Recently I was asked whether a truck driver could have unopened beer and alcohol in his truck. I took a look at the safety regulations and determined the driver could not. The regulation states:
§ 392.5 Alcohol prohibition. (a) No driver shall— (3) Be on duty or operate a commercial motor vehicle while the driver possesses wine …, beer …, or distilled spirits b) No motor carrier shall require or permit a driver to—(1) Violate any provision of paragraph (a) of this section
The rule is very clear, the driver can’t possess alcohol in the cab, whether opened or unopened. I performed the research on behalf of Nancy Jin, a writer for the Canadian Chinese News. The full text of Ms. Jin’s excellent article may be found HERE. The article is also pasted below in chinese and english:
Getting a ticket: a careless truck driver or a victim of discrimination?
On Oct. 1, 2011, a commercial vehicle of Caravan Logistics Inc. heading to Vermont U.S. arrived at the Quebec and Vermont border. Mr. Guo Lai (not his real name), a licensed commercial truck driver of Ontario, was sitting behind the wheel of the truck that was hauling an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer.
As an experienced truck driver who had crossed the U.S. Canadian border many times, Lai didn’t expect that this time would be any different, not even when a border inspector from the Vermont Motor Vehicles Department opened the sealed trailer, and checked everything from inside out.
Nothing could give him the jitters. After all, his truck carried no drugs and he wasn’t under the influence of alcohol. A clean and sober driver wasn’t breaking any law, thought Lai, even though he was aware that there were five bottles of beer left in his lunch freezer in the tractor.
The beers were bought at the border duty free shop at a much discounted price for his friends and relatives and his own consumption at night, according to Lai.
The officer suspected that Lai consumed one bottle from a six-pack while driving and ordered a body alcohol test. Although Lai was cleared by the test, the officer still handed him a ticket and a Driver Examination Report and ordered him out of service for 24 hours. Lai was stunned.
The report cited the U.S. federal drug and alcohol violations for “possessing 5 bottles of beer while operating a commercial vehicle”. Lai couldn’t believe it. He understood that driving under the influence is a criminal offense and would be issued a ticket and fine. But carrying unopened bottles of beer?
The mind-boggled Lai did a quick estimate. In addition to the $100 ticket, he would lose another $300 for the “out of service” order, which means he could only bring back home $600 for a week long haul that should have brought $1000 into his pocket.
But it turned out that the loss of time and profit wasn’t the worst part of the ordeal. When Lai notified his employer about the ticket, he was fired right on the spot. The company told him that “there was zero tolerance for the alcohol related offense.”
“I wasn’t abusing alcohol… I wasn’t drinking,” said Lai, who couldn’t understand why such a small incident would turn into so big problem.
“This ticket was used as an excuse for the company to fire me, just because I had refused their unreasonable work orders before,” Lai told Chinese News. “I believe that I was unfairly treated, and racially discriminated against, by both the police officer and my employer at Caravan.”
Stringent truck safety regulations
Commercial trucks – including the tractor-trailer that Mr. Lai was operating – can weigh over 80,000 pounds and account for a very high percentage of traffic deaths. Due to the huge weight gap between passenger vehicles and large trucks, people in a passenger vehicle are extremely vulnerable when their car and a large truck collide.
According to stats, the fatal crash rate for large trucks is over 50% greater than the rate for all vehicles on the road. In 2004, 12% of traffic fatalities in the U.S. involved big trucks, among which, 77% were in passenger vehicles. The annual death toll from truck-related crashes is the equivalent of 26 major airplane crashes, and each year the price tag of large truck crashes is over $19 billion.
Apparently, alcohol abuse is one of the major culprits for fatal traffic accidents. Studies have found that driving under the influence can increase the risk of truck crashes from two to 6 times.
So if Mr. Lai was drunk while operating his 80,000-pound vehicle, it would be basically no different than he was driving an airplane drunk.
Resulting from the severe safety risks imposed by impaired truck drivers, more rigorous regulations to control truck drivers’ drug and alcohol consumption are in place on both sides of the border. In general, the blood alcohol limit for a tractor-trailer driver is 0.04%, compared with 0.08% for passenger car drivers.
