Truckers have some of the hardest jobs in the nation, and long hours behind the wheel can take a mental and physical toll on long-haul drivers.
Truckers who are paid by the load, or who are under pressure from their employers to meet tight deadlines, are placed in an almost impossible dilemma: lose your job, or put other road users at risk.
Unfortunately, many truckers continue to turn to drugs to cope with the strain of their jobs—and drug use is a common truck accident factor in tens of thousands of crashes per year.
How Legal and Illegal Substances Affect a Trucker’s Driving Ability
In a recent study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers discovered that overall use of substances that can affect driver action was high among a range of truckers; and higher incidence of drug use was found in companies with poor working conditions.
Researchers asked truckers to respond to a survey about their drug use: roughly half of the total respondents admitted to drinking while driving; and 30 percent admitted to using amphetamines. This study relied only on a driver’s own admission of drug use. There are still relatively few scientific reports on the subject.
Drugs that truckers commonly take before and during shifts include:
- Prescription medications. Prescription meds are the largest category of drug use among truckers, but many experts suspect that this use is actually on the rise. Roughly a quarter of all truckers involved in accidents are taking prescription medications that have mood-altering side effects, including Ambien (a sleeping aid) or Xanax (an anti-anxiety medication). Another problem is that some truckers obtain prescription drugs illegally, such as taking a friend or relative’s Vicodin to treat back pain. Even when prescription medications are used to treat legitimate medical conditions, they can greatly affect a driver’s alertness and physical responses.
- Alcohol. Although drinking and driving is expressly forbidden under federal law, many truck drivers drink alcohol to cure boredom or to cope with pain while driving. Alcohol is known to dull the senses, make motor functions sluggish, and cause already-tired drivers to fall asleep behind the wheel.
- Marijuana. Marijuana is a relaxant that influences the body much like alcohol, but with the notable difference of making a driver more jumpy or paranoid. Research suggests that up to 20 percent of truck drivers use marijuana regularly, and the figure may be even higher due to their reluctance to report illegal actions.
- Stimulants. Truckers are at considerable risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, and may use stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine to stay awake. These stimulants may increase heart rate and alertness, but they can also cause hallucinations and risk-taking behaviors. A driver who has a heart condition or is in poor health could easily have a heart attack from cocaine use and lose control of his rig.
- Unknown substances. Since the majority of studies rely only on what drivers admit to taking, other illegal substances such as LSD or heroin are often underreported.
Trucking Companies Have Little Incentive to Take Action on Drugs
Unfortunately, the trucking company conditions that encourage drug use are unlikely to change. Carriers are in business to protect profits at any cost. If a company rep suspects a driver will fail a drug test, he may simply “forget” to perform testing on that operator for several days until the drugs are out of the driver’s system. Fines for failing to perform timely drug testing are often extremely low, and the carrier would much rather pay a small fine than provide evidence that could cost the company hundreds of thousands in losses.
An ability to think like a trucking company representative is one of the biggest benefits of having an experienced attorney by your side throughout your injury case. Our attorneys can perform an investigation for trucker drug use; identify other forms of negligence on behalf of the driver or the trucking company; and ensure that all evidence in your case is collected and preserved for the judge. Fill out the contact form on this page today to make an appointment for a consultation in our offices.