Large trucks roll through Fort Lauderdale every day. They crowd the lanes of I-95 and Broward Boulevard. They shuttle containers to and from Port Everglades. They deliver packages to homes from Melrose Park to Seven Isles.
Members of the public, who have no choice but to share Fort Lauderdale roads with large trucks, would like to believe that the truckers they encounter on crowded highways and neighborhood streets have the necessary qualifications to operate a truck safely. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Unqualified truck drivers take the wheel in Fort Lauderdale more often than you might think, with potentially deadly consequences.
This blog post explores the topic of unqualified truck drivers on Fort Lauderdale-area roads: their prevalence, the factors that facilitate them taking the wheel, and the dangers they pose to the public.
Florida Truck Driver Qualifications
To drive most trucks in Fort Lauderdale, you generally must possess a Florida commercial driver license (CDL).
The basic qualifications necessary to obtain a Florida CDL include:
- Being over 18 years old (the minimum age for intrastate trucking jobs);
- Passing a general knowledge written test, and any test necessary to obtain an endorsement to drive specific types of vehicles, such as tanker trucks or combination vehicles);
- Passing a three-part skills test that covers vehicle inspection, basic skills, and on-road safe driving;
- Obtaining and periodically renewing medical certification for driving certain types of trucks;
- Meeting minimum vision requirements;
- Passing a background check, if required by an endorsement on the CDL (such as for transporting hazardous materials).
In theory, possessing a CDL is all that’s required to drive a large truck commercially in the Sunshine State. In practice, some (but by no means all) trucking companies require other qualifications for their drivers, such as specific types of training and a minimum number of years of experience.
How Do Unqualified Truckers Drive in Fort Lauderdale?
Unqualified truck drivers end up behind the wheel of large trucks in Fort Lauderdale through a variety of mechanisms and circumstances. Oftentimes, driving without the necessary qualifications is illegal, but believe it or not, it can also be perfectly legal for a trucker to drive without adequate qualifications for operating safely.
Here are three ways unqualified truck drivers commonly take to the roads in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Drivers Exempt From Florida CDL Requirements
Florida law requires a CDL to drive most trucks, but not all. The CDL law specifically exempts certain categories of drivers from its requirements, even though those drivers operate vehicles that are just as large, complex, and difficult to operate as those driven by CDL-holders.
In Florida, you can drive a truck—even a very large truck—without a CDL if you:
- Are a member of the military and drive a truck for military purposes;
- Operate an authorized emergency vehicle, such as a fire truck;
- Are a farmer transporting goods or equipment within 150 miles of your farm (but this rule does not apply to farm employees whose primary occupation is to drive a farm truck);
- Drive a truck-sized recreational vehicle; or
- Drive a straight truck (not a tractor-trailer) to carry your personal belongings, such as a rental moving truck.
So, any of the trucks listed above may well have an unqualified driver—both in the sense of someone who may not have a CDL (or CDL with the proper endorsements), and in the sense of someone who does not have a clue how to operate a large truck safely—behind the wheel.
Disqualified CDL Holders
A trucker who holds a Florida CDL cannot automatically and unconditionally drive a truck in the Sunshine State. Under Florida laws and regulations, a CDL holder can become temporarily disqualified from driving for a plethora of reasons.
- Committing any alcohol-use offenses, including driving a truck while intoxicated or refusing to undergo blood alcohol testing;
- Committing a felony involving a commercial truck;
- Leaving the scene of an accident involving a commercial truck you were driving;
- Causing a fatality through negligent operation of a commercial truck;
- Driving on a suspended CDL;
- Driving a commercial vehicle without the proper CDL endorsement;
- Committing multiple serious traffic offenses while driving a commercial truck (such as reckless driving) within three years;
- Conviction for certain serious traffic offenses while driving a personal vehicle;
- Committing railroad crossing violations whiled driving a commercial truck;
- Driving in violation of an out-of-service order (issued, for example, when a driver violates hours-of-service regulations);
- Failing to stay in compliance with requirements for having certain CDL endorsements.
Drivers must not drive a commercial truck for the duration of their disqualification. Unfortunately, some drivers ignore (or lie about) disqualifications and continue driving.
Truck Drivers With No CDL
Sometimes, drivers who are not exempted from CDL requirements, and who have never obtained a CDL, nevertheless take the wheel of a truck in Fort Lauderdale. These drivers are unqualified in every sense of the word. They have little or no training, and they have not taken the steps required to obtain permission to drive.
It is, of course, illegal for these truck drivers to take to the roads around Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately, that does not deter many drivers. According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), nearly one out of every five truck drivers involved in a fatal accident over a recent three-year period had no CDL whatsoever, a number many times higher than those whose license had been temporarily disqualified or was otherwise invalid.
Market Forces Are Pushing Unqualified Drivers Into Service
What possesses someone to take the risk of driving a large truck without proper training and experience? We see significant market forces at work.
