A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that for 2012 (the most recent year for which complete data exists) the number of people killed in US highway accidents rose about 3% compared to figures for 2011. In addition to this 3% rise, two other key indicators also rose, which are particularly troubling. The number of alcohol related deaths rose 5%, while the number of deaths involving big rig trucks rose a whopping 8.9%.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NUMBERS
While the percentage increases referenced above may seem startling on the surface it is important to note that the 3% rise in fatalities brought the figure to 33,561 deaths in 2012. While this figure is distressing and a nightmare for the friends and family of those who were killed, it is near historic lows.
In fact, the 2012 figure is on par with the number of highway fatalities for 1950, which is stunning considering that in 1950 there were an estimated 70 million cars on the road, compared to today’s more than threefold increase to 254 million. In fact 2011’s 3% lower fatalities statistics were on par with 1949. This indicates an overall positive trend toward safer driving and safer cars. Unfortunately, it makes the shortfalls in safety, such as those relating to alcohol-related deaths and 18-wheeler deaths, all the more troubling.
ALCOHOL AND TRUCKERS
For 2012 the 5 percent jump in alcohol-related deaths brought the total to 10,322, which represents almost a third of all fatalities. Shockingly, most of those deaths involved drivers who had a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit, which is 0.08 percent.
Meanwhile, the 8.9% jump in trucking-related deaths brought the total figure to 3,921 fatalities in 2012. In a past article we discussed how dangerous intoxicated truckers are and the factors which might contribute to a trucker deciding to drink and drive. This naturally leads one to wonder how many of the nearly four thousand deaths were also caused by an intoxicated big rig truck driver.
TRUCKER ALCOHOL TESTING AND PROBLEM GROUPS
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires regular, random drug and alcohol testing of truckers as part of its safety program. According to the FMCSA the results of these random drug and alcohol tests indicate that approximately 1% of tests came back positive for alcohol. This finding is in contrast to a Brazilian university international study which found a much higher rate of 12.5% for US truckers, making the US the highest in the study. This conflicting data may be due in part to differences in methodology and testing procedures and it leads one to wonder just how widespread the problem of intoxicated truckers truly is.
One thing is clear, the figures cited in the paragraph above are for routine, random alcohol tests as opposed to tests conducted on truckers who have been in an accident. A potential weakness exists in this system in that truckers who have been drinking may make efforts to avoid the tests. Some unscrupulous trucking companies may even assist intoxicated truckers in hiding the results or avoiding the tests.
Furthermore, the FMCSA identified two potential troublesome groups of truckers who may exploit the system. The first group is known as “job-hoppers,” who fail an alcohol test, are fired, and then go to a new trucking company without reporting their previous employment and dismissal and proceed to repeat the cycle indefinitely, perhaps until they are stopped by a major accident. The second group consists of the owner-operators who run their own rigs and aren’t associated with a trucking company. These drivers are required to join a consortium to administer their random alcohol and drug tests; however, if the trucker refuses to take the test the consortium may not report this to FMCSA or state officials.
Dugas Law Firm believes that one of the best tools to make the roads safer is for accident victims to pursue their legal rights and hold dangerous truckers and trucking companies accountable for their behavior. If you or your loved one has been injured in a trucking accident involving a drunk or intoxicated trucker it is imperative that you protect your legal rights and receive the compensation you deserve for your suffering. Ultimately, civil litigation can make the road a safer place for everyone.