Editorial By Chad Hobbs
There are no shortage of CDL drivers in Meade County. Many are private business drivers who operate grain trucks, over the road tractor trailers, dump trucks, and many other large trucks. Some are semi-public drivers such as those for RECC and the Brandenburg Telephone Company. Then there are those who work and drive for public entities such as the Meade County Road Department, the city of Brandenburg, or the Meade County Water District to name a few.
One would expect that, regardless of which of these groups a CDL driver falls under, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. No matter if they are private, semi-public or public, if something is illegal for one to do, surely it is of serious enough matter than it would be illegal for any of the other groups as well. Zero tolerance for something should be zero tolerance across the board regardless of the company name on the side of the truck’s door. Lisa Hobbs was floored to find out that sadly that just isn’t the case. It turns out one of those groups gets special treatment, and the consequences can be deadly.
As previous articles have pointed out, the Department of Transportation has zero tolerance for CDL drivers operating commercial vehicles under the influence of alcohol or certain drugs, including quite a few legal ones even if they are prescribed by a doctor. They take the “do not operate machinery” warning on many prescription bottles very seriously, as they should. Those warnings are there for a reason.
Several years ago, a Meade County farmer was hauling grain when a passenger vehicle pulled out in front of him causing a wreck as the truck was loaded and there was no way to stop it in time to prevent the collision. DOT was called and a commercial vehicle enforcement officer responded to the scene. Any time a commercial vehicle is involved in a wreck, this is standard regardless of fault.
The driver of the grain truck was not at fault and the accident report reflected this. The driver was immediately drug tested, though, because he was driving a commercial vehicle. The driver of the passenger vehicle was not, despite being the cause of the wreck. This is how serious DOT takes ensuring CDL drivers are not under the influence. Had the farmer been under the influence of anything, prescribed or not, he would have been riding to jail instead of home that day.
Another Meade County CDL driver who operates his own business had knee surgery a couple years ago. When he got home from surgery, he took a few of the pain pills the first day but never touched them again. While he was recovering, he decided to go to a local doctor to renew his DOT required medical card. Despite only taking a couple doses of pain medication and not being able to drive due to the surgery, the doctor refused to issue his DOT medical card because opioids were in his system.
If you talk to anyone with a CDL, these are the stories they will recount over and over. They all know the law because it is their livelihood, and everyone that has been interviewed has told the same story; if they are in a wreck with any substance in their system that is banned by DOT, and someone loses their life, they are going to jail, regardless of fault.
Knowing all of this all too well, Lisa Hobbs made a call to the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement office in Frankfort after finally receiving the Kentucky State Police report in 2019 which showed the man driving the dump truck which backed over and killed her husband was on pain killers and muscle relaxers. She knew the office had zero tolerance for CDL drivers using either of these substances while operating a vehicle. She spoke with a Captain Shrewsdale and asked him why they weren’t doing anything about the driver involved in her husband’s death. He told her it was because drivers for a city/county government or municipality do not have to follow DOT rules.
“So you mean to tell me they are above the law?” Lisa asked. “They can drive drunk or on drugs?”
Lisa said the Captain replied, “You’re right; there’s nothing we can do about it.”
In fact, three different men who have worked for the Meade County Road Department have all verified that this is not just true, but it is in fact taught to them by the state safety instructors. All three attended required safety classes put on by the state of Kentucky, and all three corroborated that the instructor told them that they worked for the county, so they didn’t’ have to worry about anything. Basically, they were immune even if it led to someone losing their life.
Ron Hayes says that he has spoken with numerous state troopers who have told him the same thing. He said they told him that if a vehicle is swerving, and they catch up only to find a city or county sticker on the vehicles door, nothing is done. They know even if they charge them nothing will be done because city, county, and municipality workers, as Lisa put it, “don’t have to follow the law.”