A horrifying vehicle accident in New Hampshire last week left seven motorcyclists dead after they collided with a pickup truck towing a commercial trailer. According to BostonHerald.com, the 23-year-old driver of the pickup truck was charged with seven counts of homicide for allegedly driving “erratically and across the double-yellow centerline.” Shockingly, just two weeks before the crash, the same truck driver was charged with flipping an 18-wheeler in Texas under the influence and in possession of drugs. He was also arrested in Connecticut on May 2019 after failing a sobriety test and had his license temporarily suspended in 2013 for drunk driving.
After several concerning incidents of driving reckless and under the influence, why was this driver still behind the wheel? Not only was he allowed to operate his personal pickup truck that was responsible for the deadly motorcycle accident, but he was still an active employee of the trucking company he worked for, even after flipping a semi-truck on the job two weeks prior.
Unfortunately, tragedies such as the fatal New Hampshire accident highlight how easy it is for unsafe truck drivers to remain on the road. Maryland residents should be aware of how and why these drivers continue to slip through the cracks and what they can do to protect themselves when driving near large trucks.
The Deadly Truth About Trucking
In 2017, 4,761 people nationwide were killed in crashes involving large trucks according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A.). At least 49 of these fatal crashes were in Maryland. Fatalities caused by large trucks have been steadily increasing since 2014, and more than 80 percent of these fatalities were drivers and passengers of smaller vehicles.
Sadly, the trucking industry has several risk factors that are causing drivers to put themselves and others in danger. Between bad trucking companies, driving shortages, and the grueling hours truckers work, the possibly for accidents are skyrocketing every year.
Dangerous Trucking Companies
Some trucking companies are known for hiring bad drivers. Whether inexperienced or reckless, these drivers are operating dangerous vehicles that could cause a catastrophic accident within seconds.
According to BostonHerald.com, the driver of the fatal New Hampshire accident worked for Westfield Transport out of Massachusetts- a company with a bad reputation. Drivers for Westfield Transport are taken out of service and written up at least four times more than the national average, including violations for license issues, brakes, tires, equipment problems, and drug and alcohol violations.
One of the reasons why trucking companies are continuing to hire dangerous drivers stems from a lack of candidates. In February, NPR reported that high demand, high turnover, and an uptick in retired drivers sparked a driver shortage in the United States. Companies have since been cutting corners in hiring drivers who may be under qualified or have questionable driving histories to fill routes, even at the risk of putting people in danger.
Truck Drivers Are Fatigued
Truck drivers often drive overnight and for long days. These shifts can cause severe driver fatigue which leads to dangerous consequences, such as falling asleep at the wheel or swerving. Truck drivers with trailers or tens of thousand of pounds to carry cannot easily correct their vehicle when drifting on the road. Many large trucking accidents occur when drivers are attempting to correct their positioning and hit surrounding or oncoming vehicles in the process.
Truck Drivers Are Distracted
Lack of stimulation on long road trips can make truck drivers even more susceptible to road distractions. Professional and amateur drivers can both fall victim to daydreaming, texting, talking on the phone, eating, or reaching for items within the vehicle while driving. Unfortunately, large trucks pose a devastating threat to the safety of others when distractions result in accidents. According to the Truckers Reports, an empty 18-wheeler can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and be up to 80 feet long, causing significant damage to individuals riding in passenger vehicles if a collision occurs.
Truck Drivers Under The Influence
Long shifts, overnight hours, isolation, and fluctuating wages are major stressors for truck drivers in the industry. These risk factors have led to a high rate of substance use among the trucking community and increased their likelihood of causing fatal accidents on the job.
According to a study by American Addiction Centers of truck drivers around the world, at least 50 percent of participating drivers admitted to drinking while working and 30 percent to using amphetamines. The United States showed the highest rates of drivers under the influence of alcohol, with 12.5 percent scoring positive tests.
The study found alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, and cannabis to be the most popular substances used by truck drivers. Cocaine and amphetamines are reportedly used most to help drivers stay awake through shifts, but can have side effects such as hallucinations, hypertension, and sudden fatigue that make drivers a serious risk to others on the road.
Younger Drivers Are More At Risk
Young truck drivers looking to start their career can end up causing a lot of harm. American Addiction Centers reports trucking companies tend to prey on younger drivers who are new to the business. According to the study, younger drivers are more likely to get longer, overnight driving routes than veteran employees. These conditions heighten their need for stimulation and increase their chances of using substances to cope with the challenges of work.
Additionally, younger drivers are more willing to take chances to prove themselves in the industry. Negligent trucking companies are willing to overlook instances such as drunk or reckless driving as a first offense rather than a fireable act and may avoid disciplinary steps to keep the employee on route.
Know How To Spot Bad Truck Drivers
Just because a driver has a CDL does not mean they are safe to drive a truck. Truck drivers who are underqualified and participate in reckless driving behaviors are on the roads every day, putting lives at risk. Maryland residents should always use caution when driving near large trucks and stay far away if you witness any of these hazardous behaviors:
- Sudden turns
- Speeding or driving too slow
- Failure to use headlights
- Swerving in and out of lands
- Erratic breaking
- Rapid accelerations
- Delayed responses
- Drifting and weaving
- Driving while looking too close to the windshield
These behaviors could signal a truck driver is under the influence, fatigued, or distracted on the road. Stay far away from these trucks and report them to the local authorities if the behaviors appear to be endangering others on the road.
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