Maryland Commercial Trucking Rules/Regulations - Alcohol/Drug Use

Without a doubt, any individual who drinks to excess and then gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is exhibiting some level of negligent behavior, if not complete ignorance of the law. Never mind a lack of moral judgment, which could result in the injury or death of one or more innocent people in the process. As Maryland personal injury lawyers, the professional legal experts at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, know that a drunken driving collision takes place once every hour in this state. Of those, one person in 50 is likely to be killed as a result.

Unfortunately, impaired driving -- whether it involves alcohol, prescription medications, or illegal drugs -- happens more often than most people realize. According to the state of Maryland, in 2008, over 150 people died in drunk driving accidents; approximately 24,000 motorists were stopped and arrested by local and state police for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol alone. In 2010, the number of fatal DWI-DUI crashes had risen to 177. And although traffic deaths have declined overall, safety experts have noted that alcohol and drug-related deaths on Maryland roadways have not followed a similar decline.

It is a sad commentary that the continued persistence of drunk driving on our city streets, interstates and beltways still to this day puts the driving public at risk. The figures speak for themselves. With more than 20,000 drug and alcohol-related arrests taking place every year, the average number of known drunk drivers traveling our streets equates to about 50 people per day. It is quite possible that many more people who are driving while impaired are not being caught by police, which is very unsettling.

When asked, most convicted drunk drivers will usually say that they never intended to cause an accident. This may help those individuals live with their mistake, especially when an injury or death resulted from their actions, but this is hardly comforting to the victims and their families. As Baltimore automobile and trucking accident attorneys, Lebowitz & Mzhen believes that people who cause injury to innocent victims should be held accountable for their actions.

Simply because a convicted drunk driver never planned on hurting themselves or another person doesn’t mean that the act of driving while impaired should be excused. With the increased focus over the years on anti-drunken driving campaigns and driver awareness, there is no justification for anyone, much less a professional driver, to ever turn on the ignition of any motor vehicle and venture onto public roadways.

Anyone who decides to drive while under the influence of beer, wine, hard liquor or drugs is quite simply an accident waiting to happen. As Maryland commercial trucking injury lawyers, we recognize the potential tragic consequences of drunken driving enough to know that there is no truly legitimate reason for any responsible driver to operate a passenger car or commercial motor vehicle (CMV) while impaired. This is negligent behavior pure and simple, and nobody should lend credence to those who argue they had no choice in the matter.

As skilled personal injury attorneys with experience in representing victims of automobile, motorcycle and trucking accidents, Lebowitz & Mzhen fully sympathizes with the victims of drunk drivers. When an accident is caused by a commercial trucker, the involvement of alcohol or drugs makes the event all the more deplorable. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but deliberately drinking or taking drugs that will impair one’s judgment is not a mistake that should be overlooked.

It is a fact that the greatest percentage of trucking-related accidents is usually the result of errors made by the trucker himself. Combine this with the possibility of a commercial truck driver drinking alcohol or ingesting drugs, and the odds of that trucker making a poor judgment and causing a roadway wreck rises precipitously. Impairment can cause a driver to exceed the posted speed limit, misread highway signage, fail to observe his truck’s blind spots, improperly load cargo, or even skip important safety checks on his rig.

In addition to prohibitions on driving while intoxicated by liquor (FMCSA Part 392.5), truckers are forbidden by law from using any controlled substances (FMCSA Part 392.4), unless they are prescribed by a doctor familiar with the driver's medical history and his occupation. In fact, Federal law (FMCSA Part 382) requires trucking companies to test their drivers for alcohol and drugs as a condition of employment. These tests are performed on a periodic and random basis while they are actively working and on duty, as well as following any fatal traffic accident.

Still, even with the threat of legal penalties and potential loss of their jobs and livelihood, some commercial truckers attempt to subvert drug and alcohol monitoring procedures in order to continue using illegal substances or drinking alcohol on the job while hopefully avoiding detection. It has been found that some truckers have been able to defeat the accuracy of the current U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) drug testing methods with the help of readily available products, such as synthetic urine. To fight against this dishonest practice, the DOT requires commercial trucking companies to obtain a driver's drug testing results from his or her previous employer(s) in the hopes of preventing this type of abuse.

Another method of drug testing involves taking a sample of the driver’s hair and processing it to determine if there has been any drug use in the recent past. While hair testing does not reveal alcohol use, it is another potential method for catching instances of drug use by certain commercial truck drivers. Even the American Trucking Association (ATA) has recommended the use of hair testing instead of the standard urine test used to detect drugs in a person’s system.

Measures like additional or more in-depth drug testing could increase in the coming years. According to the Nation Traffic Safety Board (NTSB), despite the fact that impaired driving fatality and injury-related accident rates across the nation have decreased appreciably over the last few decades, the pace of those reductions has actually slowed since the mid-90s.

Here in Maryland, the consequences that truckers face for driving while under the influence of alcohol includes immediate removal from “safety-sensitive functions.” By law, those drivers who have been found to have engaged in alcohol misuse cannot return to their safety-sensitive duties until they have been evaluated by a substance abuse professional. In addition, those drivers must comply with any and all treatment recommendations in order for them to overcome their alcohol problem.

Similarly, a positive drug test will result in the driver being removed from any safety-sensitive duties, though this requires an evaluation by a Medical Review Officer (MRO) who must determine that the positive test was a result of unauthorized use of a controlled substance. By law, no driver will be allowed to return to his or her safety-sensitive duties until an evaluation by an SAP/MRO has shown that the driver has complied with any recommended rehabilitation, and that the most recent drug test (return-to-duty test) indicates a negative result for any prohibited substances.

As Maryland personal injury attorneys, Lebowitz & Mzhen is ready and willing to help those individuals who have been victims of a car, truck or motorcycle accident in and around cities such as Annapolis, Rockville, Bowie and the District. Having years of experience working on personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, our legal staff understands how insurance companies will try every legal maneuver to avoid paying more than they believe is required to victims of negligent traffic accidents.

Our roadways already present a variety of hazards for the average motorist without the threat of drunken or otherwise impaired commercial vehicle drivers. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured due to the negligent behavior of a commercial truck driver, we highly recommend that you consult with a qualified legal professional regarding your rights to compensation under the law. For a free, no obligation legal consult, please contact us by sending an email to Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen, or by phoning our offices toll free at (800) 654-1949 so that we may schedule an appointment to go over your case.