The numbers are concerning. As The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to keep statistics on work deaths, drivers consistently rank in the top ten of most dangerous jobs in the country. There is no doubt that driving a truck is hard work. Add to that the long hours, over-night routs, and tough weather conditions and a picture starts to emerge of a hard, gritty way to make a living.
With hundreds of work deaths every year, safety has to be top of mind for everyone in the transportation, shipping, and driving industry. This of course includes management as well as drivers. One obvious safety measure for drivers and management is making sure their fellow drivers are rested, alert, and sober when they hit the road in their vehicles.
Federal regulations require supervisors for commercial motor vehicle drivers who have a commercial driver’s license to complete at least an hour of training on the alcohol abuse symptoms and an additional hour of training on controlled substance symptoms. This is meant to help management recognize the signs that a driver may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and to refer them to testing. Hopefully those drivers get help. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations do not require supervisors to get recurring training on these issues.
These rules notwithstanding, trucking outfits would only benefit by paying more attention to this concern. Most Americans are aware of the opioid epidemic in this country as well as a perpetual “war on drugs” that seems to have no end in sight. Despite the fact that no reasonable person would disagree that drunk driving is wrong, people still do it.
One explanation may be loneliness. In a 2014 study on the connection between loneliness and drug abuse, researchers found that people who abuse drugs tend to be struggling with loneliness, too. Life on the road is often a solo endeavor. Drivers spend long hours alone behind the wheel and even if they drive with a partner, often one driver is sleeping while the other works.
Anyone who has ever taken a long trip knows that it is not always easy to stay alert for a long drive, therefore, rest and breaks are important. That is why it is so crucial for trucking companies to be diligent in catching signs of driver substance abuse. Some truck drivers may turn to drugs like cocaine or amphetamines to stay awake on the road, but these substances alter the mind and tend to cause symptoms that can impair a driver’s ability to make decisions and see the road in front of them clearly.
One way that trucking companies and drivers can improve this situation is by going beyond the Federal Regulations and giving more attention to drug and alcohol abuse symptom training and prevention. Being pro-active and getting ahead of the problem can save lives before it’s too late. If management is better trained on what to look for when a driver has a problem, that person may be able to get help or rehabilitation so that they can get back on the road clean and sober. Everyone should agree that a top priority for the transportation industry would be to stop and prevent impaired driving entirely. There is almost no bigger vehicle on the road and therefore a no more dangerous one than a big rig. Keeping truck drivers safe and sober is as important as the safety of everyone else on the highway. In an industry that employs so many and is so vital to our economy, more training meant to recognize how much this problem affects road safety can mean the difference between life and death.