Drunk Truck Drivers are Extremely Dangerous
Posted on February 22nd, 2019 by Zane Cagle
Every driver should clearly know the law: It is strictly illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. These laws are in place due to the extremely high risk that a drunk driver will cause a crash and devastating injuries to innocent motorists. Despite the laws and possible punishments regarding drunk driving, many people decide to put others in danger by operating their vehicles while impaired. This is especially dangerous when the drunk driver is operating a commercial truck.
Commercial trucks are regularly on every major interstate in St. Louis, as well as on smaller streets in commercial and residential areas. In one year, the Missouri Highway Patrol reported at least 3,185 injuries and 109 deaths due to commercial truck accidents in the state. Some of these crashes may have occurred due to truck drivers who were under the influence of alcohol or over-the-counter medication.
Driving a semi-truck while drunk is unquestionably extremely dangerous, and there is no excuse for commercial drivers who put many lives at risk with such reckless decision-making. At The Cagle Law Firm, our truck accident attorneys are committed to holding truck drivers and their employers fully accountable for dangerous conduct that causes injuries to our clients. If you sustained injuries in a truck accident, do not wait to call our office to schedule your free consultation.
The Dangers of Drunk Commercial Drivers
One of the first things that young drivers should learn is that drunk driving is highly dangerous and can cause injuries and death. People who choose to drive as their profession are expected to understand the risks of impaired driving. In fact, commercial drivers are professional drivers and are held to a higher standard than unprofessional drivers simply because they operate vehicle weighing thousands of tons.
Impaired driving is dangerous because of the way that alcohol impairs our sensory abilities, focus, judgment, and reaction time. According to research, different blood alcohol contents (BAC) may have the following effects, among others:
- 0.02 percent BAC = Decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target), decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)
- 0.05 percent BAC = Reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, reduced response to emergency driving situations
- 0.08 percent BAC = Loss of concentration, short-term memory, speed control, and information processing capability (for example, signal detection and visual search) as well as impaired perception
- 0.10 percent BAC = Reduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately
- 0.15 percent BAC = Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving tasks, and necessary visual and auditory information processing
Due to the above effects, drunk drivers may engage in the following behaviors on the road:
- Driving too fast or too slow
- Failing to pay attention to traffic
- The inability to slow down or stop in time to avoid a crash
- Driving the wrong way in a traffic lane
- Swerving in and out of a lane
- Not checking blind spots or being aware of surrounding vehicles
- Running red lights
- Driving aggressively
- Driving without lights or signaling
These behaviors are dangerous enough when someone is driving a car or SUV. However, when someone is behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle, these behaviors can turn far deadlier.
Commercial drivers regularly operate the following vehicles that may crash:
- 18-wheelers and semi-trucks
- Flatbed trucks
- Tanker trucks
- Delivery trucks
- Garbage trucks
When one of these vehicles collides with a smaller vehicle, devastating damage can result. Motorists can suffer life-changing injuries, including traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), paralyzing spinal cord injuries, broken bones, burns, neck and back injuries, head trauma, and more.
While a drunk truck driver may face an arrest, the victims of the accident may face a lifetime of struggling with impairments and pain. They will also likely face piles of medical bills and lost wages if they are unable to work due to their injuries. A truck driver rarely suffers serious injuries in a collision with a small car, yet can cause catastrophic injuries to others. This is only one of many reasons why a truck driver should never, ever even consider getting behind the wheel after having anything to drink.
Drunk Driving Laws In St. Louis
All drivers in the St. Louis metropolitan area should adhere to all state traffic and public safety laws, whether they are driving on the Missouri or Illinois side. Every state in the United States has laws strictly prohibiting driving under the influence, and Missouri law clearly states that:
“A person commits the offense of driving while intoxicated if he or she operates a vehicle while in an intoxicated condition.”
A misdemeanor or a felony charge can result, depending on the circumstances of the DUI, such as whether an accident occurred or whether the driver had past DUI convictions. If a drunk driver causes injuries to another person while driving, they may face felony charges.
Similarly, Illinois law, which applies across the river in the Metro East, states that “A person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle within this State while:
- The alcohol concentration in the person’s blood, other bodily substance, or breath is 0.08 or more based on the definition of blood and breath units in Section 11-501.2
- Under the influence of alcohol
- Under the influence of any intoxicating compound or combination of intoxicating compounds to a degree that renders the person incapable of driving safely
- Under the influence of any other drug or combination of drugs to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely driving
- Under the combined influence of alcohol, other drug or drugs, or intoxicating compound or compounds to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely driving.”
Authorities can also charge DUI as a misdemeanor or felony in Illinois depending on the details of the situation.
