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When Unqualified Truck Drivers Injure Others in Albany…

Albany serves as more than just the center of government in New York State. The city also sits as an important commercial hub, at a crossroads of Upstate New York, the Hudson Valley, and Southern New England. That means that trucks crowd the roads throughout the Capital Region, especially the major highways—I-90, I-87, and I-787—and thoroughfares serving Albany’s industrial areas, like Erie Boulevard and Commerce Ave.

As experienced truckers know, driving a truck differs substantially from driving a passenger vehicle. Trucks are massive, unwieldy, complicated machines. It takes training, skill, and practical know-how to operate a truck safely at highway speeds or on in-town roads crowded with smaller vehicles.

Unfortunately, not all Albany-area truck drivers have the necessary skill-set and qualifications to drive safely. Trucker inexperience can cause major truck accidents on Albany roads that may cause serious injuries and tragic losses of life. In this blog post, we explore the dangerous phenomenon of unqualified drivers taking the wheel of large trucks in the Albany region.

Qualifications for Truckers in Albany (and Elsewhere)

With only limited exceptions, a person behind the wheel of any commercial tractor-trailer or single-unit truck (box truck) anywhere in the United States must hold a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) rated for that type of truck. This constitutes the most basic qualification for driving that kind of truck in Albany and just about everywhere else in the country.

In theory, the fact that a person has obtained and retained a valid CDL serves as verification that the individual possesses the necessary qualifications to operate a commercial truck.

To get and keep a CDL in New York State and elsewhere, a driver usually must:

  • Meet the minimum age requirement (21 years for most commercial truck driving).
  • Hold a valid driver’s license.
  • Obtain a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP).
  • While holding a CLP, practice driving a truck under the direct supervision of a CDL holder.
  • Pass a periodic physical examination.
  • Pass a written knowledge test for each class of truck driven and for any special endorsement (such as for driving a tanker or carrying hazardous materials).
  • Pass a pre-trip inspection test, basic vehicle control test, and on-road skills test for each class of truck and any special endorsement.
  • Pass random alcohol and drug screenings.
  • Maintain a clean driving record while driving any vehicle, whether personal or commercial.
  • Comply with applicable hours-of-service regulations and other local, state, and federal rules for CDL holders.

Again, in theory, any failure to meet these requirements initially or at any time throughout a career should result in a temporary or permanent suspension of a trucker’s CDL, which would disqualify the trucker from continuing to drive and keep that trucker off the road.

How Unqualified Truckers End up on Albany Roads

Unfortunately, truckers do not always meet the basic qualifications listed above at all times in their driving careers. Nor does meeting those minimum requirements always guarantee that a trucker possesses adequate skills and experience to stay safe on Albany-area roads. Below, we discuss some of the ways an unqualified driver can end up behind the wheel of a truck in Albany.

Inexperience

As any driver knows, it takes time to learn how to drive. You likely have more driving skills today than you did the day you passed your driving test at age 16 or 17. Most people receive minimal instruction beyond Driver’s Ed and/or driving with a parent. Instead, most people learn and hone their driving skills through on-road experience. That’s one big reason why drivers 30 and older get into far fewer accidents than younger drivers (according to the American Automobile Association). Older drivers have simply been at it longer and have more practice.

Well, the same holds for truckers in Albany and throughout the nation. Trucks are large, complicated machines. It takes time—years past the day a trucker first obtains a CDL in many cases—to master the skills necessary to operate such vehicles safely in the wide variety of traffic, weather, and cargo-load conditions that a trucker will inevitably encounter. According to a recent report from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the average age of a new truck driver beginning training is 35 years of age.

It’s probably no coincidence, therefore, that truckers around that age get into fatal truck accidents at higher rates than their older (and younger) truck driving peers, which we can see by comparing Census.gov data on the age of the trucking workforce as a whole with fatal crash data published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The Truck Driver Labor Shortage

As recounted in the ATA report linked above, for years the trucking industry has faced a severe truck driver shortage. There simply aren’t enough CDL holders to fill the truck driving jobs available.

The trucking industry blames several factors for this labor squeeze:

  • Demographics and age requirements. Truckers have a median age of 46 years, which is significantly higher than the median age of U.S. workers as a whole. An aging workforce translates into a faster-than-average rate of attrition, as truckers retire or suffer from disqualifying health conditions. At the same time, the trucking industry faces significant constraints on its pool of labor. First, the industry has (to date) utterly failed to attract women to its ranks at anything close to the rate of female workforce participation. Just 6.6 percent of truckers are women. Second, the minimum age for most trucking jobs is 21, which means the trucking industry misses out on a key opportunity to recruit 18-to-20-year-olds, a limitation not faced by other industries like construction, retail, and food service.
  • Trucking involves hard work. Drivers spend long hours on the road and weeks away from family. The job doesn’t necessarily pave the way toward healthy living, either. It’s stressful, it’s sedentary, and the odd and inconsistent hours make it difficult for truckers to get quality sleep. Drivers tend to suffer from more health problems as a group than the average U.S. worker. Truckers have relatively poor nutrition, and many qualify as obese. Many work as independent contractors and, as a result, do not get job benefits, like health insurance or retirement plans. In times like these, when unemployment is at historic lows and workers have options for the type of career to choose, truck driving just doesn’t compare favorably to the alternatives.
  • The trucking industry, unsurprisingly, also chafes at state and federal regulations applicable to truckers. Industry lobbyists perceive those rules as unnecessarily restrictive limitations on recruitment and worker productivity. Age limits, licensing and health requirements, and hours-of-service regulations, all shrink the labor pool (although, we would argue, for good reason) and increase the number of positions that trucking companies must fill.

