Driving in Houston can sometimes feel like one big exercise in dealing with large trucks. They are everywhere, crowding the lanes on the 610 Loop, taking up space on I-45, rolling through neighborhoods like Frenchtown and the Fifth Ward, and blocking traffic downtown.
Most of us have never sat behind the wheel of a big truck, so we can only imagine how difficult a job it must be to operate such a large, complicated, dangerous machine. But, we feel comforted by the knowledge that the trucker driving the big rig next to us on the tollway has the licensing, skill, and experience to stay safe.
Well, that is not always true. Yes, truck drivers should have the training and qualifications they need to operate safely on Houston roads. They should have the proper license and endorsement for carrying their cargo. They should basically know what they are doing in the wide variety of driving situations they encounter. But many do not. Scary as it sounds, unqualified truckers take to the highways and byways around Houston every day, and sometimes, their lack of experience causes serious accidents.
Minimum Qualifications for Truckers
While there are qualifications for truckers, some do not follow them. The most basic qualification—the one that should give everyone comfort that you have the skills you need to drive a truck safely—is a commercial driver’s license, or CDL.
It is no small thing to get and hold on to a CDL.
In Texas (and pretty much everywhere else), here is what it takes:
- You must be at least 21 years old
- You must have a valid driver’s license
- You must have and maintain a clean driving record (no DUIs or history of serious moving violations)
- You must apply for and obtain a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)
- You must hold the CLP for at least 14 days and, while holding it, practice driving under the supervision of a CDL holder sitting in the front seat
- You must obtain and periodically renew a medical certification showing that you are in good enough health to drive
- You must pass a written knowledge test with a score of 80% or better for every type of vehicle and endorsement you are seeking
- Your truck must pass a pre-test safety inspection
- You must pass (on a pass/fail basis) a three-part skills test supervised by an examiner consisting of pre-trip inspections, basic vehicle control, and on-road driving
- You must pass random alcohol and drug screenings and must never refuse such a screening
- You must stay in strict compliance with hours of service regulations and any other state or federal rules for truckers
It is not like they hand out CDLs like candy on Halloween. You have to put in some serious time and effort to get one, and you have to continue meeting basic requirements to keep your CDL valid.
So, How Do Unqualified Truck Drivers Happen?
Getting your CDL does not always mean that you know what you are doing behind the wheel of every truck you are licensed for, or in every road, weather, and other driving situation you encounter. And it does not always mean that truckers and trucking companies follow the rules, either. Here are just some of the ways that truck in the next lane over on the 610 Loop might have an unqualified driver in the cab.
Plain-Old Lack of Practice
Be honest: if you think back to the day after you got your license as a kid, were you really qualified to drive?
For most of us, the answer to that question is a firm “Heck no!” which is why the thought of our kids taking the wheel for the first time utterly terrifies us. It is all well and good to pass a written multiple-choice test, learn how to parallel park, and check your blind spots. It is another thing entirely to know what is what in heavy traffic, blinding rain, or any of the other complicated scenarios drivers might face every day in Houston.
It is no different for truckers. Given the choice between a driver who just got his CDL yesterday and one who has had it for 15 years, it is a no-brainer who you would rather share the road with. The real learning involved in driving a truck takes place on the road, hopefully (but certainly not always) in conditions that do not lead to an accident. And so, the reality is that a consistent percentage of the truckers out there on Houston’s roads will be newbies, prone to making mistakes that (again, hopefully) do not kill or injure someone.
Yeah, we know, it is not a comforting thought. But that is the reality, like it or not.
A Severe Shortage of Truckers
The country is also running low on truck drivers. For years now, a trucking labor shortage has bedeviled the industry. Trucking companies just cannot hire enough people to drive big rigs, which is a problem that is only going to get worse as the economy grows and demand for trucking services increases.
What is behind the trucker shortage?
We can think of two key explanations.
- It is not the most attractive job. With unemployment at historic lows, convincing people they want to work as a long-haul truck driver is a hard sell. The hours are long and irregular. The job takes intense concentration and significant skill, but is also sedentary and (often) really boring. You have all sorts of regulatory requirements you have to follow. You are away from home and family for long stretches. Many trucking companies want you to operate as an independent contractor, so you do not get benefits like health insurance and retirement. All in all, in a labor market that is already tight, trucking does not stack up particularly well.
- Recruitment problems. The median age of a trucker is 46, and at some large private trucking companies, the median age is over 50. Having an older-than-average workforce means you have higher-than-average attrition rates, too. Your workers are looking toward retirement, and are at that stage of life when health problems become a real issue. That is a real problem if you cannot recruit people to take their place at the same rate—and the trucking industry (so far) just cannot. For one thing, it is at a disadvantage, in that the minimum age for most long-haul trucking jobs is 21 when other industries can hire and train 18- to 20-year-olds. For another, it is not particularly female-friendly. Less than 7% of truckers are women, which means the industry is basically recruiting from just half of the labor force.
