Drivers who use stimulants to fight off fatigue place themselves and other motorists at considerable risk for an accident. The problem is especially pronounced for long-haul drivers whose routes require extensive driving over long periods with little rest. As staffing and economic pressures within the trucking industry continue to grow, it is likely that stimulant abuse among truck drivers will increase further exacerbating the risk of accidents and fatalities.
Impact of Stimulants on Driving
Random sampling from drug testing programs has determined that approximately 0.6% of truck drivers test positive for stimulant use. Extrapolating these statistics indicates that as many as 21,000 truck drivers may be using stimulants while operating commercial motor vehicles. These drivers tend to have higher rates of driving infractions than their counterparts who do not use stimulants.
Use of cocaine, amphetamines, or methamphetamine changes the individual’s cognitive and motor functions. These stimulants negatively affect attention span and can cause reduced impulse control. Drivers under the influence of stimulants have reduced focus, diminished balance, and coordination, and can become easily agitated. As the drug levels within the bloodstream begin to fall, users can become paranoid, aggressive, or extremely drowsy. They may also become delusional. This creates a deadly combination of factors that can lead to everything from a drowsy driving accident to an aggressive driving incident.
Truck drivers are prohibited from driving more than 11 hours in any 14-hour window. They are not allowed to drive more than 60 hours in a 7-day period, or 70 hours within an 8-day period. Moreover, regulations require drivers to take a minimum of 34 hours off between these periods. Driver shortages and these long hours in a job that requires constant vigilance are among the reasons leading to an increase in stimulant use among truck drivers across the United States.
FMCSA regulations require mandatory drug and alcohol testing for individuals who hold a commercial driver’s license. Tests may also be conducted following an accident. Drug testing is an important protection and annually it is estimated that approximately 2% of truck drivers fail their tests. This high failure rate is one of the reasons that companies are required to regularly test their drivers for drug and alcohol abuse. When a company fails to conduct these random tests, the law allows the company to be held vicariously liable when their driver causes an accident caused by stimulant abuse.