Whatever the explanation for the nationwide shortage of truckers, it translates into a heightened risk of unqualified truck drivers on the road in Albany. Why? Because to combat the shortage, some trucking companies inevitably lower their hiring standards, take less care to ensure driver compliance with regulations, and (potentially) put truckers behind the wheels of vehicles that the truckers have no business driving, or in driving situations for which they’re utterly unprepared.

Trucker Noncompliance

Trucking companies aren’t the only ones who cut corners, either. It’s up to truckers to keep themselves qualified to drive. For any given trucker, that may mean taking additional training, re-certifying for certain classes of truck or load types (like hazmats), staying healthy and following doctor’s orders, avoiding drug and alcohol abuse, complying with hours-of-service regulations, and getting enough sleep.

Too many truckers succumb to the temptation to shirk these responsibilities. Trucking jobs are plentiful, and truckers know their employers have little incentive to press too hard to comply with rules and regulations, or to screen aggressively for substance abuse. If truckers can get away without spending time on extra training or certification, or with self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, that’s more time they can spend on the road earning a living.

Plus, staying healthy on the road can prove challenging, especially if you’re one of the alarmingly high number of truckers who doesn’t carry health insurance or doesn’t have a primary care physician. The FMCSA has found that between 2 percent and 3 percent of truckers involved in fatal accidents were driving on suspended or revoked licenses, or were otherwise disqualified from driving at the time of the crash.

Some truckers simply do not even attempt to comply with the minimum qualification requirements. According to FMCSA data, in recent years roughly one out of every five truck drivers involved in fatal truck accidents did not have a valid CDL at all.

The Toll of Unqualified Truckers in Albany

According to data published by the Institute for Traffic Management & Safety Research (ITSMR) at the University at Albany, Capital Region roads see several hundred large truck crashes every year, and roughly 75 to 100 of them result in injuries or fatalities. Police have identified driver inexperience as the primary contributing factor in only a handful of those accidents, but that data does not capture the scope of the problem on area roads.

Many other common contributing factors in Albany truck accidents, including improper lane changes, driver distraction, failure to yield the right of way, unsafe backing, and unsafe speeds, could easily reflect the truck driver’s lack of qualifications to drive safely. ITSMR data suggests that, when compared to the Census and FMCSA data linked above, younger truck drivers in Albany got into accidents at higher-than-average rates.

In other words, unqualified truck drivers likely cause significant trauma and suffering right here in Albany every year. Truck-involved accidents tend to cause far more damage than passenger car accidents. Trucks outweigh virtually all other vehicles on the roads, and in a collision with a car, or a single-truck accident like a rollover, trucks inflict widespread destruction. Trucks crush and mangle smaller vehicles, trapping occupants inside and causing severe and fatal injuries. Crashed trucks spill their cargo on the road and cause secondary accidents.

It is unacceptable for destructive accidents like these to result from someone’s dangerous, careless decision to allow an unqualified truck driver behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer. New York law holds truckers, trucking companies, and others accountable for that decision by making those parties legally liable to injured accident victims and to the families of crash victims who tragically died in Albany truck crashes.

An experienced Albany truck accident lawyer can represent those suffering victims and grieving families in legal actions seeking compensation.

Every truck accident differs, but in general, a lawsuit against an unqualified trucker and anyone else responsible for allowing that trucker behind the wheel can secure payment for victims’:

  • Past and future medical expenses relating to truck crash injuries and any health complications they cause.
  • Past and future out-of-pocket expenses made necessary by the crash or the injuries it caused.
  • Lost wages and income due to the injuries and their impact on a victim’s ability to work.
  • Pain, suffering, diminished quality of life, loss of consortium, and other non-economic damages.

In addition, experienced lawyers can identify circumstances in which the parties liable for an unqualified driver truck accident should pay punitive damages, as punishment for extremely reckless or intentional violations of safety standards that led to the accident. Labor shortage or not, trucking companies should never put the public at risk by allowing inexperienced drivers to take to the road in a large truck.

Victim of an Unqualified Trucker Accident in Albany? Contact a Local Lawyer Today.

If you or a loved one suffered harm in a truck accident in Albany, especially one involving an unqualified driver, you have the right to substantial compensation for your injuries and losses. Do not wait to take the steps necessary to enforce your rights.

Contact an experienced Albany truck accident lawyer today for a free consultation, during which you can discuss the details of your accident and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation.

Andrew Finkelstein

Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties. An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.