A big rig is a lethal weapon when a driver gets behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level over the limit of 0.02 percent. They are just as deadly when someone is behind the wheel and too tired to see straight.
Alcohol and trucking: a disaster waiting to happen
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration makes regular drug and alcohol testing for truckers mandatory. About 23 percent of random United States tested drivers came back positive in 2013 for alcohol consumption. These tests were not just given to those involved in an accident, but across-the-board surveys. The statistics are believed to possibly be higher, due to drivers who manage to vanish after accidents.
Of course, those who have a problem with drinking will seek to avoid the tests, and some do, through job hopping and failing to report alcoholic dismissals from previous employers.
Owner-operators who run their own rigs and are not part of a major trucking company are also required to perform drug and alcohol tests, but these employers may not bother to cite a refusal if an employee will not take the test.
Blood alcohol levels over the limit for driving
A blood alcohol level of 0.10 is way over the limit of 0.02 for truckers, but it’s quite easy to achieve without keeping score. Statistics say levels of 0.10 feel like being ‘euphorically detached from reality’.
With blood alcohol levels of 0.15, bodily coordination is described as ‘very poor’.
Big rigs can be a challenge to control while speeding down the highway under perfect conditions. In 2012, 3,921 people were killed and 104,000 persons were injured in collisions with trucks weighing in at 10,000 or more pounds. In the same year, big rigs made up four percent of all registered vehicles, and accounted for eight percent of fatal accident statistics. Eighteen-wheelers are more likely to cause multiple-vehicle pileups, as well.
Statistics for all drivers state that in 44 percent of fatalities, someone was driving drunk.
Too much time on the road, too little sleep
Unlike alcohol or drugs, fatigue levels cannot be measured, but fatigue’s contribution to accidents rivals that of drugs or alcohol.
Research shows that even professional drivers are unlikely to measure their own fatigue levels very accurately, and are often not aware when tiredness creeps up to a level of impairment. Controlling a heavy rig speeding along at highway speeds requires instant reflex response. Any delay can result in disaster.
Due to increasing congestion on major highways, fatigue is an even greater problem than ever before. Drivers have to be far more attentive, but without proper rest, lane wandering and rear-end crashes become a hazard. The Department of Transportation decided that 13 percent of all trucking accidents were caused by fatigue.
What is being done about the problem of impaired truckers?
If a driver refuses to take a drug or alcohol test or tests positive for drugs or alcohol, an employer is required to remove the driver from performing ‘safety sensitive functions’, identified as driving a large truck along U.S. highways. Solutions involve a mandatory evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional, completing a course of treatment and providing random urine and breath test samples upon returning to DOT functions. The follow-up tests are to be performed without privacy and can be administered without notice for up to 60 months.
In July of 2013, new regulations by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took effect.
These regulations limit the driver’s work week to 70 hours, lowered from the former 82 hours. The regulations also require a driver to take one 30-minute break in an eight-hour stint of driving. The 70-hour work week can resume only after 34 consecutive hours, with rest times falling into the 1-5 a.m. category.
Continued updating of policies and management enforcement can be effective at reducing alcohol and fatigue-related highway crashes. It is important that both trucking companies and employees realize the seriousness of the issue and allow for no margins for error.