On Friday the Dallas County Medical Examiner released its autopsy report that revealed that the truck driver who caused this crash was high on meth.
The Mt. Pleasant High track team was headed home after a meet recently when a tractor-trailer crossed the center line and headed straight for their bus. The track coach fortunately swerved out of the way, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision. However the assistant coach following the bus in this car was struck head on and tragically died.
The school bus toppled over and skidded across the road, resulting in injuries to 18 students and the coach driving the bus. The 18-wheeler driver also died.
Did the driver take meth for recreation or to stay alert? We’ll never know. We do know that meth was a primary factor in this truck accident that cost the life of a woman described as “always happy” by her loved ones and injured a lot of students.
The TV series Breaking Bad was very popular a few years ago. Maybe you “got hooked” on it too. It portrayed a high school science teacher and his former student who run a lucrative meth lab and distribution operation. But it didn’t portray the day-to-day realities of taking this quickly addicting drug and the horrendous damage it has caused to our country. North Texas is a major manufacturing and distribution headquarters.
Methamphetamine has a serious impact on the body. Over the short-term meth users experience loss of appetite, sleeplessness and energy boosts which can tempt long-haul drivers to keep working even while tired.
Other effects are scary, including hallucinations, irritability, psychosis, erratic behavior, violent outburst, hyper-excitability, panic attacks, convulsions, seizures and overdose death. Unbelievable that somebody with these potential symptoms might be behind the wheel of a semi, isn’t it.
Coming down from meth has its own set of dangerous effects, including excessive sleepiness, lethargy, anxiety, psychosis, paranoia and profound depression which would render a truck driver unfit to work.
Over the long term, meth users may suffer permanent conditions that impair driving, such as disorientation, apathy, confusion, psychosis, depression, brain damage, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular damage that increases chances of stroke or heart attack.
Truck driving is a demanding job. Truckers spend long hours doing the same tedious task operating their big-rig along boring stretches of highway. No surprise that paying attention, and just staying awake, can be challenging.
So what can drivers do to remain alert? The obvious answer is to get enough sleep.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets maximum time limits on driving and working, and mandates minimum amounts of rest. These common sense rules deter sleep-deprived drivers and may also diminish use of stimulants a driver might take in lieu of sleep.
Hour of service regulations allow up to 11 hours of drive time on each shift but require at least 30 minutes of rest time after eight hours of driving. Truckers may only work for up to 60 hours in a seven-day workweek or 70 hours in an eight-day workweek.
But even these hours of service (HOS) regulations — which industry leaders ridiculously argue are too strict — put drivers behind the wheel for a gruelingly long day and workweek.
Some drivers turn to stimulants to get through their shifts, and not just coffee, Red Bull or caffeinated sodas, but meth and other illegal drugs like cocaine.
In fact, just one week after the tragic Mt. Pleasant truck crash, another long-haul big-rig driver was arrested for driving cross-country without stopping. Instead of sleep, he took methamphetamine, LSD and cocaine. Fortunately he locked himself out of his truck. Witnesses noticed his erratic, despondent behavior and called police who stopped him midway through his incredibly frightening journey.
We also remember the Wal-Mart driver who had been behind his wheel for over 24 hours when he rear-ended comedian Tracy Morgan’s vehicle, severely injuring him and killing his friend.
Of course there are laws against impaired driving too. Oftentimes, however, the drug use is not discovered until a major accident or traffic stop occurs, after the damage is already done and it’s too late.
I recently settled a case where a construction worker suddenly drove a bulldozer across the interstate highway in Fort Worth, causing a crash that killed my clients’ husband, father and son. I subpoened the worker’s blood and drug test results and found that he had ingested cocaine before the collision. That and other violations of law and industry standards led to a multi-million dollar recovery for the family.
It’s crazy to think that the tractor-trailer speeding behind you may be driven by someone on drugs, sleep-deprived, or both, isn’t it?
Mt. Pleasant is east of Dallas. You might not think this affects you, or that it’s just one of those things. But this crash could have happened anywhere. And wrecks like this will continue to happen until we clamp down on these wayward drivers.
Please contact me if you have been involved in an 18 wheeler crash.