Drinking and driving is never okay. Getting behind the wheel of a large truck after you have been drinking is inexcusable. Yet, in 2017 there were 841 drunk driving deaths in Florida, accounting for 26 percent of all traffic fatalities. The majority of drunk drivers are drivers of passenger vehicles, but that’s not always the case.
A truck driver was arrested for a DUI after his semi-truck overturned spilling oil across a major interstate. Thankfully, there were no injuries. That same month, 63-year-old Daniel F. Sheehan Jr. was arrested after driving the wrong way for 10 miles on an interstate. While Sheehan somehow managed to avoid an accident, several drivers had to move off the road. Sadly, 29-year-old Jack Satterfield III was not as lucky. Satterfield allegedly killed three people, including a 16-month-old, after his truck crashed full-speed into stopped traffic. The truck accident involved 11 passenger vehicles altogether. All three DUI truck incidents happened within nine months and all three incidents had the potential to be so much worse.
The Laws Regarding Drinking and Driving a Large Truck
It’s obvious that driving a large truck is different than driving a passenger vehicle. These trucks are longer, heavier, and consequently, more difficult to control and maneuver. Additionally, their sheer size makes them much more dangerous in the event of an accident. A fully loaded truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, or in other words, 20 times as much as a passenger vehicle. Because of this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has strict regulations regarding alcohol consumption. A few of the most notable laws include:
- No driver shall consume alcohol less than four hours before the beginning of their shifts.
- Alcohol is absolutely prohibited while the driver is on-duty.
- The driver must undergo a drug and alcohol test after any accident. The driver is not allowed to drink any alcohol during the eight hours following the accident.
- An employer cannot allow a driver to return to work if they refuse a blood alcohol test.
- All employers must administer pre-employment, random, and post-accident drug and alcohol tests.
- The legal blood alcohol limit for truck drivers is 0.04 percent.
Drinking and Driving Is a Serious Problem
In 2017 there were 10,874 fatalities from crashes where the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater. Nationwide, this equates to nearly a third of all traffic fatalities. Among the drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more, 3 percent of these drivers were drivers of large trucks. This number may seem low, but given the how deadly large trucks are, that number is still too high. There’s a reason why it is illegal to drive with that much alcohol in your system. Alcohol affects your ability to safely drive a vehicle. Here are a few facts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
- A BAC as low as 0.02 can affect your judgment and make you feel relaxed.
- At a BAC of 0.05, you will likely experience difficulty with coordination, some loss of muscle control, and difficulty steering.
- At a BAC of 0.08, you will have difficulty with concentration, memory, information processing, and perception.
The Types of Injuries These Accidents Cause
An accident with a large truck can cause catastrophic injuries. When a driver no longer has control of their truck, the chance and the severity of these injuries increases substantially. According to the NHTSA, 72 percent of all fatalities in truck-involved accidents in 2017 were occupants of the other vehicle. Ten percent were pedestrians or bicyclists. This means that only 18 percent of all fatalities were truck drivers. This illustrates how vulnerable you are against a large truck. Serious injuries resulting from a truck accident include:
Traumatic Brain Injuries
According to the CDC, there were nearly 3 million emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths related to traumatic brain injuries in 2014. Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury hospitalizations, accounting for 20 percent hospital admittances. A traumatic brain injury is the result of a traumatic force or penetrating wound to the head. Unlike a non-traumatic brain injury, a TBI is the result of an external force. This type of injury can range from a mild concussion with no lingering effects, to a persistent vegetative state.
A TBI may or may not be immediately apparent. In some cases, symptoms may not show up until several days after the accident. Other times, the victim will lose consciousness at the site of the accident. Common symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe or persistent headaches
- Memory loss
- Changes in sleep (sleeping more or less than usual)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Changes in mood
If you suspect a brain injury you should always seek immediate medical attention. A doctor will do tests to rule out serious injury.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Like a brain injury, a spinal cord injury is often the result of a powerful force. The spinal cord can become injured when it is hit suddenly or when an object enters the spinal cord. In most cases, a spinal cord injury will lead to permanent paralysis.
