Commercial truck drivers play a crucial role in the American economy, transporting countless goods across state lines every day of the year. It is estimated that there are currently 1.7 million long-haul truck drivers in the U.S. However, long hours, boredom, and isolating circumstances are daily realities for truck drivers and make them highly susceptible to the dangers of substance abuse and addiction.
American Addiction Centers has found that due to factors like stress, fatigue, and loneliness, truck drivers often turn to drugs and alcohol while on the road, posing dangers to not only themselves but to all drivers in their immediate vicinity. The issue contributes to highway fatalities each year and is one to be aware of even if you’re just sharing the road with one of these commercial vehicles.
Here are some key facts and statistics about truckers and substance abuse:
Truckers work long hours and travel huge distances each week. The American Addiction Centers notes that truckers are expected to work 70 hours per week for eight days a stretch. Typically, drivers are expected to cover 125,000 miles each year, which is roughly 500 miles per day. That daily exertion has to be carried out in any number of weather conditions, depending on the trucker’s route, not to mention traffic jams and poorly maintained roads.
Many drivers push themselves even beyond these limits, taking extra shifts to get overtime pay. Little wonder, then, that some turn to drugs like amphetamines and cocaine. Substances like these stimulate the user and keep them awake, though they come with major side effects that range from agitation to hallucination to dependence. These drugs may also compel truckers to take more risks on the road, such as speeding or performing dangerous lane merges. Given the size and weight of your average commercial vehicle, such risks are serious dangers to anyone on the road.
One study found that among truck drivers, binge drinking is common. That same study also noted that binge drinking at least once per month, “increases the chance of being involved in crash accidents by ten-fold.”
In the U.S., truckers have the highest frequency of positive alcohol tests than any other truckers in the world, with roughly 12.5% of them testing positive for alcohol.
Specifically for alcohol, commercial truck drivers are held to higher standards when it comes to drinking and driving. This makes sense, given the amount of weight they haul and the longer distances and hours they cover each week.
While the legal blood alcohol limit in the U.S. is .08% for regular drivers, for truckers, that number is slashed down to .04%. That means even a single beer could set them over the limit, making them a danger to others on the road and at risk for a DUI or DWI conviction. As well, commercial drivers cannot use alcohol at least four hours before getting into their trucks and cannot possess alcohol in the cab.
Truckers convicted of DUIs or DWIs will have their licenses suspended and may find it difficult to get other work. Even after a sentence is served, securing employment with a trucking company may be extremely difficult with a DUI on one’s record.
Trucking companies often assign the longer, more difficult routes to younger drivers, according to American Addiction Centers. This may play a role in their turning to drugs for extra stimulation on these lengthy trips. These individuals tend to be less experienced than veteran truckers and may have growing families back home to support, leading them to take on more overtime hours and greater risks in order to complete a route.
Regardless of the reasons, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is a crime, and an extremely dangerous one at that. Drivers of passenger vehicles should be aware of these factors and follow proper motor safety regulations when it comes to sharing the highway with commercial vehicles. In the event of a truck driving erratically or aggressively, it’s best to steer clear — literally. The unfortunate reality is that you never can tell when a third-party substance might actually be the one making the decisions behind the wheel.