Feds Announce More Trucking Safety Rollbacks due to Coronavirus
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it would “exercise discretion” with regard to mandatory drug and alcohol tests, because of COVID-19.
Current requirements mandate a minimum 50 percent test rate. The feds might now accept testing rates as low as 10 percent. Carrier documentation rules remain in effect. Carriers are only entitled to test waivers if they document the reason for the failure to test, and that reason is directly related to a coronavirus issue, such as unavailable equipment. The waiver does not have an end date. Officials suggested the leniency would extend into 2021.
In a related development, the FMCSA recently extended the hours of service waiver it created in March 2019. This state of emergency declaration has already been broadened once and extended twice. The HOS exemption applies to truckers hauling livestock, livestock feed, COVID-19 testing or other related materials, and most consumer goods which the agency considers “essential.”
The feds recommended that truckers who deliver their loads rest at least ten hours before they hit the road again.
Alcohol or drugs is a factor in about a third of all fatal vehicle collisions in New York. Many of these tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are not legally intoxicated. Most people are legally drunk after three or four drinks. But alcohol impairment begins with the first drink.
Marijuana and other drugs have even more pronounced effects. Typically, people who use these substances almost immediately feel “stoned.” Then, the effect quickly wears off. These effects begin after one puff or pill.
Alcohol is a depressant which impairs motor skills. Alcohol also affects judgement. It gives people an artificial sense of euphoria. This combination makes people have fun at parties. But for drivers, the combination is often deadly.
Different drugs have different effects. Marijuana and prescription pain pills normally produce effects similar to alcohol. Other truck drivers take amphetamines and other stimulants. These substances combat the effects of drowsy driving, a condition which is outlined below. Artificial stimulants often cause drivers to over-react. That over-reaction is very dangerous when one is behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound vehicle.
Evidence of Substance Abuse
The negligence per se doctrine usually applies in intoxicated motorist cases. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) who violate safety laws, like the DUI law, are responsible for damages as a matter of law if they cause car crashes. Substance impairment claims often involve circumstantial evidence, such as:
- Erratic driving prior to the crash,
- Physical symptoms, such as bloodshot eyes,
- Open medicine or alcohol containers in the passenger area, and
- Statements the tortfeasor made about impaired driving.
Circumstantial evidence is often not very compelling in criminal court. But in civil court, the burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Many people drive erratically for many reasons. But especially if there is any other circumstantial evidence, impairment was the cause, more likely than not.
The tortfeasor’s driving record might be admissible as well. State driving records usually do not include alcohol or substance-related information. But the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System database is different. The SMS report is basically a multistate driving record. It includes information in areas like:
- Alcohol and substance use history,
- Previous collisions,
- Vehicle maintenance history,
- HOS (Hours of Service) compliance, and
- Previous moving violations.
The SMS rollout made things much easier for New York personal injury attorneys. Most truckers are licensed in multiple states. Obtaining all these driving records was a time-consuming process. The SMS report puts everything in one place.
Drowsy driving is a significant issue among truck drivers, mostly due to economic and medical reasons.
Most shipping companies pay truckers by the load and not by the mile. So, in order to make money, these truckers must stay on the road as long as possible. They often skirt the aforementioned HOS requirements when possible. These rules limit driving hours and impose mandatory rest periods.
Medically, many truckers suffer from sleep apnea, mostly because they sit for long periods of time. People with this condition have difficulty breathing at night. Mild sleep apnea symptoms include snoring. In moderate or severe cases, the individual basically naps all night. As a result, these individuals are often fatigued even after a full night’s sleep.
Drowsiness and alcohol have roughly the same effect on the brain and body. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours, which is the equivalent of a long day on the road, is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for commercial drivers in New York.
Evidence in Drowsy Truck Driver Claims
Once again, direct and circumstantial evidence is usually available in drowsy truck driver negligence cases.
All large commercial trucks have Electronic Logging Devices. ELDs are attached to the vehicle’s drivetrain. These computers automatically record HOS information. If the truck is in motion, the ELD clock is ticking.
Before the ELD mandate took effect, truckers typically used paper log books to record HOS data. These logs were easy to fabricate. But assuming the gadget was working properly, devices like ELDs are never biased and never wrong. So, they are very compelling in court.
Unfortunately, ELDs are not always available. Frequently, insurance companies “accidentally” destroy them when they dispose of wrecked trucks.
To prevent that outcome, a New York personal injury attorney sends a spoliation letter to the insurance company. This letter creates a legal duty to preserve all potential physical evidence, including the ELD, for a possible trial.
Circumstantial evidence of fatigue usually includes the time of day or night. Most people are naturally drowsy at these times, even if they had a full night’s sleep. And, many truckers are on the road during these times.
Procedurally, the transportation or shipping company which owned the truck is typically responsible for damages. The respondeat superior rule typically applies even if the negligent driver was technically an independent contractor or owner-operator.
Damages in a truck crash claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme cases.
Large truck crashes usually cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact The Carrion Firm, PLLC. Home and hospital visits are available.