Truck Driver Drug & Alcohol Abuse
The Dangers of Impaired Truck Drivers
Everyone is aware of the dangers of impaired driving, but when a truck driver is operating an 18-wheeler while impaired, those dangers are exponentially greater due to the sheer size of the big rig. Most trucking accidents are caused by driver error. In fact, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver error causes more trucking accidents than weather, road conditions and vehicle performance combine.
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The Dangers of Drug & Alcohol Use
Drug and alcohol use not only impairs a driver's judgment, but also slows reaction times. Truck drivers who are operating a commercial vehicle under impairment are an extreme hazard to other motorists on the road. Sadly, it's not an uncommon occurrence. A study conducted by the Institute for Traffic Safety found that while fewer than 1% of drivers were under the influence of alcohol while on the job, 15% had marijuana in their system, 12% had non-prescription stimulants (including cocaine) and another 5% had prescription stimulants.
Truck Driver Drug Use
When thinking of impaired driving, most people commonly think of alcohol abuse, however, that is not the only dangerous substance truck drivers can use when behind the wheel. In fact, in order to meet increasingly difficult demands, truck drivers often turn to drugs to awake and alert for those long hours spent on the road.
The most common type of drug used by truck drivers to stay awake is some form of stimulant. This includes amphetamines such as Adderall and Dexedrine. These medications induce temporary improvements in mental and physical alertness. Some signs that these drugs are disturbingly accessible and widespread in use among truck drivers. In fact, a survey conducted by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention revealed that 17 out of every 20 truck drivers interviewed found it very easy to obtain methamphetamines at truck stops.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirms these troubling reports. Surveys and roadside testing have revealed that one in five truck drivers use stimulants on at least some portion of their long-haul trips in order to stay awake. Unfortunately, these drugs can also cause serious psychological side effects.
Common side effects of stimulant abuse include:
- Blurred vision
- Psychosis, with high enough doses
Any one of these side effects could clearly impair a driver's ability to safely operate a large commercial vehicle.
Laws Concerning Truck Drivers & Trucking Companies
While most states set laws for private citizens governing drug and alcohol use while operating a motor vehicle, the federal government and FMCSA regulate the use of drugs and alcohol amongst truck drivers. Most states set the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) at 0.08, but truck drivers are held to a higher standard. The legal limit for a truck driver while on-the-job is 0.04 BAC. The FMCSA also requires employers to perform drug and alcohol test as a condition of employment. Trucking companies are required to have individuals undergo alcohol/drug screening prior to hiring, as well as ongoing testing policies. For example, if a truck company has suspicions that a driver has been using alcohol or a controlled substance, that driver should be screened.
Currently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that a motor carrier must:
- Provide educational materials
- Establish a company drug and alcohol policy
- Obtain the required signed release and permission forms
- Designate a company official to run their drug/alcohol program
- Be aware of which employees must be tested for alcohol/drugs
- Train driver supervisors to administer reasonable suspicion testing
- Know the procedures when an employee tests positive for alcohol or drugs
- Establish a contract with a drug and alcohol collection service and medical review officer
A federal program that would provide a national database to track drug and alcohol offenses for commercial driver's license holders is also under consideration. Under current screening programs, many states such as Texas check driving records for commercial driver's licenses, but they only see offenses in Texas. This leaves the door open for out-of-state truck drivers with prior drug or alcohol related offenses to go undetected in screening.
Drug & Alcohol Testing for Truck Drivers
As stated above, truck drivers must submit to random tests for drugs or alcohol in their system. Truck companies have the authority to administer drug and alcohol tests to drivers where there is reasonable suspicion regarding conduct. Those drivers who refuse may be barred from driving. Trucking companies are required to randomly test 10% of their drivers each year for drugs and alcohol use while on duty. However, there is concern after a recent Congressional study showed insight into lax testing protocols and the ease with which drivers could falsify results.
Recover the Resources You Need. Contact a Truck Accident Attorney.
After an accident involving a big rig, your number one priority should be recovering. Our firm can investigate the details surrounding your accident and can determine whether or not drugs or alcohol were involved. When your life and health have been so adversely impacted, you should not settle for less than you deserve. The truth is you need a tough advocate to help you! Contact Arnold & Itkin today to request a free consult.