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truck accidents

Do truck drivers get fired for accidents? A Reality Check

Today we’ll talk about accidents and truck drivers. We’ll discuss some basic factors that a motor carrier may look at when a driver is involved in a crash and give drivers a few things to consider.

The FMCSA takes commercial vehicle accidents very seriously. Most (if not all) of the regulations and activities that the agency engages in (whether you agree with them or not) are all centered around accident reduction. Do truck drivers get fired for accidents? This is something that’s between the driver and carrier, but FMCSA has some rules that can tip the scales.

Let’s face it;

Whether you’re a professional truck driver, owner operator or transportation company your risk is going to be much higher than the average person for an accident. As the old saying goes – It’s not IF you get into an accident it’s WHEN you have an accident. 

There are exceptions of course, but the longer you’re out on the highway working and doing your job, the higher the likelihood of being involved in some sort of accident is (head on, rear end, rollover etc). It’s just the law of averages.

As my disclaimer, I’m not an attorney or an HR person. I’m just telling you what I’ve experienced working with companies over the years. As they say, your mileage may vary.

Do Truck Drivers Get Fired for Accidents?

Yes, truck drivers get fired for accidents. There are multiple factors that can go into a driver being terminated for involvement in a commercial vehicle crash. The driver’s history of safety, severity of the crash, and whether or not the accident meets USDOTs definition of a reportable accident that affects a company’s CSA score all play a role.

Factors That Affect a Termination Decision For Accidents

Every company has its own culture, policies and procedures for whether or not they’ll fire a driver, which means that each company is a bit different on how they make decisions and handle accidents internally. 

However, there are three basic things that motor carriers and insurance companies use to either terminate a driver or drop their insurance.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but enough to give you a general idea:

  • The drivers safety and/or accident history
  • The companies CSA profile
  • Did the accident meet the DOT recordable accident definition?

Drivers accident history

If a driver has a history of accidents and other safety issues with the company (or previous companies) and has multiple crashes and poor inspections in CSA, it’s likely that the driver will be terminated. There is a pattern of the truck driver being unsafe that can be demonstrated.

Again, there can be other things that come into play, but here’s the cold reality – 

If the driver is costing a company money in damaged equipment, the CSA scores have gone through the roof (making the company susceptible to an audit, costing more in insurance) and the company has tried to fix the problem and it hasn’t worked, the driver may be fired. At this level, it can be easier to fire the driver and just hire a new one.

How do companies know about previous accident history?

Simple. This is where previous employment checks (when hiring) and conducting an annual review comes into play. If the company does its due diligence, they can establish a pattern of not being safe that may affect their decision to terminate the truck driver. 

Companies can use pre-employment checks, annual reviews and CSA data to establish a pattern of a truck driver that is unsafe.

Companies crash CSA profile

This goes hand in hand with the truck drivers history. If the driver has had previous DOT recordable crashes they will be listed on the CSA (Compliance Safety Accountability) website.

FMCSA CSA website

If the company has experienced too many violations (from roadside inspections or accidents) in any of the BASICs (Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Category) they will be placed into an ‘Alert’ status by DOT. 

Alert status is indicated by a yellow triangle with an exclamation point on any of the BASICS listed below.

CSA BASICS

DOT recordable crashes will be entered into the ‘Crash Indicator’ BASIC. Although Crash Indicator data is not in public view, each company has access to it’s own data. Motor Carriers are able to log into the system and get specific information relating to each crash or accident in order to begin making changes to their safety program as needed.

Once any BASIC (specially the crash indicator BASIC) is in alert status, it’s only a matter of time before a federal agent will be coming to conduct a safety investigation of the company and on certain occasions  – even drivers. 

Did the accident meet the DOT definition of an Accident?

The last thing that each truck driver and/or company needs to check is whether or not the accident even meets the definition of a DOT recordable accident in the first place. 

Not every mishap around a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is going to be considered as a DOT recordable accident. 

So the next question is…

What is the definition of a DOT Reportable Accident?

Not all commercial vehicle crashes are created equal and whether or not the crash will affect a company’s CSA score depends on it meeting DOTs accident definition. 

