Unlicensed, Unqualified, and Inexperienced Truck Drivers & Legal Concerns
To start working in the trucking industry, a driver must obtain a commercial driver’s license. They will start by getting a commercial learners permit, which allows a prospective commercial driver to practice on the road with a qualified CDL holder next to them. To get a CLP, a driver must pass knowledge tests and undergo a check of their driving record nationwide for the last 10 years. They also must show that they are medically qualified to operate a truck, and they may need to pass a physical. Residency requirements apply as well.
Changes in 2022
Starting in February 2022, federal regulations will require entry-level drivers to complete a prescribed program of theory and behind-the-wheel instruction before taking the CDL test. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will compile a Training Provider Registry of approved programs.
The second step in getting a CDL involves passing a skills test. A driver can take this test once they have held a CLP for 14 days. Many states also require a driver to successfully complete CDL training before the skills test. At a minimum, a driver should carefully review the Commercial Driver’s Licensing Manual in their state and practice the inspection tests and maneuvers described in the manual. The skills test involves a vehicle inspection, a basic controls test, and a road test, all of which a driver must pass to get a CDL.
Federal Regulations on Driver Qualifications
In addition to getting a CDL through their state, truck drivers must meet certain requirements under federal regulations if they drive in interstate commerce. Trucking companies must ensure that their drivers comply with these rules. Among other things, truckers must:
Be at least 21 years old
Be physically qualified to drive a commercial vehicle, and able to drive the vehicle safely
Be able to speak and read English well enough to understand traffic signs and signals, fill out reports and records, interact with the general public, and respond to official questions
Hold one valid CDL issued by one state, and pass a road test or the equivalent
Provide their employer with a list of their motor vehicle violations, or a signed statement that they have not been convicted of any violations in the last year
Furthermore, a trucking company must maintain a driver qualification file, which may be reviewed in a safety audit. The records in the file should show that the driver has a safe driving history over the last three years, has received a proper education in commercial driving, and is physically qualified to operate a truck.
Risks Posed by Unlicensed, Unqualified, or Inexperienced Truck Drivers
Sometimes a trucking company may try to cut costs by hiring drivers who do not have a valid and current CDL, or who are not qualified under federal regulations. Even if a driver is licensed and qualified, though, the training needed to get a CDL may not be enough for a novice trucker to feel comfortable behind the wheel. CDL courses tend to be very brief and may devote significant time to classroom work, with limited on-the-road training. Meanwhile, a shortage of truck drivers has led many trucking companies to hire drivers who have just been licensed. Some companies may provide further training, or they may require new drivers to join experienced drivers on routes. Other companies send drivers out on the road with very little preparation beyond their CDL course, which may not be adequate in some cases.
An unlicensed, unqualified, or inexperienced trucker poses a higher risk of accidents. For example, they may not correctly perform a wide turn, or they may neglect to check their blind spots before changing lanes. Trucking companies may bear responsibility for accidents caused by these drivers. In addition to complying with applicable laws and regulations, a company has a duty to put competent and adequately trained drivers on the road.
Suing a Trucking Company After an Accident
A victim may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against a trucking company after an accident caused by an unlicensed, unqualified, or inexperienced driver. They would need to show that the trucking company failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances, which is known as “negligence” in legal terms. If the trucking company violated a law or regulation that applied to its activities, this might lead to an automatic finding of negligence. A victim would need to show that the law or regulation was meant to protect people like them from the type of harm that happened to them. They also would need to show that the violation or the lack of reasonable care caused the accident.
Damages in these cases may account for both economic and non-economic forms of harm. A victim potentially can recover compensation for lost income, medical bills, the costs of future treatment, lost earning capacity, property damage, pain and suffering, and lost enjoyment of life. To maximize their compensation, a victim should consider hiring an attorney, especially if they have sustained catastrophic injuries or permanent disabilities. They likely will not need to pay the attorney upfront for their services, since most truck accident lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they collect their fee as a percentage of the money recovered for a client. The percentage may vary depending on the amount of work that the attorney performs.