There are thousands of commercial truck accidents in Alabama each year, leaving more than a thousand people injured and others killed. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of trucks are involved in accidents every year. These accidents have different causes, many involving the driver's behavior-such as speeding, distracted driving or alcohol use. But an overlooked factor in many of these accidents is the use of prescription painkillers.
Millions of Americans are prescribed opioids to treat pain. These opioids include oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percoset), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco) and codeine. If a person is in pain, taking these drugs can provide welcome relief. But if that person then gets behind the wheel of a large truck, they can be putting the lives of others at risk.
As with most medications, opioids can have side effects. Among the side effects listed on the label for these opioids is dizziness and drowsiness. Nobody wants the driver of a commercial truck that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds to be dizzy or drowsy. In fact, the label for some of these drugs specifically state, "do not drive." But in too many cases, these warnings go ignored.
And according to a federal study, the use of prescription drugs by drivers has played a role in many truck accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) examined three years of data on serious accidents. Based on the results, they estimated prescription drug use was a factor in 26% of all truck crashes-a bigger factor than alcohol or the use of illegal drugs.
There are strict rules that prohibit the use of alcohol and illegal drugs by commercial truck drivers. So why are drivers allowed to work while taking prescription painkillers?
Technically, they're not. FMCSA regulations state a driver is medically unqualified to drive if taking a "narcotic, or any other habit forming drug." But there's a loophole.
Current regulations allow drivers to take prescription painkillers if the prescribing doctor and a Department of Transportation medical examiner (who certifies commercial motor vehicle drivers) determine that use of the drug will not affect the driver's ability to operate the truck safely.
There are problems with this approach. Drivers may not be aware of how the drug is affecting them, and won't report any side effects. Some drivers may develop an addiction and lie to the medical examiner about their opioid use.
In both cases, the driver is back behind the wheel of a truck, where he or she poses a danger to others on the road. People injured in truck accidents can suffer broken bones, head trauma, spinal cord injuries or damage to internal organs. They can be left permanently disfigured or paralyzed.
If a truck driver who was taking prescription painkillers causes an accident that leaves people injured or killed, that is negligent behavior. The driver-and possibly the trucking company-needs to be held responsible.
If you or a loved one was injured in a truck accident in Alabama caused by an impaired truck driver, contact Mobile, Alabama attorney Dean Waite at 866-434-5840 and schedule your free case evaluation.