Dallas, 10/17/2016 /SubmitPressRelease123/
For years, government officials in charge of providing road safety have been attempting to create a database of commercial truck drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests. And despite strong opposition from truck drivers, that database will soon go live.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has been researching this issue for a long time, and in May, finally sent the new proposal to the White House for President Obama’s final approval. Groups such as the Truck Safety Coalition and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) support the proposal.
“Drivers who have previously violated drug and alcohol testing, and especially those who are repeat violators, pose a significant risk to the driving public,” stated the Truck Safety Coalition in a statement sent to USDOT. MADD also believes that the database would make roads safer, because it would prevent dangerous drivers who have been previously fired for substance abuse, from signing on with another truck company.
The database would list all commercial truck drivers who failed a drug or alcohol test, but would also include drivers who refused to take these tests. The USDOT said that the database would also help truck company owners conduct background checks.
“The issue you have is that truck carriers don’t always have the complete information about a prospective employee,” stated Amy Witherite, partner at Eberstein & Witherite, which has offices in Texas and in Atlanta, Georgia. “So this database could simplify the process of hiring, because truck company owners can use it as another tool to determine if a full background check is needed on a prospective hire.”
Truck carriers have backed the idea of a national database, because it would likely lower the number of truck accidents – which costs them money – and protect them from the liability that results when one of their drivers causes a wreck due to drug or alcohol use.
Rob Abbott, Vice President of Safety Policy at the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the leading truck industry member organization, echoes this sentiment. “Motor carriers support it, because they want to hire safe, qualified drivers, and they need full and complete histories of prospective drivers to do that,” Abbott stated.
Opposition From Truck Drivers
But not everyone is on board with this new database, as the people who would most be affected are pushing back at the imminent change. An issue for many truck drivers is the fact that truck company owners could use the information on the database in a punitive way. The Owner-Operated Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), a member organization that represents the interests of more than 150,000 commercial truck drivers in the U.S., has come out in strong opposition to the database.
The OOIDA issued a report to the U.S. Treasure Department, that stated in part, “The report of a bad drug test can be the end of a driver’s employability.” The group also believes that truck company owners could falsely report a positive drug or alcohol test as a way to “punish or retaliate against drivers.” What’s interesting is that truck drivers are already required by law to report failed drug tests to their employers, or to prospective employers when they interview for driving jobs.
Safety advocates argue that these self-reporting regulations are no different than a national database that would provide the same information, which would not be accessible by the public.
And there is a bigger issue that truck drivers have not addressed, according to highway safety experts. Hundreds of commercial truck drivers who are terminated from a job due to drug or alcohol abuse, often find another driving job by simply lying on their next application. Many independent truck carriers don’t have the time or money to conduct background checks on every driver they interview for work. That leaves huge gaps in the information that these truck company owners possess about their employees. It also allows repeat offenders who have been fired from multiple driving jobs for drug and alcohol offenses, to continue working in the trucking industry, even though they pose a clear and present danger to other motorists.
“Unless a history of drug and alcohol violations are voluntarily supplied, the employer’s lack adequate information to avoid hiring these dangerous drivers,” stated a spokesperson for the Truck Safety Coalition.
Another problem is that truck carriers don’t always share information about drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests. A national database would resolve that problem by giving every truck company owner access to the same information.
“In the interest of safety, the clearinghouse should immediately notify all of a driver’s employers when the driver is to be removed from a safety sensitive position,” read a statement from the ATA.
The Scary Stats Regarding Impaired Driving
Unfortunately, the debate over the implementation of the database obscures the real issue, which are the dangers posed by commercial drivers who are impaired by drugs and alcohol. The latest statistics regarding alcohol and driving are staggering.
In 2013, nearly 10 million people said that they had driven under the influence of drugs in that year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The USDOT reported that 33 percent of all drivers who are arrested or convicted of a DUI are repeat offenders, and that 50 percent of all drivers who died in an accident and tested positive for drugs, also had alcohol in their system. Furthermore, an astounding 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive, even on a suspended license. And according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,265 people were killed in DUI accidents in 2015, which equates to one person dying every 51 minutes.
In 2013 – the last year for which statistics are available – Texas led the nation in the most DUI fatalities with 1,337.
This represented a whopping 39.5 percent of total traffic fatalities in the state for that year, and was a 3.6 percent increase from 2012.
Recent Commercial Truck Driver DUI Case
The dangers of commercial drivers and impaired driving were highlighted by a recent incident in the Dallas area.
Dallas, TX – In June, the driver of a semi-truck was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
Dallas police said that the commercial truck was traveling west in the eastbound lanes of the C.F. Hawn Freeway for several miles. The incident occurred at about 2:45 a.m., and witnesses told police that they saw the driver weaving across the road as his truck headed the wrong way on the freeway. It was only by luck that the commercial truck did not cause a serious multi-vehicle accident, but the fact that the incident took place so late at night, meant that there was very little freeway traffic.
When police found the truck, it had exited at Buckner Boulevard, and was in a parking lot. Authorities cited the driver for DUI and for driving the wrong way.
Measures To Stop Impaired Driving
Although DUI is a problem throughout the U.S., the fact that Texas leads the nation in accident-related fatalities is troubling to many.
“Harris County is known as the drunk driving capital of the nation,” stated Kendall Collette of the Houston office of MADD. “There are more drunk-driving fatalities in Harris County than anywhere in the country, and it’s not the largest county in the nation.”
MADD was one of the organizations that pushed for mandatory interlock devices for all drivers convicted of DUI, a measure that passed in the state legislature in 2015. Interlock devices require drivers to blow into a sensor so that their blood-alcohol content (BAC) is measured to determine if it is legal for them to operate a motor vehicle. If the device registers a BAC that exceeds a preset limit, it will lock the engine to prevent operation of the vehicle.
But a spokesperson for RID-USA, another advocacy group, wants the legal BAC lowered from .08 to .05, which is in line with what the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended.
“When you’re looking at the magnitude of what the NTSB study suggests, that it would save 800 lives annually, that’s a pretty good reason to change the law,” stated William Aiken, Vice President of RID-USA. “Unfortunately, this has had a lot of resistance, such as the alcohol industry and the restaurant and bar associations.”
The maximum legal limit for commercial truck drivers is a BAC of .04, which is lower than the .08 limit for drivers with standard driver’s licenses.
“Well the .04 BAC is a sound decision,” added Amy Witherite. “When you consider that it’s half the limit of what drivers with standard licenses are given, you have some confidence that it’s right where it should be in terms of establishing a higher standard for commercial vehicle drivers.”
Justice For Victims
Commercial truck wrecks don’t just harm vehicles and bodies, they assault the spirit of those who were injured. If you need an advocate to obtain justice after an truck accident, contact 1-800-Truck-Wreck and speak to one of our lawyers at Eberstein & Witherite, LLP. Let us take care of the legal issues, so you can focus on healing and recovery.
Email: [email protected]
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