We rely on big rigs and other commercial trucks to transport goods around the country, including food to our stores, oil to refineries, aggregate to processing plants, hazardous materials to disposal sites, and more.
In the most recent year for which there is data, the United States had 10,237,899 single-unit trucks and 2,906,011 combination-unit trucks registered across the country. Large trucks traveled 304.9 billion miles that year. Truck drivers must hold a valid CDL, and of the 6.8 million commercial drivers registered, 3.4 million drivers with CDLs operate interstate and 1.5 million drivers with CDLs operate intrastate.
What is an unqualified commercial driver?
An unqualified commercial driver is someone who does not have a CDL, whether the driver never had a CDL or their license was suspended. An inspector can suspend a driver’s CDL for many reasons, including out-of-service violations. Of the 3,338,428 driver inspections in a recent year, 170,955 drivers were put out of service.
A qualified driver must also have, at the minimum, a CDL for the weight of the truck they are driving. CDLs are not one-size-fits-all licenses. There are different classes for different types of trucks and different truck weights.
Additionally, if a truck carries hazardous materials, tanks, or tandems or triples, the driver must have an additional endorsement on their CDL. It’s not as simple to obtain a CDL as it is a regular motor vehicle license. The driver must pass three components of a CDL test: basic vehicle control, road skills, and vehicle inspection.
Inspections and Out-of-Service Suspensions
Other than driving a truck with no CDL to begin with, unqualified drivers are also those who have their licenses suspended for failing inspections. Road inspectors check the driver’s logbooks, the truck, the trailer, and the load. Drivers are required to inspect the truck, trailer, and load before they leave on a trip, during the trip, and at the end of the trip to make sure everything is in order.
If the truck or trailer is in bad condition, whether it’s dry-rotted airlines, bad breaks, worn steering, worn tires, or other problems, the driver is more likely to get into a wreck. Other items that could cause a wreck including non-working lights, a broken horn, and missing mirrors. Drivers and road inspectors are trained to look for problems like these with the truck and trailer.
In addition to checking the truck and trailer, drivers and road inspectors must also check the cargo. If the cargo is not loaded properly, it could shift during transport, which could cause the trailer to shift or sway, sometimes getting out of the driver’s control and jackknifing, depending on road conditions. Cargo loaders must load a truck or trailer with proper weight distribution, make sure the load can’t shift, and properly tie down a flatbed load.
If a driver has their license suspended for failing an inspection and drives anyway, they are an unqualified driver. If the driver is caught driving on a suspended license, they could face additional sanctions, including long-term or permanent revocation of their CDL license.
Why Unqualified Drivers Are on the Road
Companies sometimes hire unqualified drivers if they hire family or friends who do not have their CDL licenses. In other cases, the company might not check to see if the driver’s CDL was suspended. And, if a company has a hard time finding qualified drivers, it might feel forced to hire unqualified drivers just to get the job done.
For several years, the trucking industry has had a driver shortage for several reasons, including the average age of truckers, which varies from state to state, and ranges from about 46 to 57 years of age. Many of the truckers are ready to retire and give up the tough trucking lifestyle. Other driver shortage causes include driver compensation, insurance costs, parking issues, and because many CDL schools are closed because of COVID-19. The Trucker, an industry news publication, reports that 2020 was the fourth year in a row that the truck driver shortage was the top issue in the industry.
Injuries and Recoverable Damages
Because of the weight and size of a big rig, accident injuries are often catastrophic. An unqualified driver might cause an accident because of inexperience in general, lack of experience driving in bad weather conditions, or because they never inspected the truck or the load.
Common truck accident injuries include:
- Bumps, bruises, scratches, and cuts;
- Strains, sprains, pulled and torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries;
- Simple and compound fractures;
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries;
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Internal injuries;
- Back and spinal cord injuries;
- Amputation; and
Initial injuries can also lead to secondary injuries, such as infection of an open wound from the accident or because of surgery due to accident injuries. Some accident victims also suffer from anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder because of the severity of the accident and/or the severity of their injuries or the loss of a loved one.
If you suffered injuries in an accident caused by a commercial driver, you have the right to ask the driver or trucking company or their insurance companies to pay you compensatory damages. The amount of damages you might recover depends on several factors, including the cost of your medical expenses, the amount of time you are out of work to recover, and whether doctors expect your injuries to cause you long-term or permanent disabilities.
Some types of compensation you might recover include:
- Past and future medical expenses.
- Past and future lost wages.
- Replacement of damaged personal property.
- Funeral, burial, and cremation expenses.
- Pain and suffering.
- Loss of quality of life, companionship, and/or consortium.
- Loss of use.
- Disfigurement and/or excessive scarring.
If you suffered injuries at the hands of an unqualified truck driver, contact a truck accident lawyer for a free case evaluation.