What Happens to the Truck Driver After an Accident?

What Happens to the Truck Driver After an Accident?
The idea of sharing the road with a negligent or reckless truck driver who has caused crashes in the past is a scary and discomforting thought. Although there are safeguards in place meant to protect motorists from unsafe truckers, these are not always effective.

So what happens to the truck driver after an accident? Under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, there are a number of outcomes and consequences that a driver may face in the aftermath of a truck collision.

Consequences for Truck Drivers Who Cause Accidents

A truck driver who acts negligently, recklessly, impaired, or with disregard for the safety of those around them may face criminal charges if they cause an accident. Even if they are not criminally charged with an offense, the motor carrier they work for may choose to terminate their employment.

However, the trucking industry is currently facing a severe shortage of qualified and licensed drivers. The driver shortage reached 80,000 in 2022, and there are expected to be 160,000 empty truck driver positions by 2030. With many motor carriers already operating without sufficient staffing numbers, few may be willing to fire a reckless driver.

The FMCSA does impose regulatory consequences in certain situations, though. Let’s take a closer look at what can happen to a truck driver after causing an accident.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

A truck driver is required to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing after an accident if the following conditions are met:

  • When a citation was issued, and there was:
    • Bodily injury requiring immediate medical attention
    • Disabling damage to any involved vehicle
  • Regardless of whether a citation was issued and there was:
    • A human fatality

If a driver is required to submit to testing after an accident, the alcohol test must be administered within two hours. Regulations allow for up to 32 hours to pass before a drug test is administered. If these tests are not administered within these time frames, the motor carrier can no longer attempt to test the driver and must instead document the reason why they were not performed and submit the record to the FMCSA.

To return to work following an alcohol or drug violation, a truck driver must perform multiple safety-sensitivity functions:

  • Undergo an evaluation by a substance abuse professional (SAP).
  • Complete any prescribed treatment programs.
  • Pass one or both of the following return-to-duty tests, depending on their offense:
    • A controlled substance test that has a verified negative result for drug use.
    • An alcohol test showing a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of less than .02%.
  • Agree to a schedule for follow-up testing.

These safeguards are in place to ensure that truck drivers are not getting behind the wheel of 80,000-pound vehicles while under the influence of judgment-altering substances.

License Suspension or Revocation

Professional drivers who handle big rigs, tractor-trailers, semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, and other types of big trucks are required to have a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Depending on the circumstances surrounding an accident and a truck driver’s actions, they may be subject to CDL disqualification. This disqualification may be either temporary (suspension) or permanent (revocation).

Below are some situations in which the FMCSA requires CDL disqualification for a period of at least one year:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance
  • Refusing to take an alcohol test
  • Committing a felony with a commercial motor vehicle (CMV)
  • Leaving the scene after an accident
  • Causing the death of a person by negligently operating a CMV

Less serious offenses that only require a 60-day disqualification include:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Reckless driving
  • Following too closely (tailgating)
  • Operating a CMV without a CDL or the proper endorsements
  • Violating texting and driving laws

If a trucker caused an accident because they were using their phone behind the wheel, speeding more than 15 mph over the posted limit, or were under the influence of alcohol, they will likely face a temporary CDL disqualification. However, based on the severity of the offense and past behavior, disqualifications may be longer or permanent.

Is What Happens to a Truck Driver Considered Evidence in a Truck Accident Claim?

If the truck driver who caused your accident was penalized by their employer, failed a drug or alcohol test, had their CDL suspended or revoked, or was fired from their job, it can potentially be used as evidence to support your claim.

Truck accident claims hinge on the legal concept of negligence, which encompasses the following factors:

  1. The at-fault party owed you a duty of care.
  2. The at-fault party violated that duty of care.
  3. You were injured as a result of that violation.
  4. You suffered verifiable losses as a result of your injuries.

To recover compensation for your lost wages, medical bills, property damage, pain and suffering, and more, it’s not enough to simply show that you were injured in an accident. You must be able to prove that the other driver violated their duty of care that they owed you.

You and your lawyer can use evidence of a failed drug test, issued citation, or CDL revocation to prove that the trucker violated their duty of care, making them and their employer liable for the harm you suffered.

Holding Negligent Truck Drivers and Motor Carriers Liable for the Harm They Cause

Trucking Injury Law Group is made up of a Super Team of lawyers representing parts of the Northwest United States. With access to nationwide resources and an unrivaled dedication to our local communities, we fiercely represent those who have been injured by a truck driver’s negligent or reckless actions.

If you were injured in an 18-wheeler crash in Washington state, we can help. A meeting with our Seattle truck accident lawyers is completely free and confidential, and there is never any obligation to work with one of our attorneys. So contact us today, and we’ll schedule you for your no-cost case evaluation.