The U.S. has taken measures in recent years to tighten trucking regulations and crack down on violations to increase road safety and reduce accidents. In the U.S., the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards — stipulate that a truck driver shall not possess any beer in its tractor-trailer, unless the beer is part of the shipment.
However, many truck drivers turn a blind eye to drug and alcohol regulations.
因为赖违章而将其解雇的Caravan Logistics公司的主管Greg Coughlin表示：“许多司机听信在大货车服务站传播的信息并受其误导……虽然法律清楚规定不允许在大货内任何部位携带啤酒，但是他们仍然认为可以将啤酒放置于驾驶室……那也就是为什么我们会遭遇几起司机违章的原因。”
“Many drivers are confused and misled by what they heard from other truck drivers at the truck stop… While the law clearly says no beers are allowed anywhere inside the vehicle, they thought that they can keep them in the cab… That is why we ended up with a number of violations among our drivers,” said Greg Coughlin, Director of Caravan Logistics, the company that fired Lai for his offense.
美国田纳西州著名的大货司机诉讼律师Morgan G. Adams表示：“据我们了解，一些司机不重视道路安全法规……他们虽能何驾驶商业运输拖车，但是他们并不愿意去学习机动车安全规则，因此他们常常会违章。”Adams还通过https://www.truckinjurylawyerblog.com网上博客对大货司机进行安全法规的教育。
“What we’ve seen is that drivers don’t pay attention to road safety regulations… They know how to drive a commercial tractor-trailer, but they don’t bother to learn motor vehicle safety rules. As a result, they commit violations frequently,” said Morgan G. Adams, a prestigious truck drivers’ litigation lawyer in Tennessee, who also blogs on TruckInjuryLawyerBlog.com to educate truck drivers on safety regulations.
Impact of the offense
Adams told Chinese News that Dai’s offense could result in the company’s safety rating being downgraded.
Caravan Logistics Inc. has maintained an excellent 2.7% unsafe driving rating record with the Safety Measure System of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCFA), but it received a 34.4% high rating on controlled substances and alcohol, resulting from the two same violations – possessing beers in the tractor-trailer, within the past two years.
“His (Mr. Lai’s) offense was one of the two violations that have affected our company’s drug and alcohol record,” Coughlin told Chinese News.
In fact, the drug and alcohol rating is a top concern among potential customers of logistics companies. A high drug and alcohol rating, more than any other ratings – such as vehicle maintenance rating — can turn a potential customer away, as a prospective customer would see the high rating as an increased risk of liability from impaired driving, according to Coughlin.
“In Christmas last year, I had to spend 45 minutes explaining to a Ford Motor company – our potential new customer — as to how we ended up with the two offenses… I told them that to maintain our safety record, both drivers would no longer work with us.”
Coughlin stated that the company’s decision to terminate Lai was made in accordance with the company’s safety compliance policy and that racial discrimination has no bearing on the decision.
“The company must abide by the safety policies or we are out of business. We have zero tolerance on alcohol violations,” said Coughlin, “If someone gets killed or injured severely resulting from the impaired driving, a lawsuit could put our company out of business. And all of a sudden, our 280 employees would be out of a job and don’t have a place to work.
“The offense seems to have brought a much more severe impact on us than the driver assumes, “ said Coughlin.
Tickets save lives
Meanwhile Lai, who has landed a job with another company after Caravan fired him, shows his ignorance towards road regulations and maintains his innocence. “I didn’t drink it, period. What is wrong with drivers carrying beers in the truck, so long as they don’t drink them while on the road? If I carry a knife in my cab, would I use it to kill anyone?”
Revealing that he had a tainted driving record with the Ministry of Transportation, Lai continued, “What the law says in one thing, how to enforce it is another. The law says you have to stop at every stop sign, but how many of us drive through it without thinking about it?”
Not until catastrophe strikes and turns a minor offense into fatal one. As driving through a stop sign has killed 10 Peru migrant workers, truck drivers who show disrespect for the law might as well turn a tractor-trailer into an 80,000-pound killing machine.
Lai also alleges that the officer was negligent in carrying out his job duty and confiscated the beers for his personal enjoyment.
Pity the poor officer, who might have saved Lai’s life, or the life of someone else. In fact, getting a ticket brings safety and protective effect, as studies indicate that there were fewer tickets in the month before a fatal accident than a year before.