Bottom line: trucking is a tough job to fill and the trucking industry does not do a very good job of it. And that is a real problem, not just for trucking companies but for the public too. Why? Because it means that trucking companies are under pressure to hire anyone they can and that they (and the industry as a whole) have an incentive to cut corners whenever possible. That might mean putting someone inexperienced behind the wheel. It might mean spending less money and time on driver training. It might mean lowering your standards for whom you will hire. It might just mean breaking the law and ignoring minimum qualifications.
The result: more unqualified drivers driving large trucks, and more dangerous truck accidents.
Breaking the Rules
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the trucking industry, roughly 20% (that is one in five) of truck drivers involved in fatal accidents every year do not have a CDL. They are driving large trucks without having the single-most-basic requirement to do so. It is illegal, but it happens, and it is deadly.
And that is not all. Numerous truckers fail to maintain their qualifications after obtaining a CDL. There are a lot of ways it can happen. They might work for a trucking company that, because of the labor shortage, does not pay much attention to keeping them certified and well-trained. They might develop disqualifying health conditions that they decide not to tell anyone about (especially if they lack health insurance, which is the case for a high number of truckers). They might violate hours-of-service rules, get disqualified, and nevertheless keep driving. They might develop substance abuse disorders that impair their driving abilities. And so on.
Trucking is a highly regulated industry, but that does not mean that everyone in it follows the regulations. Truckers break the rules, employers look the other way, and as a result, accidents happen.
Unqualified Trucker Accidents in Houston
So, how bad is the unqualified truck driver problem in Houston? Put it this way: in a recent year, there were 1,254 tractor-trailer crashes on Houston roads, or more than three per day, according to the Texas Department of Transportation’s Crash Records Information System (CRIS).
That is just tractor-trailer crashes. It does not count box trucks, delivery trucks, and the assortment of other trucks that also roll through, and get into accidents in, Houston daily. About a third of those accidents resulted in injuries and fatalities, most of them suffered by someone other than the truck driver (usually car drivers and passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists).
How many of those accidents occurred because of a lack of qualification on the part of the truck driver? It is hard to know for sure, but we would bet it is a sizable number, because the reality is (as explained above), lots of truckers do not have the qualifications necessary to stay safe behind the wheel, even if they hold a CDL (and some do not). Mistakes by truckers lead to accidents, and unqualified truckers make more mistakes than others.
So, we feel 100% confident saying that unqualified truck drivers cause all kinds of trouble and trauma on Houston roads. And, we are talking serious trouble and devastating trauma. A truck accident causes exponentially more damage and destruction than a car accident. Trucks are the biggest, heaviest machines on the road. They inflict massive damage on smaller vehicles when they crash into them. They also dump loads of cargo onto the road, obstructing traffic and leading to follow-on accidents.
How a Houston Truck Accident Lawyer Helps Victims
If you have read this far, you know that driving a large truck is a tough job. And that we need truckers, because they provide a service that is vital for our economy.
But that does not mean it is ever ok for an unqualified driver to take the wheel of a large truck in Houston, or anywhere else. It is wrong, it is dangerous, and it costs lives. Anyone who has a hand in an accident caused by an unqualified truck driver deserves to be held accountable.
And that is just what truck accident injury lawyers do. They represent victims of Houston truck accidents in legal actions that seek compensation for the devastating harm inflicted by unqualified truckers.
Those legal actions can often get victims paid for their:
- Past and future medical costs resulting from their truck accident injuries
- Other costs and expenditures they have because of a truck accident
- Past and future lost wages from missing work or becoming disabled from truck accident injuries
- Pain and suffering and other life challenges caused by the truck accident and the injuries they suffered.
Who pays that money? In Texas, anyone whose careless or wrongful actions played a role in putting an unqualified trucker behind the wheel of a large and deadly vehicle, that is who. That can include the truck driver, the trucking company, a temp agency, third-party CDL examiners, and anyone else who might cut corners on safety and training, lie about qualifications, ignore regulations and certification requirements, or look the other way when rules get broken.
Contact a Skilled Truck Accident Lawyer in Houston Today
There is no excuse for unqualified truck drivers taking to the roads around Houston and putting all of us at risk. If a truck accident caused by an unqualified trucker harmed you or your family, you have the right to substantial financial compensation. Contact a truck accident injury lawyer in Houston for a free consultation about your rights and options.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.