Truckers and the Need for Speed

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An alarming 4,000 Americans lose their lives to accidents involving large trucks each year, and an additional 85,000 are injured. While there are numerous causes that result in such high numbers of truck accidents, perhaps one of the most disturbing is drug and alcohol use. According to a recent study, truck drivers are now engaging in drug use, including the use of amphetamines, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, and over the counter stimulants in horrifyingly high numbers.

The study, which developed the majority of its information from conducting voluntary, international surveys, performed drug tests on many if its participants to help obtain more accurate results. The findings are shocking.

  • Nearly 50 percent of drivers who were surveyed admitted to driving while under the influence of alcohol. According to a report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration FMCSA), a whopping  2.1 percent of large truck drivers who were involved in fatal accidents in 2012 alone had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08  or higher. Additionally, some level of alcohol was detected in the blood of an alarming 3.5 percent of  big rig drivers who were involved in fatal accidents in 2012 as well.
  • Approximately 35 percent of truck drivers who are involved in fatal accidents go on to test positive for the presence of illegal drugs, and an estimated 33 percent of those who are involved in fatigue related accidents test positive as well.
  • 30 percent of truck drivers who were surveyed admitted to using amphetamines, 20 percent use marijuana, and 3 percent admit to using cocaine.

Another recent study reports that 85 percent of truck drivers who were surveyed claimed that methamphetamines, drugs that are prevalent among big rig drivers, are readily available at most truck stops.

Why Such a Need for Speed and Other Drugs

The National Transportation Safety Board of the United States has been evaluating the issue for more than 25 years and it is obviously one of major concern. The use of drugs and alcohol while operating the big rigs poses a dangerous risk to truckers themselves, other drivers who are sharing the road, and even to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Despite the unfortunate impact driving while impaired has on public safety, however, there are relatively few studies that focus on preventing the situation at hand. Such a small number of studies makes identifying the risk factors, causes, and those drivers who are more susceptible very difficult.

Fortunately, the study referred to above, published in 2013, focused on the factors associated with truck drivers’ alcohol and drug use to help everyone take a better look at what could be causing such terrifying statistics. Here is what they found.

  • One of the main factors that were associated with psychoactive substance use among truckers is long work hours. Although truck drivers and trucking companies alike can benefit financially from truckers working longer hours, going without sleep or adequate rest periods can tempt truckers to reach for alternative ways to stay awake. Meth, cocaine, and other illegal and even over the counter stimulants enable truckers to avoid sleep for longer periods of time, thus they log more miles and make deliveries earlier. Unfortunately, driving under the influence of such stimulants has been proven to increase the risk of becoming involved in devastating accidents. Additionally, driving while coming down from these drugs can be just as dangerous, causing fatigued drivers to drift off or fall asleep at the wheel.
  • Sadly, the pressures and daily demands involved with being a truck driver can take their toll, causing many to turn to alcohol or drugs as a means to escape or relax. When truckers succumb to the temptation to use illicit drugs or alcohol, they place their careers, as well as their lives and the lives of other in jeopardy. Drug and alcohol use by truckers is the second largest contributing factor in trucking accidents.
  • Younger truck drivers, and those who are separated or divorced tend to use drugs and alcohol while driving more frequently than those who are more mature, married or in meaningful relationships.

While many people believe that driving under the influence of stimulants or marijuana is far less dangerous than drinking while driving, that belief is simply not true. The effects of alcohol, while significantly impairing, only last a few hours after consumption. The effects of many other types of drugs can effect reaction times, perception, decision making abilities, and concentration for much longer. Fortunately, the FAST Act has enabled trucking companies to conduct hair testing in lieu of urine testing as a means of obtaining more accurate long term usage information about their drivers. Unfortunately, some smaller trucking companies never even bother drug testing their employees.