Generally speaking, the so-called legal limit for drunk driving is a BAC of 0.08 percent. Many people believe it is legal to drive as long as their BAC is less than the legal limit, though they are mistaken. A BAC over the limit creates an automatic presumption that a driver is drunk. Drivers with a BAC under 0.08 percent can still have dangerously impaired abilities. Police can also arrest people with a BAC of less than the legal limit if they have other reasons to suspect intoxication.
Commercial drivers, however, do not operate regular vehicles. They get behind the wheels of large trucks that can weigh 80,000 pounds—20 times bigger than other vehicles on the streets and highways. When a truck crashes into a passenger car, it can cause devastating damage and injuries to motorists. This is why the law holds commercial drivers to a higher safety standard than non-commercial drivers.
First, they must undergo specialized training and testing to obtain their commercial driver’s license (CDL). Once they have their CDL, they must comply with the same traffic laws as everyone else, as well as another set of regulations enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The FMCSA sets the legal BAC limit for commercial drivers at 0.04 percent, half of the limit for non-commercial drivers. It may only take about two drinks for a 160-pound person to reach a BAC of 0.04, though it is obviously safest for commercial drivers to never drink any alcohol before driving. While the 0.04 BAC level can lead to probable cause for an arrest, the FMCSA has a zero tolerance policy that can penalize any commercial driver with a BAC of more than 0.02 percent.
Fortunately, drug and alcohol testing is often required after a truck driver is involved in an accident. This required testing helps to determine when drunk driving was a contributing cause of a crash, so victims can hold the driver and transportation carrier liable. The FMCSA requires post-accident testing under the following circumstances:
- The accident resulted in a fatality
- The accident caused bodily injuries requiring immediate treatment and the truck driver received a citation from law enforcement officers
- The accident caused disabling damage to another vehicle that needed a tow
If drivers test at more than a 0.04 BAC, law enforcement officers can arrest them and they can face criminal charges. This also results in the suspension of their CDLs for a period of time—or permanently for a second drunk driving offense.
Criminal Cases versus Personal Injury Claims
While strict state laws and FMCSA regulations penalize drunk truck drivers, a criminal case or license suspension does little to help injured victims recover from their extensive losses. A judge may order a drunk truck driver to pay some restitution to victims, but it rarely comes close to compensating victims for all of their medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering they experienced due to the crash.
Instead, drunk driving truck accident victims need to take action independent of a criminal case to ensure they exercise their full rights to compensation. They can do so by filing an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and the transportation company responsible for that truck driver. For either of these, you should always seek the help of a highly skilled truck accident attorney to get through the complicated process.
First, our attorneys will gather evidence that supports your claim. If a court convicted the truck driver of driving under the influence, this will serve as evidence of the driver’s negligence, as the driver violated the law. In that situation, we will then have to gather evidence to prove your damages.
We also identify all possible liable parties in your case. Obviously, if the driver was drunk, the driver is a liable party in the accident. However, the trucking company may also bear liability as employers are strictly liable for the negligence of their employees under the legal doctrine called respondeat superior. This means we can file an insurance claim against the insurers of both the driver and the trucking company on your behalf. This is critical because commercial carriers corporations are required to have much larger insurance policies than individual drivers, which can better cover losses from severe injuries.
Insurers will always try to take advantage of claimants who don’t have legal representation in these complicated insurance claims. They may try to limit your claim whenever possible, usually by asserting any one of many of the following:
- You also acted negligently and contributed to causing the accident, reducing the truck driver’s percentage of liability
- Your injuries were not as serious as you claimed
- You received unnecessary medical treatments
- You didn’t have to miss work for as long as you did
- You exaggerated your pain, suffering, or lasting effects of your injuries
In many cases, the insurance company will make an initial settlement offer for far less than you deserve. Without the right legal advice, many people accept this offer because they believe they have little other choice. However, with our attorneys on your side, we will ensure that you don’t accept an unfair low settlement, and we will fight for the amount you deserve.
If an insurance company refuses to make an offer that will cover your losses, we won’t hesitate to file a personal injury claim in civil court. Again, this is a separate matter than a criminal case against the drunk driver or commercial carrier, but we can use a criminal conviction to prove the driver’s liability for your injuries.
Discuss Your Rights With a St. Louis Truck Accident Lawyer Right Away
The Cagle Law Firm is passionate when it comes to representing clients after drunk driving accidents. We believe that truck drivers should always safely operate their semi-trucks, due to the potential for devastating injuries or death if they cause a crash. Drunk truck drivers understand they are making a dangerous decision, and our attorneys fight to hold them fully accountable for any harm or damage they cause.
Truck accident cases are always complex, however, even when the police arrest a truck driver for drunk driving. Never assume that you will automatically receive compensation for your losses, and never accept a settlement offer without seeking the counsel of an experienced truck accident attorney who can calculate the full amount of your damages. There is too much at stake in these cases to fail to take action. Contact us online or call (314) 391-5220 for your free consultation as soon as possible.