Articles Posted in Truck Driver Impairment

Truck accidents can occur for a number of reasons. For example, it is common to see reports of truck accidents being caused by distracted drivers or drivers who fail to get the necessary amount of rest between shifts. However, one of the most common causes of New Mexico truck accident continues to be intoxicated driving.

Semi-TruckIn New Mexico, it is estimated that there are approximately 120 alcohol-related deaths per year. While this number has been going down over the past several decades, the reality is that drunk drivers still pose a serious threat to the safety of New Mexico motorists. Any drunk driving accident can be serious, but when a truck driver gets behind the wheel after having too much to drink or after taking illegal drugs, the consequences are often disastrous.

Truck drivers, like all motorists, have a duty to ensure that they operate their vehicle in a safe and responsible manner. Of course, this includes refraining from drunk driving or driving under the influence of illegal drugs. However, truck drivers are also responsible to avoid taking prescription medications that may affect their ability to drive. In fact, the law makes no distinction regarding whether the substance involved is prescribed or illicit.

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New Mexico statute 66-8-102 prohibits people from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. Drivers who are impaired, whether due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, offer strong evidence of negligent conduct if they are involved in an accident.

School BusNormally, the levels of intoxication shown in the blood are admitted into evidence for the drivers involved in the accident, and sometimes for passengers as well. This may be true even if the person is not intoxicated beyond the legal limit. The question of whether a person’s level of intoxication may be admitted into evidence depends on whether the person could have avoided or mitigated the accident by exercising due care—that is, by being sober and alert. Drivers may also be considered impaired for other reasons, including fatigue, a physical disability, or driving without a license.

Intoxication and Punitive Damages

Driving while intoxicated or impaired may also give rise to punitive damages. If a defendant’s conduct is found to be willful, wanton, malicious, reckless, oppressive, or fraudulent, punitive damages may be imposed in New Mexico. Reckless conduct means acting intentionally with utter indifference to the consequences. This may be shown by demonstrating that a defendant was intoxicated while driving.

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Commercial truck driving is a crucial and important facet of commerce in the United States. Truck drivers are highly utilized, especially recently with the prevalence of online shopping. Due to the demand placed on them, truck drivers are often overworked and are expected to follow strict delivery deadlines. With this increase in trucking activity, and often a shortage of labor, some truck drivers turn to stimulants and other drugs to keep them awake so that they can travel longer distances in a given day.

Semi-TruckAside from the obvious criminal and physical health issues that arise when individuals are taking illicit drugs, there is also a major danger to those with whom these drivers share the road. A few years ago, a study was conducted that analyzed how frequently truck drivers use drugs while on their shift. The study combined self-surveys and physical tests. Interestingly, the study had the highest positive result for alcohol use while on shift. In addition, the study revealed that truck drivers were frequently using amphetamines, cocaine, and other psychoactive drugs to stay awake.

Recently, an industry news source reported that the American Trucking Association (ATA) is lobbying the federal government to require hair samples as a form of mandatory drug testing. The organization has put forth the effort to allow companies to use hair testing instead of urinalysis. The ATA explained that many trucking companies have the burden of paying for testing out-of-pocket because the government does not cover it, and they should be given a choice in how the testing is conducted. Supporters also argue that hair analysis is a much more reliable form of drug testing, and it is more effective at preventing habitual use. It is believed that more stringent testing will reduce the number of truck driver accidents.

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The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently released its opinion in a case that arose from a tragic drunk driving accident back in 2011. According to the court’s opinion, the decedent was killed when he drove drunk after leaving a local restaurant. Evidently, the decedent was a frequent patron of the restaurant and was witnessed to have been drunk on several prior occasions. There was also evidence that he was heavily drinking on the night of the accident. Evidence also showed that on a prior night, the decedent was with his two young daughters at the very same bar. One of his daughters was crying and told the bartender that she was crying because her father was drunk, but the bartender continued to serve drinks to the man.

Liquor BottlesAfter the deadly accident, the deceased man’s daughters filed a wrongful death action under state law, claiming that the defendant was negligent in serving alcohol to their father. The defendant argued that the plaintiffs did not have personal knowledge of the circumstances, and therefore the case should be dismissed. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the case should not be dismissed because the state’s Dram Shop Law allows affidavits based on other information and beliefs, and this particular case satisfied the evidentiary requirements. In other words, first-hand knowledge was not required.

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Truck accidents are some of the most serious accidents on the road. Whether it is because their vehicles are larger, because they are often traveling at high speeds, or because the drivers are often fatigued or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, serious truck accidents have become commonplace in newspapers across the country. Over the course of the last few months, a new method for drug testing semi-truck drivers has been proposed to increase the accuracy as well as the look-back period that the test covers. In fact, the newly proposed hair-follicle testing can detect whether a subject used substances up to 90 days in the past, whereas urine testing can only detect drug use up to a few weeks back.

comb-1426679However, according to one news report, the new test, which examines a subject’s hair rather than their urine, is coming under sharp criticism from many in the industry, including the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), which is essentially the truck drivers’ union. The TTD makes several claims against the implementation of hair-follicle testing.

First, the TTD claims that the testing method has not yet been approved by the Department of Health and Human Services, and as a result there are no established protocols for its use. They also point out that urine testing has been successfully used for years, and there is no reason to change the testing method to one that is not as scientifically reliable.

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limousine-1266953-m.jpgA devastating accident occurred in New Jersey over the weekend when a limousine carrying actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and three others was rear-ended by a semi-truck. Tracy Morgan was critically injured, and one other passenger was killed by the collision. Police believe that the semi-truck driver had not slept for over 24 hours when the collision occurred, and the driver has been charged with vehicular homicide for his actions related to the crash.

The Accident
According to articles on cnn.com, Mr. Morgan was returning from a comedy act in Dover, Delaware when the crash occurred. The comedian was a passenger in a limo-bus with two other comedians and another man on the New Jersey Turnpike in Mercer County around 1:00 AM on Saturday when slow traffic ahead of them forced the driver to slow down. The semi-truck, driven by a 35-year-old man from Georgia, failed to slow down for the traffic and crashed into the back of the limo-bus, causing it to roll over. The collision killed one passenger, comedian James McNair (who performed under the name Jimmy Mack), and injured three others, including Morgan. The driver of the truck was charged with vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.

According to a criminal complaint filed by the Middlesex County, New Jersey prosecutor’s office, the driver of the truck had been awake for 24 consecutive hours when he crashed into the limo-bus.
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file2811244091888 morguefile username wallyir.jpgA federal grand jury had issued an indictment for the owner of a Redding, California, facility that provides tractor-trailer and other commercial driver drug testing services. The 56-year-old woman is accused of falsifying drug test results for big rig drivers and billing clients for tests that were never performed. The owner of Advanced Substance Abuse Programs was charged with numerous counts of mail fraud and making false statements to a government agency. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison on the mail fraud charges and five years for the false statement allegations. In addition, the woman may be required to pay a $250,000 fine for each conviction.

According to United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, the charges were brought following an investigation by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Inspector General. He said the indictment demonstrates the DOT’s commitment to public safety. Wagner added that his office will prosecute all individuals who disregard DOT regulations in favor of personal gain.

Current regulations require that anyone who operates a commercial truck or other vehicle that requires a driver to obtain a commercial driver’s license submit to both pre-employment and random drug and alcohol tests. Drug tests monitor marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine, opiate, and phencyclidine use and may only be performed by laboratories that are certified by the Department of Health and Human Services.
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