumed for the same reason others may use marijuana
  • Over-the-counter medication – big rig drivers with colds may take cold medicine to ease their symptoms

That said, stimulants are, by far, the most common type of drugs found in the systems of impaired truck drivers. Opioid use, which has drastically increased to epidemic levels over the last decade, is also especially prevalent with truckers because of prior injuries and chronic pain common to the lifestyle dictated by the job.

Side Effects Cause Impairment and Increase Crash Risks

Drugs impact truckers in different ways, but they all are dangerous to use while driving. Even while using drugs people may believe are harmless, such as marijuana or over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications, truckers may struggle to stay awake behind the wheel. This type of drowsiness can also significantly slow a driver's ability to react to potential hazards on the road, which is why drivers are warned not to operate a vehicle while using them.

Drivers who use cocaine or amphetamines as a stimulant may initially feel a sense of power, along with the expected burst of energy. However, when the effects wear off, they can become more agitated, aggressive or have difficulty concentrating. Cocaine users may also hallucinate, which can cause them to swerve or lose control of their vehicle. 

Additional ways that substance abuse may impact drivers include:

  • Slower reflexes and response times 
  • More aggressive driving, such as following other vehicles too closely
  • Lapses in judgement skills
  • Increased risk of drowsy driving and falling asleep at the wheel 
  • Greater likelihood of having a medical emergency, such as a cardiac arrest - especially for those who regularly use amphetamines

In addition to the immediate effects of the drugs, if a driver’s impairment causes a crash and he or she is cited for drug use, tests positive for drug use, or refuses to take a required drug test (treated as a positive drug test), there are other consequences. The trucker's commercial driver’s license (CDL) will be permanently placed in the federal Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse and tracked. This national database was created to help prevent repeat substance abuse offenders from being able to lie about negative test results or jump from employer to employer.

Liability for Crashes Caused by Impaired Truck Drivers

After a crash caused by an impaired truck driver, accident victims may be able to hold the driver liable for their injuries. Victims could be eligible to recover significant compensation for their medical costs, lost wages and other damages.

Trucking Companies May Share Liability

Depending on the circumstances, the trucking company may also be held liable under Tennessee law.

One legal theory that may be used to hold the trucking company liable is the law that defines the employer as the principle and his or her employee as an agent acting on the principle's behalf. This could allow the trucking company - the principle - to be held vicariously liable for the negligence committed by his or her employee - the agent. 

The trucking company may also be held liable for negligent hiring if he or she knew the driver had a history of driving while impaired but employed that individual anyway. 

Call Our Firm for Legal Help After a Truck Crash Today

Truck collisions are complicated as they often cause extensive injuries. For injured victims this often means lost wages due to lengthy recovery times and the increased financial burden caused by mounting medical costs.

If you or a loved one were injured by a truck driver’s negligence, our qualified truck accident lawyers in Knoxville are ready to help. We have extensive legal experience, and we know what it takes to fully investigate the cause of a crash. We work hard for our clients, researching all potential sources of compensation that can help victims move forward.

We have been helping the injured throughout Tennessee for decades, recovering millions in compensation on their behalf. Call for a free, no-obligation review of your claim today to learn how we may be able to help.

No Upfront Costs. (865) 247-0080