Truck accidents: Does the whole trucking industry need to change?

Earlier this week, we wrote about a fatal truck accident that killed an Illinois State Police trooper. That accident, which occurred last March, occurred because the young truck driver involved nodded off behind the wheel. He had allegedly worked a shift that was several hours longer than the limit under federal law.

While truck driver fatigue is certainly a frequent cause of truck accidents, drug and alcohol use also commonly play a role. But what makes truck drivers engage in such dangerous behaviors and use such dangerous substances? Both problems may be related to the same root cause, which is the way that truck drivers are paid and incentivized.

Last month, a study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine examined what percentage of truck drivers engage in alcohol/substance abuse behind the wheel. Similarly, researchers examined what type of work characteristics were more closely associated with drivers who drink/use on the job.

The review was actually an analysis of 36 previous studies with data from a number of countries. Based on the data studied, there seems to be little agreement on how prevalent drug/alcohol abuse are among truck drivers.

However, at least 12 of the studies were focused on the factors that make truckers more likely to use drugs on the job. According to the results, truckers are at a higher risk of abusing drugs if:

  • They are young
  • They take longer trips (long-haul truckers)
  • They frequently drive at night
  • They are inadequately rested
  • They have a contract that pays based on performance
  • They are paid wages that are below union-recommended rates

Additionally, the four most frequently abused drugs are alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines (speed). Notice that the first two drugs are “downers,” commonly associated with relaxation and/or sleep. The second two are “uppers” that stimulate users and make them feel especially awake and alert (if only artificially). In both cases, truckers may be abusing these drugs to help induce sleep or to compensate for lost sleep.

Truck drivers are often paid in ways that incentivize putting in longer hours in order to meet delivery deadlines and pick up more work as soon as possible. But what if trucking companies changed the way the system works to allow for more regular work schedules? If drivers were allowed to work the same hours each day and get a full night of rest in between shifts, how many lives would be saved?

Source: HealthDay, “Study Probes Why Truckers Use Booze, Illicit Drugs,” Oct. 22, 2013