When you pass a semi-truck on the road, you naturally assume the truck driver has the necessary skills to drive safely. By law, truckers must possess special skills and qualifications to operate a big rig. Unfortunately, not all of them obtain or maintain enough training and experience to keep themselves and others safe.
Trucking companies will put inexperienced drivers on the road to meet the demand for trucking services and pad their bottom lines. Unqualified truck drivers are prone to making mistakes, ignoring regulations, and causing accidents that injure or kill innocent motorists.
In this blog post, we explore the problem of unqualified truck drivers and how an experienced California truck accident lawyer can assist you in securing financial compensation for injuries you sustained in an accident caused by one.
What Makes a Truck Driver Qualified?
The vast majority of large trucks on the road are commercial vehicles. To operate a truck legally in any U.S. state, a driver must obtain and keep a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Getting a CDL is no easy task.
Although the specific requirements vary from state to state, drivers typically must:
- Be over 18 if they plan to drive only in-state, and over 21 if they plan to drive between states;
- Be in good health and have good vision;
- Pass a written knowledge test, a test demonstrating skills in preparing to drive and inspecting a vehicle, and an on-road skills test;
- Pass additional tests, background checks, and health tests to obtain special endorsements to drive specific types of vehicles, such as a tanker truck, hazardous materials containers, or oversized loads;
- Pass periodic drug screenings and health examinations; and
- Obey hours-of-service (HOS) regulations governing the number of hours per day and week that they may spend driving and the records they must keep.
Many truck drivers go to school to learn the skills they need to obtain a CDL or go through training programs sponsored by their employers.
The Dangers of Unqualified Truck Drivers
Getting a CDL is the minimum requirement for being a truck driver. It doesn’t guarantee that a trucker will operate a semi-truck safely.
For one thing, even the best training programs cannot prepare drivers to confront every possible driving condition and situation they may encounter on the road. A new truck driver is, by definition, an inexperienced one. That poses a risk to other motorists, simply because the driver is not yet prepared to handle the full range of challenges of driving a big rig.
Additionally, truckers sometimes fail to maintain their qualifications. This can happen in numerous ways. As truckers age, their skills and health can decline. Truck drivers can develop substance abuse problems. Some drivers fail to follow regulations designed to ensure they stay awake and alert on the road. Others make the dangerous decision to drive equipment for which they do not possess an appropriate endorsement.
When unqualified truckers take the wheel of any large truck, they pose serious, life-threatening dangers to others on the road. Here are just some potential dangers of driving a truck made worse by a lack of qualifications.
#1. Unsecured Trailers and Loads
Unqualified truck drivers are more likely than others to fail to secure a semi truck’s trailer or load properly. A trailer that detaches from its tractor becomes an uncontrolled road hazard. Likewise, an unsecured load will cause an imbalance that makes a tractor-trailer combination difficult, if not impossible, for a driver to control. In either case, an unqualified truck driver’s failure to secure a trailer or load will almost always result in a potentially deadly accident that puts innocent lives at risk.
#2. Low Bridges and Overpasses
Truck drivers must always pay attention to the height of their vehicles and cargo, and of the bridges and overpasses they may travel under. An unqualified truck driver who takes to the wheel of new or unfamiliar equipment, or who makes poor or uninformed decisions in planning a route, can unwittingly run his truck into a low-hanging bridge or overpass. This can cause a catastrophic accident that, in addition to destroying the truck and scattering its cargo on the road, risks severely damaging the bridge or overpass and making it unsafe for travel.
#3. Unsafe Speeds
Unqualified truck drivers also lack the necessary skill and experience to know how fast is too fast when it comes to operating a big rig. Speeding in any vehicle shortens a driver’s reaction time and lengthens stopping distance. But those dangers are much more pronounced in a large truck than in an ordinary passenger car.
What’s more, the speeds at which trucks become unstable can catch unqualified drivers off-guard. For instance, unqualified truckers can easily misjudge the safe speed for navigating the curve of a highway on-ramp or off-ramp without rolling over. Unqualified truck drivers may also fail to recognize road conditions that make even moderate speeds dangerous for a big rig, such as wet roads, high crosswinds, or long descents.
#4. Jackknife Accidents
A jackknife accident occurs when a moving trailer and tractor truck fold into each other like the blade and handle of a pocketknife. Frequently, these accidents occur when the momentum of a fully loaded trailer overwhelms the braking system of the trailer pulling it, or when slick road surfaces heighten the risk of a trailer sliding sideways independent of the tractor.
Experienced truckers learn to recognize when their rigs face a risk of a jackknife, and they manage their speeds and steering accordingly. But unqualified truck drivers often lack the know-how to anticipate and avoid jackknife accidents, putting everyone on the road in danger.
