Inexperienced drivers are at a higher risk of causing accidents than drivers with more experience: most people take that simple fact for granted. Teenage drivers, for example, tend to face more serious restrictions than adult drivers due to their lack of experience on the road. Many people, however, fail to consider the specific hazards created by unqualified or inexperienced truck drivers.
Truck drivers spend long hours out on the road hauling large loads and driving vehicles that require a great deal more attention to control safely than the average passenger vehicle. Unfortunately, many trucking companies continue to send out unqualified truck drivers.
What Standards Must Truck Drivers Meet?
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recognizes the dangers posed by big trucks out on the road.
As a result, it requires the drivers of big trucks to meet specific standards before they hit the road:
- Truckers must meet federal Commercial Driver’s License standards.
- Truck drivers must receive training through an approved truck driving school. In some states, they may have to pass a test issued by the school before they can apply for a license.
- They must take a test that shows their ability to safely operate a big truck.
- They must meet minimum medical standards that show they can safely operate a big truck.
Sometimes, truck drivers who have earned a commercial license may no longer meet federal standards because they have developed a medical condition that would cause them to now fail medical or visual tests. Other times, truck drivers might better fit the classification of “underqualified.” They might have obtained a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), but they lack the experience and skills necessary to safely operate a big truck out on the road or they may not have received adequate training before taking a load out alone for the first time.
Common Reasons Why Unqualified Truck Drivers Hit the Road
Most trucking companies would certainly rather hire qualified truck drivers than drivers who lack the skills necessary to keep their loads safe. Unqualified or poorly qualified truck drivers also open the company up to potential liability charges.
Unfortunately, some trucking companies feel they have little choice but to send out drivers who lack the experience needed to handle themselves as safely as possible on the road. They may push unqualified drivers to drive before they’re really ready including drivers who have passed minimum licensing standards but who may not yet have the experience they need to safely navigate out on the road.
Alternatively, they may push drivers to put off medical exams and other requirements if those exams would remove the driver from their pool, even though those technically unqualified drivers could pose a serious hazard to other road users.
1. Truck driver shortages create a major problem for many companies.
The truck driver shortage has become big news across the nation. Truck drivers continue to leave the industry in large numbers, seeking jobs that will allow them to spend more time at home with friends and loved ones. With increased shipping needs during the pandemic as more people chose to order online instead of going to stores in person, many trucking companies have found themselves in need of more drivers than ever at a time when it is incredibly difficult to bring on new truckers.
Unfortunately, with shipping needs running high, many trucking companies feel as though they have little choice but to put drivers behind the wheel as soon as they can get them. All too often, this includes drivers who lack the experience necessary to safely navigate challenging road conditions.
2. Drivers may not receive adequate training before taking their road tests.
CDL training requirements vary by state, which means that drivers in some states undergo considerably less overall training than drivers in others. Many CDL schools try to provide candidates with a fast track to get their license, rather than taking the extra time needed to ensure that drivers get the right experience out on the road. Most schools push their candidates out within a matter of weeks, which means that those drivers have minimal actual road hours under their belts before they take the test for their CDL.
3. Driver training may not include many of the conditions the driver will actually face on the road.
Some drivers, for example, get their CDLs in the spring and summer months, when they do not have to deal with ice and snow on the roads. They may not have any experience in fog, in the rain, or during rush hour, especially if the school they attend does not prioritize those specific experiences. Unfortunately, that means many drivers end up licensed before they get that experience.
4. Some states have stricter requirements for truck drivers than others.
In New York, for example, truck drivers need to have specific mirrors that allow them to see pedestrians around the vehicle more easily. Truck drivers in California need to prepare for much heavier traffic than drivers traveling through Mississippi or Alabama. Truck drivers, however, often end up carrying loads across the country and that means no matter how strict the laws of a specific state are, there will be big truck drivers on that state’s roads who have not had to meet the state’s high standards.
5. Driver training may not prepare drivers for some of the realities of the job.
Driver training usually aims at preparing truck drivers for the basics of the job, including how to safely manage road conditions. However, it may not prepare truck drivers for the reality of 11 hours a day out on the road, often with just one break. As a result, truck drivers may have a hard time dealing with distraction or drowsiness once they get out on the road.
6. Drivers may put off medical exams or even falsify information to keep their license.
Truck drivers must meet physical fitness standards in addition to driving capability standards. Unfortunately, over time some truck drivers may no longer meet those physical fitness standards or may develop a condition that prevents them from navigating the road safely. As a result, they may try to falsify information or avoid medical exams to prevent the loss of their CDL certification.