There are two types of spinal cord injuries, a complete injury and an incomplete injury. In both cases, the patient will lose movement below the point of injury. However, with a complete injury, the loss of function will be equal on both sides. For an incomplete injury, the patient may retain some movement on one side. A spinal cord injury may not be immediately evident. In fact, they can progress over time as the cord begins to swell. That’s why the Mayo Clinic suggests that you always get evaluated for a spinal cord injury after a head or neck injury or other major trauma. Seek medical help immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Weakness or loss of movement in any part of your body
- Loss of bladder control
- Difficulty walking
- Extreme pain or pressure in your neck or back
- Numbness or tingling in your limbs
- Difficulty breathing
Trauma is the most common cause of broken bones. Among the top causes is motor vehicle accidents. Our bones are built to sustain a lot of force, but often, the trauma of a motor vehicle accident is too much. An accident can cause the bones to move or bend in an unnatural position, causing the bone to break. Crush injuries can occur when an object falls on the bone or a limb becomes pinned between objects in the vehicle.
In many cases, you will be able to recognize the signs of a broken bone immediately. Common symptoms include intense pain, swelling, and loss of movement. With an open fracture, the bone will protrude through the skin.
Treatment for broken bones will vary based on the location of the break and the severity of the injury. In some cases, you may not need surgery. In other cases, the injury may be so severe that it may require reconstructive surgery. After an injury, your doctor will do an injury to determine the location and type of injury and determine a treatment plan. While some injuries may heal completely, others may result in lifelong, chronic pain.
You’ve likely experienced a burn at some point or another. Most burns are first-degree burns, requiring little to no treatment. There will likely be redness and pain, but in most cases, there won’t even be a scar. Accidents involving large trucks often involve more severe burns. Burns can occur when the skin comes in contact with a hot object or there is a fire in the vehicle.
There are three types of burns:
- First degree burns: First degree burns are minor injuries. These are the types of burns you would get from contact with a hot stove or a sunburn. They do not blister and will go away on there own within a few weeks.
- Second-degree burns: Second-degree burns are more severe. They involve damage to the lower level of skin and often involve blisters. There may be scarring after a second-degree burn.
- Third-degree burns: Third-degree burns are the most serious type of burns. They involve the lower levels of skin, as well as muscle or bone tissue. These injuries are extremely painful and usually require extensive treatment. This may include surgery or skin grafts.
Neck and Back Injuries
Your neck and back are vulnerable in an accident. If you escape without a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, you may experience another neck or back injury. One of the most common injuries after a motor vehicle accident is whiplash. Though whiplash is often regarded as a minor injury, it can cause severe and radiating pain. In many cases, the injury will resolve on its own. If the pain doesn’t resolve after a couple of weeks you should see a health care professional. You may have a bulging or herniated disk. Massage or chiropractic care may help reduce the pain, but in some cases, steroid injections or surgery may be necessary.
Internal injuries are some of the most dangerous injuries after an accident. In many cases, the victim may not even be aware that they have an injury. After an accident, a doctor can check for signs that there are internal injuries. This may include an MRI or CT scan. Common internal injuries include:
- Punctured lung: Your lungs control your ability to breathe. They may become damaged when an object, such as a fractured rib pokes a hole in the lung tissue. This can make it difficult to breath and if not treated promptly is fatal. The most obvious sign of a punctured lung is a heavy chest and difficulty breathing.
- Internal bleeding: A traumatic injury can cause an injury to your arteries or veins. When this happens, bleeding can occur. Untreated internal bleeding can cause the patient to bleed out and result in death.
- Kidney damage: The kidneys are a major part of your urinary system. They work as a filter and remove waste from the body. The kidney can become damaged from a severe blow to the back or a penetrating object.
Protecting Yourself Against Drunk Drivers
You never know when you are going to cross paths with a drunk driver. That’s why it’s always best to be prepared. As a driver, there are steps that you can take to reduce your chances of being in an accident and reduce the risk of potential injury.
Practice defensive driving: Always be alert of what is going on around you. Be aware of the actions of other drivers and be prepared to react quickly. If a driver begins to veer into your lane, know ahead of time how you can avoid the collision.
Don’t be afraid to speak up: Even if you are not sure if the driver is under the influence, don’t be afraid to say something. If you suspect the driver has been drinking or is acting unusual, call 911. Your actions can save the life of another driver. Signs to look out for include:
- Traveling the wrong direction
- Driving without headlights
- Excessive and/or dangerous speeding
- Traveling between lanes
- Erratic or dangerous turns
- Running red lights or stop signs
- Failure to signal
Buckle up: Seat belts save lives. Plain and simple. By wearing your seat belt, you reduce your odds of serious injury by up to 50 percent.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Legal Help
Recovering from an accident with a large truck can be difficult. Because of the nature of these accidents and the injuries they cause, recovery can be long and painful. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you fight for financial compensation so you can focus on what’s important—your recovery. If you have been recently injured in an accident, contact a Florida truck accident attorney for more information about your legal rights.