Truckinginfo.com in May reported that the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, also known as the Trucking Alliance, proclaimed it would push for congressional passage of a fresh hair sample drug testing law to compel anyone who applies for a safety-sensitive job in the trucking industry to prove no opioid addiction or illegal drug use for at least 30 days prior to employment. The Trucking Alliance published its opiate test initiative at the United Nations, as part of an event entitled, “The Use of Technology to Promote Road Safety – The Brazilian Experience.” Brazil expects all commercial truck drivers’ to pass a hair test before restoring their license. More than 1 million Brazilian drivers’ have either failed the hair test or declined to renew their license since the law went in effect two years ago.
My first observation of all this; all we hear from all the major trucking companies is how we can rectify the driver shortage and driver turnover? What does the United Nations have to do with the American trucker? Driver pay is one major problem, but it will not solve the problem. There was also in the news this week about all the sign-on bonuses being paid out. These are fantastic, but the same is true here; it will not solve the driver turnover or driver deficiency. A good deal of you may agree with me, we do not need to turn to Brazil for guidance on how to operate our industry and when these companies stop trying to make drivers’ into robots, and this is true for most employers in our nation, the employment situation will get much better.
Keeping An Eye on Drivers
Modern trucks now have all kinds of gadgets to monitor how a tractor is driven or operated. Most of you can remember the good old days when we had to keep an eye on oil pressure gauges and coolant temperatures, or we had no brake pressure gauge to tell us if we were using too much brake. These things were all done by instinct or second nature if you will; we became accustomed to keeping an eye on these things, and it became automatic, like checking your mirrors every few seconds.
Now drivers’ do not have to do this; the new driver plugs in their iTunes with the headsets on and motors down the big road. No worry we have all kinds of alarms that will go off the minute someone gets off track. Some new trucks have sensors to judge if someone is too close to the tractor or the driver may be following too close. Alarms set off if the oil pressure is too low or the coolant temperatures are too high, and if these are not corrected right away, the tractor will shut down in the middle of the freeway.
Then there are the reliable GPS tracking systems that will tell dispatch where you stop, where you eat and where you sleep. The dispatchers can even buzz in and wake you up if they think you are oversleeping. Several trucking companies have brought up the idea of in-cab cameras to keep an eye on you. In the interest of saving a male trainer from chasing a female trainee around the sleeper, these may be a good idea, but if a male trainer is going to act this way, he should not have a job! It appears to me a lot of this is an invasion of privacy.
There are other modern sensors on these tractors, many I am not of aware of as I have been away for some time. The trouble I have is all the information that these sensors collect is sent to the home office immediately which if not evaluated properly can create unwanted problems for a driver.
Drug Abuse Drug Addiction
Yes, there are drivers’ that abuse drugs, but how prevalent is the problem? It all depends on where you look or the person you ask. For those that are promoting the drug test by the hair, samples will state the problem is rampant. The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security states opioids subject to drug abuse in the trucking industry includes codeine, morphine painkillers branded under numbers of names, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone marketed under such names as OxyContin, Percoset, and Tylox, and the highly addictive opioids Methadone and Fentanyl. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently added four of these – hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone – to its pre-employment drug test protocols. However, unless the applicant takes these opioids within a few hours of collection, a urinalysis drug test can miss their use.
When we examine all that a truck driver faces on a day to day basis, it is no surprise drug abuse may become a problem. However, when we take into consideration other physically demanding occupations, such as construction, how much more drug abuse is there. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that during the past ten years, 15 percent of construction workers confessed to using illicit drugs, and 18 percent admitted to substantial alcohol consumption.
The above numbers come from constructionexec.com.
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According to the report issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), substance and alcohol abuse has negatively affected the mining and construction industry by way of lost productivity, workplace accidents and injuries, absenteeism, low morale, and illness. An essential finding of the article was that these industries had far and away the highest rates of abuse, even when relativized for gender and age across other sectors.
What all this comes to is physically demanding jobs will open the door for substance abuse. All these take a toll on a persons’ body and to offset the long hours, muscle aches and pains, or the risk of severe injury people will turn to some drug. As long as an employee is not abusing drugs or alcohol, coming to work stoned or drunk, is there a reason for severe punishment or dismissal?
Several states have legalized marijuana and more will follow. In their quest for the never-ending money supply, it is likely all the states will be in on legalized marijuana soon, if not for recreational use but definitely for medical use. Some numbers from colorado.gov in 2017 the state collected $223,300,334 in taxes. Many countries see the cannabis trade as a vice and tax it at a tremendous rate, and the industry takes it as a cost of doing business. Washington state’s cannabis retail tax rate is 37%. California’s tax is 15%, and the state believes it will produce $1 billion and up to $100 million in savings annually.
States with legalized marijuana are on track to generate nearly $655 million in state taxes on retail sales in 2017. Inside that tax figure, $559 million will come from cannabis taxes, much more than from alcohol taxes. Our governments can not find a way to reduce spending, but they are great at finding ways to make money, even if it creates problems such as drunk or stoned drivers’.
These figures are from Forbes.com
Legalized marijuana generates many problems for the trucking industry and numerous other jobs that demand their employees to be safety conscious at all time. Another occupation that comes to mind is the oil and gas industry. I have several years experience in this industry, and I can tell you with all the hours that are worked there were several times people came to work still impaired and not able to perform their jobs safely. The main difference between trucking and other occupations is a driver is always with the public. Truck drivers’ continuously deal with people who are driving drunk, the seniors that cannot see so well, and teenagers who lack driving knowledge.
Is it necessary to have a truck driver submit to a hair sample drug test? In my opinion, this is another thing that keeps people away from our industry. We have so many things keeping an eye on a driver that truck driving is no longer the job that it once was; an occupation where a person was given the freedom to perform the task without constant supervision.
I have talked about this before, and yet every day we hear about the large companies and our government that keep coming up with more way to keep track of drivers’. If you go out and talk to fellow drivers’, you will more likely find the happiest drivers’ are those that have the opportunity to perform their jobs on their own without having a dispatcher looking over their shoulder.
Technology is great if used as it was intended, but what happens when it is abused or not accurately functioning as they are prone to do on occasion? If one of the sensors are not working correctly and a driver is accused of something he is not guilty this will lead to a host of other problems. Most times a driver will get mad, quit and go on to another company, not helping with the driver turnover problem.
I do not think driver pay is anywhere close to what it should be when we take into consideration what drivers’ have to put up with these days. The ELDs went into effect earlier this year, we have GPS systems to watch where you are at all time, new rules and regulations coming from our governments daily, and all the traffic a driver has to put up with nowadays. When we talk about driver shortage, these problems need to be addressed, along with many others.
When they start talking about hair sample drug test and creating more restrictions to a drivers’ life, this only leads to more drivers’ fleeing the industry. There are no statistics that will back up added drug testing to show that this will decrease the accident rate. Drivers will find ways to get around rules and regulations, as these do not solve problems, they only add to unhappiness.
More should be done to solve the hours of service regulations, wait time at loading docks, time a driver should be paid for, and ways to get drivers’ home on a regular basis. More time should be spent finding out how to make the job better instead of turning a driver into a robot and this is valid for all manufacturing industries in the United States. Everyone should NOT have to shave their head to keep their jobs!
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