The Hazards Posed by Unqualified Truck Drivers
Unqualified truck drivers can present a significant accident risk out on the road.
1. Unqualified truck drivers may not know what to do in an emergency.
While truck driver training generally offers a basic look at many of the potential emergencies that can happen out on the road, drivers may not leave training prepared to safely control a big truck in the event of an emergency. Short-term training simply does not provide the experience drivers need to handle many common situations.
Suppose, for example, that a truck driver who got their license in the spring encounters ice on the road for the first time the following winter. They may not have adequate experience to get the vehicle back under control, increasing the odds that they will cause an accident. Likewise, a truck driver who has not ever experienced a jackknife, when the trailer swings forward away from the body of the truck and out of control, may have very poor odds of getting the vehicle back under control, while a more experienced truck driver would be able to regain control of the vehicle and prevent a collision.
2. Unqualified truck drivers may skip steps in their vehicle inspections or fail to notice potential problems.
Experienced truck drivers become very familiar with their vehicles: what they sound like, what they feel like, and what potential problems look like. They may know even before a mechanic can diagnose a problem that it is an issue. Unfortunately, inexperienced truck drivers, especially those who did not go through adequate training, may have a harder time identifying potential problems and may, as a result, be at a higher risk of causing a serious accident.
Suppose, for example, that a tire starts to wobble. An experienced, highly qualified truck driver might know immediately that they need to pull over and either replace the tire or figure out what has caused the problem. An inexperienced truck driver, on the other hand, might not even feel the wobble, or might assume that it occurred due to the condition of the road. They might not pull off in time to prevent a tire blowout, which could cause serious injury to them and others around them.
An unqualified truck driver might also fail to recognize the signs of an impending shifting load incident. On a flatbed, for example, heavy straps usually help hold down the cargo to keep it in place as the truck travels down the road. If a strap becomes overloaded, fails, or gets stretched too far, it could result in serious injury as the cargo falls from the truck. An inexperienced, poorly qualified driver might not be able to recognize this potential danger.
3. Unqualified drivers may not meet medical fitness standards.
Truck drivers, to acquire the Class D license they need to operate on the road, must pass a medical standards test that shows that they can physically handle the rigors of operating a big truck out on the road. Truck drivers might not meet medical qualifications for many reasons, from potential heart problems to a risk of narcolepsy. These and other health problems can be dangerous for drivers and everyone who has to share the road with them. Unfortunately, many truck drivers put off their medical exams for as long as possible, especially if they know they have a looming failure ahead of them. As a result, they may end up out on the road with serious health problems that could interfere substantially with their ability to operate a big truck safely.
4. Unqualified drivers may struggle with inebriation.
Truck drivers have a higher than average rate of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Often, truck drivers struggle with the loneliness that can come from long hours on the road, missing events with friends and family, or simply not spending time with their loved ones. Some end up drinking to alleviate some of that loneliness. Unfortunately, all too many truck drivers take to the road while still inebriated.
An inebriated truck driver poses a serious danger to everyone around them, particularly if the truck driver continues to drink while on the road. Drivers can lose their CDL if they are convicted of a DUI, but truck drivers may try to keep their licenses anyway, avoid reporting the DUI, or even lie to their employers to keep their jobs.
5. Fatigue can pose a serious problem for many unqualified truck drivers.
Many unqualified truck drivers do not know how to manage fatigue well, from the natural fatigue that occurs when drivers take to the road for too long to fatigue that comes from late nights, excessive drinking the night before, or illness. Sometimes, certain chronic health conditions increase the risk of fatigue. Fatigued drivers experience many of the same symptoms as inebriated drivers on the road, making them a danger to everyone around them.
What Should You Do After an Accident With an Unqualified Truck Driver?
You have the same rights after an accident with an unqualified truck driver that you would after an accident with a fully licensed truck driver. Even if the driver did not meet minimum qualifications because of a medical condition or they did not receive adequate training, they bear liability for any negligent decisions they make behind the wheel. If a driver causes an accident, you have the right to file for compensation through the driver’s insurance company.
To help protect your right to compensation, you should:
- Report the accident. Do not let a truck driver convince you that your report will get them in too much trouble because they do not have their license. Instead, report the accident to the police and allow them to sort it out.
- Seek medical attention, if you need it. Truck accidents can result in serious injuries, many of which have long-term consequences, and should receive prompt treatment.
- Contact an attorney to help you manage your case.
A truck accident lawyer can help you understand your rights, including how much compensation you may deserve for your truck accident injuries. Contact a lawyer as soon after your truck accident as possible.