It’s important to understand this definition because it not only affects CSA scores, but also plays a role in whether or not the driver should be drug tested.

USDOT Accident Definition

Here’s the official accident definition from the FMCSRs – 
Accident means
(1) Except as provided in paragraph 
(2) of this definition, an occurrence involving a commercial motor vehicle operating on a highway in interstate or intrastate commerce which results in:
(i) A fatality;
(ii) Bodily injury to a person who, as a result of the injury, immediately receives medical treatment away from the scene of the accident; or
(iii) One or more motor vehicles incurring disabling damage as a result of the accident, requiring the motor vehicle(s) to be transported away from the scene by a tow truck or other motor vehicle.
(2) The term accident does not include:
(i) An occurrence involving only boarding and alighting from a stationary motor vehicle; or
(ii) An occurrence involving only the loading or unloading of cargo.
From FMCSA regulations, 49 CFR 390.5

Remembering the DOT Recordable Accident Definition

Many safety directors, companies and drivers often misinterpret DOTs recordable accident definition. They assume that anything that happens on their trucks is a recordable accident.

Here’s an easy way to remember the FMCSA definition, using the acronym FIT:

F – Fatal

I – Injury

T – Tow

If your accident falls within the FIT acronym, chances are it’s a DOT recordable accident.

propane truck on its side

The Exception to the DOT Recordable Accident Rule

Notice that DOT has specific exceptions to the accident definition and doesn’t include the following:

  • Getting in and out of your truck when its parked (boarding or alighting)
  • Getting hurt or having an incident loading or unloading your truck

These are the types of accidents DOT is not as concerned about. Guess who is – OSHA.

Remember F.I.T – Fatal, Injury or Tow to help you determine if the accident is a DOT recordable accident or not.

What Happens If A CDL Driver Gets In An Accident?

Ok, the truck driver has had an accident. Now what happens?

Here’s a short list of what can happen from when an accident first happens to actions a company may take.

Not a comprehensive list, each scenario is a bit different:

  • Call 911 and follow their instructions
  • If advised by 911, the driver should remove the vehicle from the travel lane. This prevents further accidents.
  • Did the company provide an accident packet? Follow company instructions and policies.
  • Hazmat? Use the North American Emergency Response Guide to keep yourself, help first responders safe.
  • Locate potential witnesses and other parties involved in the accident
  • Gather and secure paperwork (ELD data, BOLs etc).
  • The driver may have to fill out a statement for law enforcement.
  • DOT recordable? You may have to take a drug and alcohol test.

Drug and Alcohol Test

Remember that as a truck driver you’re more than likely going to have to take a drug and alcohol test after your involvement in a crash. There are specific rules that govern when this happens and it may not matter whether or not you were at fault. 

The company will take you to the lab that they have a contract with to get the test completed.

If the tests come back positive the truck driver may be terminated immediately. This where company policy and procedures kick and HR gets involved.

How Many Accidents Can A CDL Driver Have?

There are a lot of violations that can go against a driver’s CDL that can get the truck drivers license suspended or revoked. Certain violations may take several instances to rack up enough points to get a truck driver’s license disqualified while other violations are immediate.

For multiple violations of a CDL driver getting cited in an accident for violations like speeding, making improper or erratic lane changes the driver may lose their license for a minimum of 60 days.

Receiving a first time conviction on more serious CDL violations that include but aren’t limited to alcohol/drug related, leaving the scene of an accident, causing a fatality will get the CDL holders license revoked for a year. How long the truckers license is revoked goes up from there.

Drivers continuing to use cell phones without being hands free continues to be one of the top violations that get drivers cited. Finding the best bluetooth headset can be a hassle and expensive, but not nearly as expensive as getting a ticket or being involved in an accident.

The Wrap Up

do truck drivers get fired for accidents?
Tanker Truck Accident

Do truck drivers get fired for accidents? It happens more than it should, but some drivers leave motor carriers no choice but to take if they’ve proven to be unsafe.

All that being said, if you’re a good safety conscious driver with a good record you’ll likely have to trouble keeping your current job or even looking around to trade up when the time is right.

Stay accident free.

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