2013 US Trucking News — US Truckers Sound Off Against Alcohol and Drug Use Study

Recently, a study announced that many American truck drivers are mostly high on drugs while on and off the job. The American Trucking Association (ATA) then told media channels to stop sensationalizing the said inaccurate study since it contradicts the most accurate data records of US truck drivers with regards to alcohol and drug use.

The researcher who conducted the survey went around many countries, gathering evidence on the frequency of alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, marijuana and amphetamine use among truck drivers. Results show that the truck driver’s self-reports and drug tests vary largely, and that the use of such substances was high and was linked to poor working conditions.

Specifically, their research shows that 12.5% U.S. truck drivers tested positive on alcohol/drug use. It was indicated in the research that many among the drivers were positive on caffeine and ephedrine. However, these substances were never linked to impaired driving.

Accordingly, the study conducted relied greatly on a questionnaire type research, and only a dozen went through biological testing. The American Trucking Association president and CEO Bill Graves said, “We know from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that in the most recent year available – 2011 – the drug use violation rate for professional truck drivers was 0.9%, in other words, less than 1%. Similarly, the alcohol violation rate for U.S. truck drivers was .19% (less than one-fifth of one percent) in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available.”

Graves added that in 2011, only 1% of large truck drivers were involved in fatal crashes with Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher as compared with 24% of car drivers and 29% of motorcyclists. Graves added that the numbers simply indicate that the industry is highly committed towards safety issues.

Moreover, this issue on the alcohol and drug use being high among US truck drivers gathered reaction from truck driving instructor, Marty Kroenecke who had been a trucker since 1975. Kroenecke said that back in the 70’s and 80’s, drug and alcohol use were indeed linked to large trucks’ crashes, but it is no longer the case at present.

Today, every truck driver goes through rigid testing as a part of every trucking company’s hiring process. Kroenecke emphasized that once a driver gets hired, he or she will be under the alcohol testing program. The program mandates a random drug test among 25% of all truck drivers of each trucking company. This is done every year. Meanwhile, 10% of all drivers are subjected to alcohol test while on active duty.

In fact, an added regulation from the Department of Transportation tracks alcohol and drug tests among drivers. In Kroenecke class in Hawkeye Community College, he immerses the truck driver trainees to a two-day complete seminar on alcohol and drug abuse. This seminar happens on the very first two days, and it does not merely focus on the negative effects to the user’s body, but also how it will affect the truck driver’s profession. Also, Kroenecke highlights driving simulators in his class to show how driving capability is affected while under the influence of alcohol. He concluded that his truck driver students have no way to control the vehicle in any given situation.

The said study was conducted by the Universidade Estadual de Londrina in Brazil and it is reported as a survey type study. It was said to be administered in Australia, Latin America and in the United States. In this study, the results show that while behind the wheel, US truck drivers are 12.5% high on alcohol and drugs.

Specifically, the result posted that while on the road, alcohol use rated from 0.1% to 91%, amphetamine use was from 0.2% to 82.5%, cannabis from 0.2% to 30% and cocaine from 0.1% to over 8%. In Pakistan, drinking while driving prevailed from 10% to 91% while in Brazil it recorded an average of 54%. Both results were collected from a survey. In contrast to a study based on biological testing, the prevalence rate was 3.6%.

These findings on the study conducted by Universidade Estadual de Londrina in Brazil had been subjected to a panel review, which was headed by Edmarlon Girotto. The result of the review was made known to public through the online news release by Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Girotto and his colleagues wrote online on Occupational and Environmental Medicine that alcohol and driving and marijuana and driving should not mix because the combination decreases the driver’s concentration and increases sleepiness, which may lead to crashes. On the other hand, while it helps make you awake, cocaine and amphetamine leads to hallucinations, change on perception and reaction, vertigo and agitation.

The review consisted of 36 research studies that focus on the prevalence of alcohol and drug use. Since 2000, researchers found 36 relevant studies, and 28 from it were carried out in the US, Australia, Pakistan and Brazil, while 23 out of the 36 research studies acquired their data from a survey instead of biological sampling.

With this, Professor Allard van der Beek of the Institute for Health and Care Research at VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands in a linked editorial said, “Truckers use these substances to cope with long working hours and fatigue. Both road transport companies and truck drivers benefit financially from these long working hours.” The professor added that it will be hard to try to change this sub culture.

ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, president of Bulldog Hiway Express in Charleston, S.C. said,

“I can think of nothing more disrespectful than being tarred as a drug user or drunk driver based on inaccurate reporting and a specious study. The outlets that ran with this story and did not try to verify its accuracy with U.S. data, owe the millions of safe, dedicated drivers that deliver America’s most essential goods every day a sincere apology.”

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) spokesman emailed Reuters Health saying, “Safety is our number one priority and FMCSA has strict requirements on pre-employment screening and random and post-accident drug and alcohol testing…. FMCSA’s own Drug and Alcohol Testing Surveys of U.S. drivers regularly show the positive rates for random drug and alcohol tests for the drivers we regulate is very low, around 1 percent. We acknowledge the pressure and daily demands on commercial motor vehicle drivers, but also believe the vast majority of truck drivers are dedicated professionals who would never jeopardize their careers, their safety and the safety of other travelers by using substances or medications that would adversely impact their ability to operate safely on the nation’s highways.”

ATA is a strong advocate of safety. It provides measures that eliminate alcohol and drug use among company drivers. Currently, it calls for a nationwide clearinghouse of alcohol and drug test results that are positive. In addition, it implements revocation of license for those who were tested positive to the substances, and are implementing other consequences to promote safety among large commercial truck drivers.

American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. Through a federation of 50 affiliated state trucking associations and industry-related conferences and councils, ATA is the voice of the industry America depends on most to move our nation’s freight.

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