The US Department of Labor estimates that there are about 1.8 million people employed as heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in this country. Millions of more drivers operate other types of vehicles for work – taxicab drivers, bus drivers, tow truck operators, etc. Many of these vehicles are larger commercial vehicles that operate much differently than your average car. Because of this and the amount of time, these drivers spend on the roadway, it’s essential that their employers properly vet these drivers to ensure that they are qualified to safely operate the vehicle that is required by their job. When companies fail to screen their drivers and hand the keys to company vehicles over to unqualified and unsafe drivers, the safety of the entire motoring public is put at risk.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
For some vehicles, such as interstate semi-tractor trailers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) govern what screening procedures employers must follow before hiring a prospective driver. Some of these procedures include age limitations, requiring a commercial driver’s license (CDL), as well as a mandatory physical exam and road test. These FMCSRs are the minimum screening requirements. Responsible commercial vehicle companies should aim to do more than the minimum to make sure that they are not exposing other drivers to the dangers of sharing the road with unqualified commercial drivers.
In addition to what’s required by the FMSCRs, it’s a good practice for companies employing commercial drivers to check the background and employment history of a prospective driver through some or all of the following processes:
- Require a fully completed employment/lease application from Leal with Social Security number, moving violation history, previous accident history, previous work history, and criminal history
- Confirm driver’s employment history
- Test driver through a written examination
- Independently check driver’s Motor Vehicle Record so that a driver cannot potentially misrepresent his driving history
- Maintain a copy of driver’s CDL or Chauffeur’s License (if necessary)
- Run a criminal background check
- Require a physical examination
- Require a vision test
- Provide driver with a significant orientation program
- Provide driver a safety manual
- Assign an experienced driver to ride with driver to confirm his/her abilities
- Evaluate driver’s driving
Unfortunately, many companies fail to implement any of these screening processes or improperly attempt to delegate these responsibilities to someone else like an insurance company or a bureaucratic licensing agency.
Case Study on an Unqualified Driver For A Commercial Vehicle
In 2015, Shannon Law Group tried an important commercial vehicle case at the Daley Center. The defendants, in that case, were a taxi company and an unqualified driver. In that case, the taxi company failed to do nearly any screening of this driver. Had they completed even the simplest screening processes, they would have learned that this driver had a laundry list of criminal convictions – including a DUI and several other moving violations. The cab company admitted that if they had known that, they would never have hired that driver. Instead, they gave him the keys to one of their cabs. After less than three weeks on the job, the driver ran over our client as she walked in a crosswalk, leaving her permanently injured.
Understandably, the jury, in that case, did not like that the taxi company ignored their responsibilities to hire qualified drivers. They sent a message to the company that failing to screen drivers is unacceptable by rendering a $500,000 verdict on punitive damages alone.
When companies hire unqualified and unsafe drivers, the effects can be catastrophic. As we’ve learned far too often in handling commercial driving cases, many employers, for various reasons – cost, ignorance of the rules, apathy – elect not to properly screen prospective drivers before they hand over the keys. If you or a friend are injured in a commercial vehicle crash, feel free to contact Shannon Law Group for a free consultation. The earlier that lawyers and their investigation time can begin to peel back the onion of the company’s hiring procedures, the better.