truck accident attorneysWhen you see commercial semi-trucks performing erratic maneuvers and swerving into your lane at high speeds, you might wonder if the driver is even qualified to be behind the wheel of a big-rig. Who is making sure the driver is competent, alert, and sober? Under federal trucking regulations, the trucking company employer is supposed to not only run certain checks on potential employees but also screen their drivers on an ongoing basis. If a driver causes an accident because they shouldn’t have been driving in the first place, the employer can be held liable for damages.

What the Federal Government Requires for Hiring Truck Drivers

Trucking companies must run a series of pre-employment background checks before hiring a new driver. These checks apply to the applicant’s previous three years and include:

  • Motor vehicle records. The employer must obtain the driving record for the applicant from every state in which they held a license or permit over the previous three years.
  • Previous safety performance. Records must be reviewed for any applicant who has previously held a position that the Department of Transportation (DOT) considered to be safety-sensitive. Almost all commercial truck drivers fall into this category.
  • Drug or alcohol violations. The applicant’s former employers must be contacted to determine if they violated any drug or alcohol policies while on the job and, if so, whether they completed a rehabilitation program.
  • Drug test. Applicants must be screened for drug use before being hired.
  • Medical Examiner’s certificate. Applicants must be examined by a doctor listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners, and the employer must obtain a copy of the certificate.

Reputable trucking companies should have these pre-employment protocols in place for all applicants, but if a driver is involved in an accident and any of these documents are missing from their employee file, the company could be held liable for the accident.

Drivers Must Have Regular Medical Exams and Drug Tests

Most truck drivers must complete a medical exam with an authorized doctor every 24 months. Drivers who have a diagnosed heart condition or high blood pressure, among other conditions, are required to be screened every year. These are general wellness exams that check things like vision, hearing, blood pressure, breathing, coordination, and reflexes to identify conditions that could impair the driver’s ability to operate a truck safely. If the driver passes the medical exam, they are issued a certificate. While the driver is responsible for getting the medical exam and carrying the certificate, the employer is also required to make sure their drivers have medical clearance. If a driver suffers a heart attack and causes a crash, and there is no current medical certificate on file with the employer, the employer could be held liable.

Holders of commercial driver licenses (CDL) must also submit to random drug testing, which could be conducted when the driver is on or off duty. Random alcohol testing can only be conducted on an on-duty driver. Drivers must be tested for drugs and alcohol after an accident and can be tested whenever a supervisor has reasonable suspicion that they might be impaired. If an impaired truck driver caused your accident, and it is discovered that they were not previously screened by their employer, the trucking company could be liable.

Driver Shortages Might Mean More Dangers 

A shortage of truck drivers has been a chronic problem for the trucking industry for years, but the Covid pandemic has made matters even worse. Many truck driving schools have closed or are only able to take a few students at a time to be compliant with social distancing. In addition, the legalization of marijuana in many states means that more drivers than ever are failing their random drug tests and losing their commercial driver licenses. This shortage means that trucking companies could become desperate and cut corners to get their fleets moving.

We Will Find Out If the Trucking Company Is Responsible

When you consult with a truck accident attorney, we will investigate the driver’s history to determine if their employer can be held liable for negligent employment practices. Learn more about trucking accidents by requesting a download of our free book, Massachusetts Truck Accidents: The Guide to Handling Your Commercial Truck Injury Case. Contact our Framingham office for a free consultation to discuss your case.


Charles S. Pappas
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Massachusetts injury lawyer & workers' compensation attorney serving accident victims in Webster & Framingham.