When you drive in highway traffic next to a large truck, you assume that the person behind the wheel is experienced, skilled, and qualified to drive. If that trucker’s bad driving or poor judgment causes a crash, you wonder just how many unqualified truckers there are on the road. As just another driver on the highway, a questionable trucker shouldn’t be your problem. Unfortunately, unqualified truckers put everyone’s health and safety at risk. They have the potential to cause a disaster every time they pull a big rig onto the highway.
An unqualified trucker doesn’t always cause problems. Once any trucker has logged enough road time, they can navigate a big-rig across the country and back without causing an accident. If they eventually slip up and make a wrong move, other people pay the consequences. When a large truck driver causes an accident, the post-crash scene becomes an unfolding tragedy. The forceful impact generated by a large truck’s weight and speed can destroy any vehicles it strikes. If the accident involves a much smaller vehicle, the impact often causes catastrophic injuries and death.
When you’re on the highway, you should understand that truckers aren’t always as safety-conscious as you are. They engage in many of the same destructive behaviors as other risky drivers, but their actions have more horrific consequences. Their vehicles are bigger and far more dangerous. The fact that some truck drivers are unqualified only makes it worse.
Truckers Must Meet Training and Testing Standards
As large trucks are inherently dangerous, state and national guidelines hold truckers to stringent training and performance standards. Trucking schools throughout Florida and across the state offer programs for new drivers to learn the basics for a commercial license. They also provide enhanced training for drivers who want to qualify to operate heavier, more complicated vehicles.
To drive a commercial truck with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 plus, a driver must qualify for a commercial license. If a driver wishes to maintain an active CDL driving status, they must comply with state, local, and federal guidelines. This includes submitting to random substance testing and accepting that a non-job-related traffic event might cost them their CDL status.
- Truckers must meet federal rules and guidelines under Title 49, Transportation Code, Subtitle B, III, (B) §383 Commercial Driver’s License Standards. These guidelines review vehicle types, safety issues, load securement, alcohol and drug impairment, and other issues critical to highway safety.
- Florida drivers seeking a Commercial Driver’s License must train with an approved driving school and meet all other Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles CDL guidelines. The guidelines generally duplicate federal rules.
- The FLHSMV-published CDL Handbook provides candidates with an overview of Florida codes and rules and helps them prepare for their license test.
Commercial Driver’s Licenses
Driving large trucks requires specialized knowledge and training. It’s not a skill everyone can master. Agencies structure the qualifications and testing requirements to ensure that a driver operates only those vehicles for which he or she is trained. CDL licenses have designations based on the types of trucks a driver wants to operate.
- Class A License: May operate a combination of vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds and over. The combination may include a towed vehicle with a GVWR up to 10,000
- Class B License: May operate a vehicle with a GVWR of up to 26,00l pounds plus a towed vehicle up to 10,000 pounds
- Class C License: May operate a single vehicle or a combination of vehicles used to transport hazardous materials or 16 or more passengers
- License Endorsements: All CDL holders must qualify for special endorsements: T endorsement for operating a double or triple trailer; P endorsement to operate a passenger vehicle; N endorsement to drive a tanker; H endorsement, for hazardous cargo; X endorsement, for tanks and hazardous cargo; S endorsement, School Bus
- Commercial Driver’s License Learning Permits: A commercial driver in-training must have a Learner’s Permit while they learn to drive but they have multiple restrictions.
- Drivers may retain only one license. They can’t have both a CDL and a traditional license.
How Do Unqualified Commercial Drivers Get on the Road?
When an unqualified driver wants a trucking job, they find creative ways to accomplish their goal. Unqualified truckers are often considered unqualified because they have poor driving habits and employ risky driving behaviors. They crowd other motorists, speed, drive vehicles under the influence, and operate their big complicated trucks while distracted by digital devices. Some truckers crash occasionally but they still find opportunities to drive.
Working Outside the System
Problems occur when officials responsible for training and licensing decide to disregard the safeguards provided by the legitimate system. In the recent past, law enforcement authorities have broken up several Commercial Driver’s Licensing schemes. In exchange for a cash payment, persons employed within the training and testing system helped unqualified drivers obtain their CDL credentials.
Once they obtained their CDL, these illegally licensed drivers operate tractor-trailer rigs for several years. Before the authorities discovered the illegal operations, their CDL licenses allowed them to drive coast-to-coast without proper training or credentials.
- In 2015, a Florida ABC affiliate reported a CDL scandal that affected 2,000 or more Class A license-holders. All of the involved truckers had a connection to the same CDL driving tester. He arranged fraudulent written and skills testing and state certifications in exchange for cash. As he was a traveling tester, he provided fraudulent test results for drivers in Orlando and Tampa. He worked his scheme primarily for the benefit of Russian immigrants who couldn’t pass the tests because they couldn’t speak English. Some non-Russian drivers he tested argued that they were legitimately certified. Eventually, all of the involved drivers had to retest to retain their CDL licenses
- Scammers have conducted similar operations in California, New York, and Louisiana. Their licensing schemes involved testing assistance provided by Bluetooth connected devices, video recordings, an altered DMV database, and falsified test results. Scammers also obtained illegal CDLs in one state and relied on state license reciprocity rules to transfer their qualifications to another state.
