Articles Posted in Driving Under the Influence

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Isaac Espinoza was helping a friend with his broken down car on a stretch of highway I-81 just outside Chambersburg, Pennsylvania when he was hit by a truck driver with a blood alcohol level more than 4x the legal limit. The driver, Ricky Hatfield, ran from the scene of the accident and was later found and arrested by Pennsylvania State Police. His employer, J.B. Hunt, a major transportation logistics company headquartered in Lowell, Arkansas, failed to screen Hatfield’s employment and driving records, which included a previous DUI arrest while operating a tractor-trailer, 2 charges for reckless driving, speeding in a construction zone while driving a tractor-trailer, and job termination for failure of a drug and alcohol test and attempting to bribe the test administrator. These charges and Mr. Hatfield’s firing from a previous employer all occurred within the past 5 years.

Jury Finds Both Driver and Employer Negligent

Ricky Hatfield was considered an independent operator, a trucker who ran his own company but contracted with J.B. Hunt under an Outsource Carriage Agreement. The agreement requires the contracted employee to self-certify their driving record, with the logical expectation that J.B. Hunt would conduct a background check to verify the information. The company never checked Hatfield’s record, arguing that Mr. Hatfield was technically self-employed and had a duty to screen his own record. The company also attempted to argue that Ricky Hatfield personally made the decision to become intoxicated and that he was technically driving on his day off. Mr. Espinoza’s attorneys quickly refuted these claims, proving that Hatfield had been contracted to drive for J.B. Hunt and was operating the tractor-trailer and not his personal vehicle because he was out on dispatch for the company.

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Time and again we are reminded about the dangers of drinking and driving, but unfortunately alcohol remains a factor in many fatal accidents. There is no reason that anyone should ever get behind the wheel after drinking, and accidents as a result of drinking and driving are always preventable.

Fox News recently reported that a Kenosha County crash took the lives of two people and left one in critical condition. The crash occurred near Highway 83 and Highway 50 in the 34500 block of the westbound lanes of Highway 50. A pickup truck was traveling east in the westbound lanes of traffic and then struck a westbound car head-on. The driver of the car suffered serious injuries and was transported to the local hospital where he later passed away. The passenger of the car died at the scene. The driver of the truck remains in critical condition.

According to the Kenosha County Sheriff’s department, alcohol is believed to have been a factor. The department received several 911 calls that alerted them of this pickup truck driving the wrong way. Unfortunately, they were too late to prevent this crash. The pickup truck driver will be facing an Operating While Intoxicated charge and a traffic citation for driving the wrong way on a divided highway.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol comes with serious penalties under the law and needlessly endangers the lives of others on the road, but these accidents continue to happen much too frequently. In 2012 alone, 10,322 people were killed in crashes involving alcohol in the United States, according to the National Safety Council. To get an idea of how frequent this is, every day in the United States about 30 people die in motor vehicle accidents involving an impaired driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is one death every 51 minutes.
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We cannot stress enough that when getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, drivers have the legal duty to not be the cause of injury to others on the road. This may be even truer for truck drivers, because on top of this normal duty to be safe drivers, they have the additional duty as employees for a company to act as agents for their employer. Truck drivers are agents of their parent company because the employer has authorized or ordered the truck driver to complete various tasks while on duty. That means that the company is also often liable for injuries that truck drivers cause to others. To avoid causing injury to others in truck accidents, truck drivers need to devote their full focus and attention to the roads. Avoiding negligence and reckless behavior means never driving a truck after consuming alcohol or drugs.

Studies show that alcohol and drug use by truck drivers is common, yet according to an article in Science Daily, and originally published in the British Medical Journal, alcohol and drug use among truck drivers poses great risks for road safety. Drug and alcohol use on the job appears to be correlated to younger age, long trips, night driving, fewer hours of rest, and lower pay. Truck drivers often use alcohol and drugs to cope with their long hours and fatigue. Employers financially benefit from drivers working long hours, but as a legal and ethical obligation to keep others free from injury, employers need to avoid causing truck drivers to engage in negligent driving by not assigning overly long shifts and allowing break periods.

This study presented that substances used most commonly by truck drivers while on the road are alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, and amphetamines. However, such analyses can only detect substances that have been used hours or a few days before, so the true extent of drug and alcohol use may very well be underestimated. Furthermore, even though some drugs may be stimulants, unlike alcohol which slows reaction times, the study shows that use of stimulants can incite drivers to take more risks and increase reckless driving behavior. Additionally, after one “crashes” from such drugs, they are prone to fall asleep at the wheel and cause a collision and increase risks of personal injuries and deaths.