The dangers of impaired driving increase exponentially for tractor trailer operators.

Driving tractor-trailers while impaired exponentially increases risk

Everyone is aware of the dangers of impaired driving, but when a driver is operating an 18-wheeler or other large commercial vehicle while impaired, those dangers are exponentially greater because of the sheer size of the vehicle and potential hazardous cargo.

Tractor-trailer case study

A truck driver with a prior DUI was pulling a tank loaded with 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel along a curvy, hilly two-lane road with a posted speed limit of 45 mph.

Traveling too fast for conditions, the driver lost control and skidded 670 feet before rolling over on a bridge spanning a waterway and adjacent to a national wildlife refuge. Upon impact, the tanker burst into flames and all 8,000 gallons of diesel burned up or leaked out.

The cost to clean up the pollution, repair the bridge and restore the wildlife refuge was in excess of $3 million.

Results from the accident investigation

Following the accident, investigations by local police and fire rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Interior and the Department of National Resources pointed to what may have gone wrong.

  • Alcohol may have been involved — Authorities believe the driver had been drinking either before or during his shift.
  • Driver error occurred — 670 foot skid marks indicate the driver was speeding and over-corrected.
  • Driver was not qualified to operate — An expired medical examiner’s certificate indicated the driver was unqualified to legally operate his vehicle.
  • Driving logs were missing — The driver stated that all log records burned up in the truck.

Risk Management recommendations to avoid accidents

  • Track expiration dates of all required documents for all hazardous materials (hazmat) drivers. This may have stopped the unqualified driver from getting behind the wheel.
  • Require drivers to maintain valid license with hazmat and tanker endorsements.
  • Ensure current DOT physicals are checked by the company running motor vehicle reports (MVRs).
  • Ensure hazmat training is completed within ninety (90) days of hire and every three (3) years after.
  • Perform TSA background checks.
  • Enforce FMCSA rule that stipulates a commercial driver may not operate a commercial vehicle within four (4) hours of using alcohol.
  • Establish and enforce company policies regarding what previous convictions would disqualify a driver. Be consistent, regardless of the driver.
  • Train at least one person in Reasonable Suspicion Drug & Alcohol Awareness. This individual must be able to stop anyone from operating a motor vehicle.
  • Install a roll stability system to help prevent rollover from sudden steering wheel movements.

Learn other important tractor-trailer rollover prevention tips.

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