It seems that not a day goes by without a news story about a truck accident in our area. That might be a result of less qualified commercial truck drivers traveling on our roadways. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA) a truck driver shortage is partly to blame. About 25,500 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are employed in Colorado, and an estimated 1.6 million are employed by the industry nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this may sound like a large number, the ATA actually estimates that the U.S. is currently short 30,000 drivers with this number expected to surge to 239,000 by 2022. In fact, 90 percent of carriers recently said they couldn’t find enough drivers who met federal Department of Transportation rules. These rules, issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, include hours-of-service regulations that are designed to increase safety and driver working conditions by mandating that truck drivers take longer breaks between shifts. This means fewer hours on the road, which has left many commercial freight companies needing more drivers to get the job done. This increases costs for many of these shipping operators, and as a result, some trucking companies reportedly pressure drivers to spend more hours on the road even though the practice violates federal rules.
This issue hit Colorado front and center earlier this year when a Denver jury awarded a Littleton woman $770,000 for injuries she sustained at the hands of a tanker truck driver off Highway 6. The driver – who had more than 15 violations involving speeding and other infractions – later pleaded guilty to careless driving in charges brought by state prosecutors. As a result, many safety advocates have called for more stringent driver background checks to prevent these types of dangerous motor crashes.
Making matters worse is that the truck driver turnover rate has reached peak levels, as high as 92 percent according to ATA figures, compared to just 39 percent five years ago. This high turnover rate means new drivers are operating on our roadways with little knowledge of the areas where they transport goods. To fill this shortage, some shipping companies have pushed to get new – albeit inexperienced – drivers on the road.
“I know a lot of people think ‘Hey I can just be a truck driver,’” says Richard Lammers, owner of United States Truck Driving School, which has a campus in Fountain, Colorado. “It’s not like you can just walk in off the street and jump in a truck like you’ve been driving an automobile.” In particular, under Colorado law, truck drivers must have a valid Commercial Driving License, or CDL, when operating a commercial vehicle that has a maximum operating weight of 26,001 pounds or more, is built to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, and is used to move hazardous material. The rigors of driving an 18-wheeler are more demanding and inherently more dangerous than driving the family car, and this may be leading to a growing number of accidents.
If you or someone you love were injured in a truck accident, an experienced Denver truck accident lawyer can help you understand your rights and discuss your options for recovering the compensation you deserve.