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Report: Truckers on drugs contribute to 65,000 truck crashes a year

June 1, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

The highest percentage of drug-related crashes involves truck drivers on prescription drugs

When you see a fully-loaded, 80,000 pound truck barreling down the highway, the last thing you want to think about is the truck driver smoking pot or popping oxycodone. But drug use is a factor in an estimated 65,000 truck accidents a year, according to Trucking 101, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, December 2010.

Chart, truckers on drugs

The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies also breaks down the type of substance abuse involved in the 65,000 truck crashes. Prescription drug use tops the list, with an estimated 37,000 truck accidents a year involving such drug use, or 26.3%.

As a truck accident lawyer who has litigated many tragic truck wrecks with drivers  on all sorts of drugs, I know that many of these prescription drugs are obtained illegally, like Xanex (for anxiety), Vicodin (for pain) and Ambien (a sleeping aid). But it might surprise you that many of the truck drivers taking prescriptions – prescriptions  that alter their ability to safely drive – are prescribed drugs for serious medical conditions that they really have, like epilepsy.

But they’re still driving!  Illegally, of course, but they are still on our roads.

For example, in one of my most tragic truck accident wrongful death cases, I represented the family of Patrick Nunez, who was a wonderful man, a loving father and husband.  Patrick was hit by a truck on the highway in Detroit and killed. The driver of the truck that smashed into his car  had seizures and was on powerful epilepsy medication  that causes drowsiness and delayed reaction time.  If the truck company had been doing its job, the truck driver would have never been behind the wheel that day.

To put these truck wreck numbers involving prescription drugs into perspective, there are close to 600,000 commercial truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions — and who qualify for full federal disability payments — driving commercial trucks on the roads today, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study from 2010.

This means 600,000 truckers on our roads with medical conditions and illnesses that can  impair their ability to operate an 80,000-pound commercial truck.

Furthermore, a random analysis of truck drivers by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found 22 percent were driving while receiving disability benefits for epilepsy, alcohol addiction or drug dependence.

How are truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions allowed to drive? They  go to certain doctors who they know will write them a clean bill of health – regardless of their actual medical condition. Or the truck companies that these drivers work for do not properly screen truck drivers or enforce federal and state rules requiring drivers meet certain basic health standards.

So attorneys handling truck accident cases in Michigan and throughout the country must know the rules.  The FMCSA has the basic physical requirements that any trucker must meet to drive a truck. These can be found at 49 CFR: 391.41.

Truck drivers are required to not have any of the following conditions that could potentially interfere with operation of a commercial motor vehicle:

  • Impairments of the foot, leg, hand, arm or finger.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Psychiatric conditions.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Insulin dependent diabetes.
  • Specific cardiovascular or respiratory conditions.

The statistics I quote in this blog about the high percentage of truck wrecks with drivers on illegal or prescription drugs should be alarming. They show that many trucking companies are turning a blind eye to mandatory federal and state safety regulations, and are not enforcing these rules as they’re required.

Related information:

Preventable truck crashes: That truck should have never been on the road in the first place

Truck lawyer Steven Gursten on Fox news: Truckers under the influence

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