10 Jan Truck Drivers and Substance Abuse
Much of the goods we consume each day were brought by someone driving a truck. That means there are a lot of trucks on American highways keeping our economy moving. It also means there are an enormous number of people we depend on to be safe drivers.
The loneliness and stress of truck driving has been documented by many Country and Western singers. Many songs also talk about drowning one’s sorrows in a bottle. It’s an unnerving thought, but many truck drivers get behind the wheel after tipping back a few drinks or using illegal drugs. Recent reports of transit workers under the influence who’ve been responsible for horrifying accidents demand further study.
Edmarion Girotto from the State University of London in Brazil performed a review of studies looking at how many truck drivers may be driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Girotto reviewed studies from 36 separate nations, including the United States, Australia and his own Brazil.
Girotto’s work found that the substances most often used by truckers were alcohol, stimulants, marijuana and cocaine. Every one of these substances significantly impairs a person’s ability to react swiftly and drive responsibly.
Here in the U.S. alone alcohol-related crashes cost $37 billion every year and claim far too many lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related vehicular crashes in 2010.
It’s worth noting that 23 of the studies were not face-to-face interviews and did not involve a biological test (e.g. blood, breath, urine, saliva) for substance use, which makes a difference in results. Studies that employed biological testing show a lower rate of substance use compared to survey-based studies. This creates a conundrum since biological testing only reveals recent substance use rather than a true picture of behavior.
The inconsistencies make it difficult to get a clear picture of just how many truckers may be using alcohol or drugs when they drive. Some do, but the extent of the problem is unclear at best. Consider, for example, the reports on alcohol use by truck drivers. One study said that only .1 percent of truckers drink alcohol while driving. Another study reported that 91 percent of truckers drink liquor on the job.
Other disparities were nearly as extreme. Some studies claimed that .2 percent of professional truck drivers use stimulants at work while others set the rate at 82.5 percent of drivers. Use of marijuana was reported as happening anywhere from .2 percent of the time to 30 percent of the time and cocaine use by drivers varied between .1 percent and eight percent.
A dozen of the studies examined by Girotto were trying to find out what factors contributed to the likelihood of substance use by truckers. Taken as a whole those studies revealed the following risk factors:
- Being young
- Making longer trips
- Doing more night driving
- Being an alcohol drinker
- Getting less rest
- Low pay.
Recommendations resulting from the Brazilian review include better monitoring of alcohol (and other substance) sales at truck stops and gas stations. There is also a demand for trucking companies to assume more responsibility for putting safe drivers on the road and making sure they stay that way.
How many truck drivers are driving under the influence? It is still impossible to say. Even one is too many.
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