Yesterday, a bus carrying passengers to the Masters Tournament in Augusta wrecked on I-20 just outside Grovetown, near Augusta. As many as 16 passengers were injured. According to the Augusta Chronicle, the driver, Steven Hoppenbrouwer, has been charged with Driving Under the Influence (OCGA 40-6-391) as well as seven counts of Serious Injury by Vehicle (OCGA 40-6-394). Per the Chronicle's reporting, the driver was suspected of being under the influence of drugs at the time of the wreck. The latter charge is a felony carrying a potential sentence of 1 to 15 years imprisonment.
The driver appears to have been operating the bus as a charter, which places additional responsibility on the driver and operator to comply with relevant regulations. In the case of interstate operators, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations apply, but according to the federal government's Safety and Fitness Electronic Records system, the operator, Jet Executive Limousine Inc., which is based in Suwanee (near Atlanta), "has no current for-hire operating authority." This suggests that it was engaged only in intrastate (in-Georgia) transport. Although this likely means that the company and driver are not directly subject to federal regulations, the Georgia Department of Public Safety's Transportation Rulebook adopts many of the federal regulations governing interstate carriers, including those set out in 49 CFR Part 382 governing use and testing for controlled substances and alcohol.
For commercial trucking and bus drivers, under both state and federal trucking/commercial driving rules, drivers may not operate a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .04 or greater, and may not drive a commercial vehicle within four hours after using alcohol under sections 382.201 and 382.207 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and Georgia Motor Carrier Safety Regulations adopting the federal rules. Additionally, commercial drivers are prohibited from operating a vehicle when the driver uses any Schedule I drug as set forth in 21 CFR 1308.11or any non-Schedule I drug listed in Part 1308 unless authorized by a qualified medical professional. Commercial vehicle companies are also required to perform pre-employment testing of drivers for controlled substance use, and regulations further require post-accident testing for drugs and alcohol following a wreck in many cases under 21 CFR 382.303. Federal and state regulations also require, per 21 CFR 382.305 and the equivalent Georgia commercial vehicle regulation, periodic random testing for alcohol and drug (controlled substance) use. Where a driver is found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a commercial motor vehicle operator may face additional criminal penalties as well as additional civil liability if it failed to comply with the requirements of state and federal law intended to avoid such actions.
Georgia commercial vehicle accident cases often involve complex issues of law, including determination of applicable state and federal regulations as well as investigation of the circumstances surrounding the accident, the driver, and the company employing the driver or owning the vehicle. For further information on these types of cases, please visit our page on bus accidents, tractor trailer/trucking accidents, trucking and commercial vehicle regulations, and commercial vehicle lawsuits. If you have further questions about bus or tractor trailer accident cases, please contact us.