Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents in the US. Despite the strict limitations and harsh punishments for drunk driving, these incidents are still taking place. Recent statistics show that more than 10,000 people died in drunk-driving crashes in 2017. These crashes represented 29 percent of all accidents in the country. While most truck driver-caused accidents are not attributable to DUI, (in fact the the US Department of Transportation reports around 8% of truck accidents were caused by truck driver intoxication), when it happens it can be especially devastating due to the sheer mass and destructive power of a commercial truck or semi-trailer.
Drunk Driving & DUI Regulations for Commercial Vehicle Operators: An Overview
The amount of alcohol in the blood determines whether a driver is drunk. The blood alcohol level is measured using a breathalyzer. Traffic police officers take a sample of blood and run it through the device. The device measures the grams of alcohol per 100ml of blood. The BAC legal limit for a typical 21+ aged driver operating a car, motorcycle or light truck for all 50 states is 0.08 (although some lawmakers are pushing to reduce that to 0.05). For commercial truck drivers there is a strict prohibition on alcohol and vehicle operation as prescribed by the Code of Federal Regulations and the consequences to the driver are severe. This means that there is no allowable Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) for a commercial truck driver. The FMCSA has also published a Q&A regarding the interpretations of the prohibition.
How Drinking Alcohol Increases the Risk of a Truck Accident?
Alcohol affects a person’s reaction times, where drunk drivers take more time to respond to hazards as compared to non-drinkers. The delay in thinking and breaking distances often results in a collision.
The risk of an accident increases by four times when a driver has a BAC of 0.05. When the BAC reaches 0.15, the risk of accidents rises by nearly 20 times because drunk drivers also tend to drive recklessly and have slow reaction times. They also overestimate their abilities, which makes them drive in a dangerous manner. It also increases the risk of a truck accident.
How Are Drunk Drivers Charged for DUI in a Court?
Drunk driving is illegal in all states in the US. All commercial drivers are required to avoid consuming alcohol at least four hours before operating a truck. Commercial drivers who are arrested for suspicion of DUI, or who have been found to be on duty or operating a commercial vehicle with any alcohol in their system will be issued an “out of service” order for 24 hours and must report the incident to their State Official within 30 days. Additionally they are subject to be criminally charged under the respective state laws.
Every state has specific laws for driving while intoxicated.
Arizona has one of the strictest laws for truck drivers guilty of DUI. A first-time offense can result in a minimum of 10-days jail time, 90-days license suspension, at least $250 fine, and $1000 additional charges. For a third conviction, an automatic felony is charged in the state with two and a half years jail time, three years license suspension, at least $750 fine, and $1,750 additional charges.
Other states with strict drunk driving laws for commercial drivers include Connecticut, Kansas, Utah, West Virginia, and Nebraska.
When Is Drunk Driving Charged in a Federal Court?
A truck driver of a federal agency who has been caught driving under the influence of alcohol will be charged in a federal court. A federal charge for driving under the influence (DUI) also occurs when the driver is caught driving in any location that is considered federal property. For instance, if a driver has been drunk while driving through a federally owned roadway such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, he/she will be charged with a DUI.
Other examples of federally owned properties include:
- airports and courthouses,
- national parks,
- national monuments,
- forests, and
- government buildings
Under the federal laws, a first-time alcohol-related driving offense is considered a misdemeanor. The exact laws depend on the area where the driver is arrested. If the drunk driver is arrested in a national park, the charges will be according to the Code of Federal Regulations. The charges in other federally-owned areas will be as per the federal Assimilative Crimes Act.
The penalties depend upon the nature of the case as well as the status of the driver. For example, military truck drivers have to pay heavier fines as compared to their civilian counterparts. Military truck operators may face additional consequences as per the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Who Is Responsible in a Drunk Truck Driver Case?
Alcohol-related cases involving commercial truck drivers are different than cases involving non-commercial drivers. The employer of a company is generally responsible for a commercial truck DUI case. This is according to the ‘respondeat superior’ — a Latin term that means let the superior respond.
In reality, the ‘scope of employment’ will determine whether the driver or the company is held liable for the accident. The judge will look at the nature of the relationship with the employer to determine who should be held liable for an accident.
In some states, a DUI case can have additional defendants. For instance, in the state of Indiana, the Dram Shop Liability outlined in Indiana Code 7.1-5-10-15.5 holds the vendor who had sold alcohol to the driver jointly responsible for causing an accident.
IC 7.1-5-10-15.5 – Person furnishing alcoholic beverage; civil liability for damages; “furnish” definedSec. 15.5. (a) As used in this section, “furnish” includes barter, deliver, sell, exchange, provide, or give away.(b) A person who furnishes an alcoholic beverage to a person is not liable in a civil action for damages caused by the impairment or intoxication of the person who was furnished the alcoholic beverage unless:
- the person furnishing the alcoholic beverage had actual knowledge that the person to whom the alcoholic beverage was furnished was visibly intoxicated at the time the alcoholic beverage was furnished; and
- the intoxication of the person to whom the alcoholic beverage was furnished was a proximate cause of the death, injury, or damage alleged in the complaint.
(c) If a person who is at least twenty-one (21) years of age suffers injury or death proximately caused by the person’s voluntary intoxication, the:
- person’s dependents;
- person’s personal representative; or
- person’s heirs;
may not assert a claim for damages for personal injury or death against a person who furnished an alcoholic beverage that contributed to the person’s intoxication, unless subsections (b)(1) and (b)(2) apply.
In addition, the Social Host Liability in states such as Indiana holds the party host who had provided drinks to a visibly intoxicated driver responsible for an accident causing injury or death. This is applicable in different situations such as:
- Baby showers
- Cocktail parties
- Graduation parties
- Office parties
The alcohol vendor and the social host must have knowledge that the driver drove away while under the influence of alcohol. Both will have to compensate the victim and pay fine for their part in a truck accident.
Legal Help in Case of Truck Accident
There can be many causes of truck accidents, and it should be mentioned that professional truck drivers usually respect the law, their profession and the safety of other motorists. However, you should contact a professional truck accident attorney if you have been injured in a truck accident. A lawyer who focuses their practice on truck accidents will assess the extent of the damage and give an estimate of how much you can recover from the guilty party. Truck crashes often involves serious injuries and recovering from the injuries can take weeks and in some cases years. The medical bills amount to thousands of dollars that can cause great financial stress to the victim.
With the help of an experienced truck accident attorney, you can take the right decisions that will increase your chances of a positive court outcome.
You will be able to receive maximum compensation that will compensate for the financial losses as well as physical and psychological pain experienced due to the truck accident injury. The chances of a positive outcome of a truck accident lawsuit increase significantly when you retain a qualified attorney experienced in commercial trucking collisions.
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