While these scandals occurred several years ago, they are a classic example of how unqualified drivers end up driving complicated large trucks on the nation’s highways. There’s also the possibility that some commercial drivers obtained their licenses fraudulently but never got caught.
Ignoring the Problem
Trucking companies set themselves up for legal and administrative problems when they allow unqualified truckers to drive their rigs. They are the first line of defense for preventing problems caused by bad drivers. State and federal statutes hold them responsible for verifying driver credentials and keeping unqualified drivers off the road. Federal statutes require trucking companies to conduct and report random driver testing for substance use. Unfortunately, some trucking companies choose productivity over safety protocols.
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration understands this dilemma so they conduct their own random audits and inspections. As the agency oversees trucker safety on the road, they maintain a national Safety Audit process to monitor and track potential offenders. The FMCSA conducts carrier Reviews, Roadside Inspections, and Traffic Enforcement Inspections. They issue violations and perform enforcement actions such as issuing penalties and establishing settlement agreements.
So far in 2019, the FMCSA has documented 80,305 state and federal violations in Florida. They tagged 2,042 of the violations as “acute.” The discovered acts could potentially disqualify a driver from obtaining a CDL and operating a commercial motor vehicle. Here are just a few of the cited violations.
- Allowing operators to drive with a suspended license
- Failure to implement alcohol and drug testing programs as required
- Requiring or permitting false statements or records
- Using a driver who has tested positive for a drug
- Using a physically unqualified driver
It’s Not Just About Training
The National Transportation Safety Board monitors safety across all modes of transportation. They conduct site investigation at some of the most devastating transportation accidents in the country. Each year their annual Most Wanted list demonstrates that the idea of “unqualified” should extend beyond formal training and licensing.
This year the agency encourages organizations and agencies who control public transportation to focus on 10 areas of concern. Problems with any one of the four issues listed below should be enough to disqualify a trucker driving.
- Distraction: The NTSB believes that personal electronic devices are life-threatening when used while operating a truck or other modes of public transportation. Digital devices prevent drivers from keeping their “…minds, hands, and eyes focused only on driving…”Unfortunately, digital devices remain a major driver distraction issue. They are a contributing factor in some of the country’s most horrific accidents.
- Fatigue: When a person is too tired to pay attention, they shouldn’t be on the road. The NTSB considers fatigue an under-reported driving impairment. The FMCSA has implemented the mandatory Electronic Logging Device program to prevent fatigue due to excess driving hours. That will relieve the problem when it’s related to work schedules. ELDs don’t prevent commercial drivers from getting the sleep they need while they’re off duty.
- Drug and alcohol impairment: When a commercial driver is under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other substances, they are unqualified to drive on the highway. The NTSB recommends reducing the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration to 0.05. They have found that BAC limits even lower than this contribute to poor performance. The agency also recommends standard drug toxicology testing.
- Medical fitness: The NTSB recommends medical fitness testing with a specific requirement for obstructive sleep apnea screening. They have found higher instances of OSA in truckers. Commercial drivers who are older and overweight have undiagnosed OSA and other problems that interfere with safe driving.
Does the Trucker Shortage Contribute to the Unqualified Driver Problem?
Based on the results of FMSCA inspection and safety audits, some trucking companies handle unqualified drivers by pretending their problems don’t exist. The current trucker shortage could be one of the reasons for such poor trucking industry responses to this big safety issue. The American Trucking Association doesn’t address the issue of unqualified drivers in their report,
The trucker shortage was triggered by an increase in demand for consumer goods. Trucking companies first noticed the shortage in 2005. The problem evaporated during the recession when demand for transportation decreased as sales diminished. As the economy began to improve in 2011, the trucker shortage gradually returned. In 2018, the trucking industry documented a shortage of 60,800 drivers. Current specialists predict that the problem will continue to grow, reaching a record 160,000 driver shortage by 2028.
Trucking companies claim that the shortage exists, in part, for several reasons.
- High standards for qualified truckers
- Retiring truckers
- Industry growth
What About Robo Trucks?
One answer to the unqualified driver problem is the idea of putting trucks on the road with no drivers at all. The Washington Post reports that Uber and other companies are attempting to resolve the driver shortage with driverless trucks. Robotic trucks are still in the experimental stage. Florida drivers may have already encountered them in trial runs on the Florida Turnpike. Some experimental trucks are fully autonomous. Others run in conjunction with a human operator in a remote location. Companies speculate that having a robotic truck and a human work together is a better idea than having a truck out there on its own.
Do You Need an Attorney if an Unqualified Trucker Injures You?
If you’re injured in any kind of accident, it’s a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. It’s even more important when you’re involved in an accident with an unqualified truck driver. Trucking accidents are inherently complicated. They often involve extensive property damage, catastrophic injuries, and complex legal issues. It’s important to take immediate steps to protect your legal rights.
An Orlando personal injury lawyer can discuss your legal options and help you make decisions about recovering damages. Your attorney can determine if other parties are legally responsible for your damages. A law firm will also interact on your behalf with your insurance company and the other driver’s liability carrier.