#5. Blind Spots
Large trucks have large blind spots. The driver of a typical big rig cannot see objects 20 feet in front of the truck, up to 100 feet behind the trailer, one lane to the left, and two lanes to the right. A driver must make effective use of mirror and onboard cameras (if any) to keep track of vehicles in those areas.
That’s no easy task. Even experienced truck drivers can miss a vehicle in their blind spot and cause an accident. For unqualified truckers, the danger increases exponentially. An unsuspecting motorist driving next to a big rig operated by an unqualified truck driver runs the risk of a deadly accident without even realizing it.
Penalties for Unqualified Truck Drivers
Obviously, driving a large truck for commercial purposes without a valid commercial driver’s license is illegal. If authorities find a truck driver operating without a CDL, the driver could face severe penalties, including fines, suspension of operating privileges, or even criminal prosecution. So could the trucking company that owns the truck or hires the driver.
Unfortunately, those potential penalties do not always deter unqualified drivers from taking the wheel, nor do they stop trucking companies from hiring those drivers and sending them out on the road. The law caps fines and sporadic enforcement can result in trucking companies getting away with violating the law. Meanwhile, the demand for trucking services continues to rise, and the size of the labor pool for truckers continues to shrink.
Drivers and their employers can earn a lot of money by keeping freight moving and meeting tight delivery deadlines. As a result, busy drivers and their employers are frequently willing to run the risk of a fine, because even if they get caught, they can still turn a profit.
Can You Sue an Unqualified Driver for Causing an Accident?
If an unqualified truck driver causes an accident that results in injuries, fatalities, and/or property damage, the victims can often sue or take other legal action seeking financial compensation. If the victim’s lawyer can prove that the trucker did not have the necessary qualifications, that can strengthen the case for the trucker’s legal liability.
But the driver’s lack of qualifications, alone, does not always guarantee a favorable result. Instead, the victim’s lawyer may also need to collect and present evidence showing that the driver was at-fault for the accident.
In most truck accident cases, this involves proving that the driver was negligent by demonstrating:
- That the truck driver owed a duty of care to the victim to operate a truck safely and responsibly;
- That the trucker violated that duty by engaging in unsafe actions behind the wheel (such as by driving a truck without the necessary qualifications);
- That the violation of the duty of care materially contributed to the cause of a truck accident that injured the victim; and
- That the victim sustained injuries that payment of money damages or other legally available remedies can compensate.
It takes skill, experience, and hard work by a lawyer to prove those elements of a truck accident case against an unqualified trucker. If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a truck accident and you suspect an unqualified trucker was to blame, only entrust your case to an attorney who routinely represents truck accident victims like you and who has a solid track record of favorable case results in truck accident matters.
Are Trucking Companies Responsible for Truck Accidents Caused by Their Unqualified Drivers?
It’s not just the unqualified truck driver who may bear legal liability for harm suffered by victims of an accident. In many cases, the trucking company that owns the truck and/or employs the trucker may also owe money damages to those who suffer injuries and losses.
As a general matter, the laws of most states hold employers legally liable for wrongful actions their employees commit in the course of their employment. That rule usually applies to trucking companies that hire unqualified drivers as employees.
But some trucking companies seek to avoid those rules by instead retaining drivers as independent contractors. That can make it more difficult to assign liability for an accident to the trucking company, but skilled truck accident attorneys can still often hold those companies accountable. Evidence that a company knowingly sent an unqualified driver out on the road, or knowingly failed to give a driver adequate training, can result in liability for trucking firms even when their drivers are independent contractors.
The Importance of Taking Quick Action When an Unqualified Driver Causes a Truck Crash
Getting financial compensation for truck accident injuries often requires acting quickly to preserve and protect your legal rights. The law establishes a time limit, known as a statute of limitations, for filing a lawsuit seeking damages from a trucker or trucking company, and if you miss that deadline, you can lose your rights.
What’s more, truck accidents commonly cause extensive property damage and multiple injuries or fatalities. The at-fault truckers, truck companies, and their insurers often face potentially massive financial liability to victims. As a result, they routinely take swift actions of their own—some legal, some not—to protect themselves from liability. For example, they may seek the protection of a bankruptcy court (a legal way to avoid some liability), or they may attempt to destroy evidence (a decidedly illegal tactic).
Having a skilled, experienced truck accident lawyer on your side protects you from these maneuvers. The sooner you have an attorney fighting for you, the better. In many cases, the attorney will need to take immediate action to preserve evidence, register your claim, and enforce your right to financial compensation.
Don’t Let an Unqualified Truck Driver Ruin Your Life
You have important, valuable legal rights after getting hurt in a motor vehicle accident caused by an unqualified truck driver. But you must take quick action if you want to secure the most money available by law to help you pay for your medical care and to return to living a fulfilling life.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries and financial losses in a truck accident, and an unqualified truck driver may bear the blame for it, contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as you can. You have no time to lose, and potentially significant amounts of money to gain.