“Student Drivers” and Fatal Truck Accidents

Student Drivers” and Fatal Truck Accidents

In an earlier post, our commercial truck accident injury lawyer commented on two recent lawsuits involving trucks owned by Werner Enterprises, one of the largest commercial trucking companies in the nation. Both lawsuits found that Werner was negligent in that it allowed inexperienced drivers to drive large commercial trucks without proper supervision by more experienced drivers who were paired with new drivers as a part of the Werner driver training program.

In today’s post the commercial truck accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm takes a look at how some commercial trucking companies are dealing with the industry-wide shortage of qualified truck drivers by either operating “in-house” driver training programs or by recruiting inexperienced drivers who have completed a few weeks of training at a “truck driving school.” He will then explain some of the legal issues that can arise if a “student” driver is involved in a truck accident.

The Problem

Prior to the economic chaos caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, the U. S. economy was growing at an unprecedented rate. Since most commercial products are transported by “over the road” trucking companies, these companies were faced with the problem of finding enough qualified truck drivers to meet the demands of their customers. Some trucking companies addressed this problem by establishing their own new driver training programs that take an inexperienced “off the street” driver and train the new driver to meet the basic qualifications for a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) while other companies hired CDL-qualified, but inexperienced, drivers who had completed a few weeks of training at a truck driving school.

Surprisingly, there are no national standards regulating the qualifications of truck driving school instructors or the content of subject matter taught in such driving schools, most of which are private “for profit” businesses. Instead, many driving school instructors are themselves former drivers who have either retired from truck driving or left the commercial trucking industry for any number of reasons.

Companies that train or hire new drivers

The following partial list of companies that are willing to train and/or hire inexperienced truck drivers is for illustration purposes only and does not imply either endorsement or criticism by The Doan Law Firm.

C. R. England

Rather than directly training new or inexperienced drivers, C. R. England uses the company’s fully-owned subsidiary, Premier Truck Driving School, as a source of new drivers. Although other trucking companies use this recruiting and driver training model, Premier Truck Driving School has seen its share of legal troubles.

In March of this year C. R. England and Premier agreed to a $18.6 million settlement of a class action lawsuit alleging that England mislead some 12,000 to enroll in Premier with the false promise that satisfactory completion of the Premier instruction program would guarantee new graduates a job as a C. R. England driver. The lawsuit also alleged that Premier produced more graduates than England could possibly hire, thus creating a “revolving door” atmosphere where England drivers who left the company for various reasons would be replaced by relatively inexperienced Premier graduates.

Werner

Werner Enterprises does not directly operate its own truck driver training program. Instead, Werner refers potential new truck drivers to its “partner” truck driving school, Roadmaster Drivers School (which is owned by Werner Enterprises), to obtain their CDL training. After completion of the school’s 3- to 4-week training program, which the prospective new truck driver must pay for out of their own pocket or with a student loan, the new driver can apply to Werner for a job as a “trainee” driver. As a trainee, the new driver is paired with an experienced over-the-road driver who is supposed to evaluate the trainee’s driving skills as well as provide additional practical instruction in the operation of large trucks in different traffic conditions. Although this driver training program has produced hundreds of professional truck drivers, it is not without its faults.

As mentioned earlier in this post, Werner has been the target of at least two wrongful death lawsuits alleging that inadequate supervision of a trainee driver led to accidents that resulted in the deaths of drivers and/or passengers in private vehicles.

Swift Transportation

According to the online trade journal TruckingTruth.com, Swift Transportation operates the largest fleet of refrigerated trailers in the nation. As with other trucking companies, Swift also faces a driver shortage. In response, Swift operates its own Swift Academy driver training program out of its terminals located across the country and partners with several other commercial truck driving schools to accommodate students who do not live near a Swift Academy location. Upon completion of a 3- to 4-week driver training program, and after obtaining a Commercial Drivers License, students can apply to Swift for employment as a full-time driver.

Prime, Inc.

Again according to TruckingTruth.com, Springfield MO-based Prime Inc. offers a 14-week student driver program that trains new drivers on Prime equipment and, upon satisfactory completion of the training program, the opportunity to become full-time Prime drivers. Of the driver training programs reviewed while writing this blog post, Prime’s appears to be the most comprehensive.

Trainee” drivers and public safety

Since there are no national regulations regarding the minimum amount of time required for a new truck driver to be considered as “trained,” each company is free to set its own minimum training and experience standards for new drivers. These standards, of course, vary from “‘X’ will hire you if you know which end of the truck to get in” to completion of several months of accident- or traffic citation-free driving before being allowed to “go solo.”

Regardless of company policy every professional truck driver, be they a “trainee” or a driver with hundreds of thousands of over-the-road miles of driving experience, must comply with all federal and state traffic laws and safety regulations such as:

  • A driver may work no more than 60 hours “on-duty” over seven consecutive days or 70 hours over eight non-consecutive days.

  • A driver can be “on-duty” for up to 14 hours following a mandatory 10-hour “off-duty” rest period but only 11 of those hours can be spent driving.

  • A driver must be able to produce a written log book, or electronic record, accounting for all driving and driving-related activity over the previous 7 days or during the driver’s current dispatch.

  • A driver must notify his or her employer of every traffic citation that driver receives, whether “on-duty” or “off-duty,” particularly if the citation could result in the loss of a driver’s ability to legally operate a motor vehicle of any type.

Contacting a student truck driver accident lawyer

Establishing liability in an accident involving a student or trainee truck driver can be difficult. However, once it has been proven that a student truck driver was behind the wheel when an accident occurred, the student’s school or employer can generally be held liable for that accident on the grounds that it 1) knowingly hired an inexperienced driver; 2) failed to provide that driver with adequate training and/or supervision, or 3) allowed the student and/or training driver to operate a truck while in violation of established safety rules and regulations.

If you were injured in a truck accident involving a student or trainee truck driver, you are going to need the services of an experienced truck accident lawyer who will fight to see that you get a fair settlement of your truck accident injury claim. You can find one such truck accident lawyer at The Doan Law Firm.

When you contact our firm, there is never a charge of any kind for us to review facts in your truck injury case or for you to speak with our truck accident lawyer. After discussing your injuries with our truck accident lawyer, if you decide to file a lawsuit and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to take on the costs of preparing your truck accident case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement we are prepared to win for you.

At The Doan Law Firm, we don’t plan to just win your delivery truck accident injury case: we plan to win big and have a proven record of making sure our clients are awarded every penny of compensation they are due!

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