The trucking industry has long been mired in a severe labor shortage. As a group, truck drivers are significantly older than the average American worker. To keep pace with aging truckers leaving the workforce, trucking companies need to hire a steady stream of younger workers to take their place. So far, they have failed to do so. Meanwhile, demand for trucking services has continued to grow, which only adds to the pressure on the industry to make do with fewer drivers than it needs.
The result: strong incentives for trucking companies to cut corners on their drivers’ qualifications. Companies may lower their standards for hiring, putting less-experienced drivers behind the wheel before they’re truly ready to handle a large commercial motor vehicle.
Other companies may skimp on training their existing workforce, opting instead to put them to work to fill urgent staffing needs. Sometimes, trucking enterprises may choose to turn a blind eye to red flags, like failed drug screenings or poor driving histories, to fill positions. Finally, companies may simply ignore basic qualification requirements and hire drivers who do not have a CDL.
Would-be truck drivers also have market-based incentives to cut corners. For workers willing to try their hand at driving a truck for a living, jobs are plentiful and wages are relatively high. New drivers can get employed and know that employers need to hold onto their services, which means drivers might not invest in the extra training and may get away with stretching safety rules.
Finally, the trucking industry isn’t the only one straining to find workers. Businesses in a host of industries that rely on truck transportation—from farming to construction—are stretched thin, giving them a reason to enlist unqualified workers to drive their commercial vehicles.
Unqualified Truck Driver Dangers
Optimists might wonder whether unqualified truck driving in Florida deserves our focus. Isn’t driving a truck pretty similar to driving a car?
No, it’s not. Truck drivers need a CDL and go through special training and testing to get one because trucks differ significantly from ordinary passenger vehicles. It’s no coincidence that nearly 20 percent of fatal truck accidents involved drivers who do not have a CDL.
Trucks are huge, complicated pieces of machinery. They’re difficult to maneuver, and they need long distances to come to a safe stop. An unqualified driver behind the wheel of a truck put himself, and the public, at extreme risk of a deadly accident.
A driver who lacks the necessary qualifications to operate a large truck may:
- Fail to appreciate the distance needed to bring a large truck to a controlled stop, thereby risking a deadly rear-end collision with a smaller vehicle;
- Enter road curves and exit ramps at an unsafe speed, heightening the risk of a destructive rollover accident;
- Perform an insufficient pre-trip vehicle inspection, or not know to perform the inspection at all, leading to a dangerous mechanical breakdown;
- Not understand the dimensions of a truck’s large blind spots, putting others on the road at risk of a sideswipe or underride accident;
- Lack an appreciation for the room a truck needs to maneuver safely, resulting in accidents at intersections, or in the course of a truck backing-up;
- Ignore critical regulations limiting the number of hours a driver may work in a day and week, leading to dangerous fatigue at the wheel.
These are just some examples. The simple fact is that unqualified truck drivers are dangerous truck drivers. Fort Lauderdale motorists who share the road with them face a heightened risk of dying or getting seriously injured in an accident caused by truck drivers’ lack of training and experience.
The Role of Attorneys in Combating Unqualified Truck Drivers
When it comes to thinking of ways to combat unqualified truck driving in Fort Lauderdale, hiring a lawyer may not leap to mind. And, fair enough. We can think of others who should play a key role in keeping unqualified truck drivers off the road, including state regulators, law enforcement agencies, and trucking company management.
Still, attorneys also have a critical part in keeping the public safe from unqualified truckers in Fort Lauderdale. They play that part by holding drivers, trucking companies, and others accountable for accidents stemming from a driver’s lack of training and experience.
By seeking justice and accountability, lawyers ensure that those other trucking industry stakeholders responsible for policing driver qualifications shoulder the full cost of their irresponsible and dangerous actions that harm others. Accountability increases the costs and pushes truckers and trucking companies toward safer practices.
In the event a trucker who lacks qualifications causes an accident in Fort Lauderdale injures innocent victims, an experienced Fort Lauderdale truck accident attorney can take legal action on the victims’ behalf that secures payment for:
- Medical expenses related to treating truck accident-related injuries;
- Other expenses incurred because of the accident and the injuries it caused;
- Lost wages and income resulting from the injuries limiting victims’ abilities to work;
- Pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life owing to the victims’ injuries; and
- Sometimes, punitive damages that punish the at-fault party.
Truck accident victims should act quickly, however, to protect their rights to receive this type of compensation. A truck crash tends to cause widespread damage to multiple victims, and also tends to put multiple businesses and individuals at risk for paying compensation to those victims. Parties at fault for a truck accident may seek bankruptcy protection or hide evidence of their wrongdoing.
The sooner victims hire experienced legal counsel to represent them, the better the odds of holding at-fault parties for an unqualified truck driver accident to account.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a Fort Lauderdale truck accident, and you suspect that an unqualified truck driver is at least partially to blame, you may seek significant financial compensation. Do not wait to get the legal help you need to protect your rights.