Drug And Alcohol Use In Truck Drivers
October 23, 2013

Truckers Commonly Use Drugs And Alcohol On The Job

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Drinking and doing drugs on the job are commonplace among truck drivers around the world, according to a research review of international data published in Monday in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In an editorial published alongside the review, Allard van der Beek, a professor at the Institute for Health and Care Research at VU University in Amsterdam, said the findings are "a cause for concern," not only in terms of the effect on drivers' health, but also due to the risk posed to road safety.

To reach their conclusion, the researchers found 36 relevant studies – 28 of which had been carried out in countries with a large land area, such as Australia, the US, and Brazil, and 23 of these studies obtained their data through surveys rather than biological samples.

The culled data indicated that the substances truckers used most often while on the road were alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, and cocaine. However, the degree to which these were used varied widely – depending on the substance and on the way in which study data had been collected.

Studies based on biological samples showed lower rates of use. The authors noted that these analyses only pick up a substance that is still circulating in the body, so they are likely to underestimate the true extent of use.

The prevalence of drinking on the job varied from country to country, ranging from 10 percent in Pakistan to 91 percent in Brazil. Data found survey-based studies averaged out at 54 percent, but studies relying on biological samples suggested a 3.6 percent average.

A dozen studies in the review looked at the factors related to the use of drugs on the job. The culled data showed common themes among on-the-job users: younger age; higher income; longer drives; night driving; alcohol use; fewer hours of rest; and pay below union-set rates or rates that were linked to productivity.

"Psychoactive [mind altering] substances have been proved to impair driving and cause a greater risk of traffic accidents," the authors wrote. "Therefore gas stations, trucker stops and companies that employ these professionals must be more closely observed regarding the sale and consumption of these substances."

In the associated editorial, van der Beek said that "the results of this review are a cause for concern, not only for truck drivers using psychoactive substances, but also for the general public."

"It is beyond doubt" that alcohol and cannabis dull reaction times, he added. While amphetamines can delay fatigue and improve concentration, their continued use can be harmful to health over the long term.

Other studies have found that stimulants cause drivers to take more risks on the road. The drugs are also associated with an increased risk for falling asleep at the wheel and causing a collision, van der Beek said.

Truckers use these drugs to deal with long work hours and fatigue, he conceded, and trying to change the culture will be hard.

"Both road transport companies and truck drivers benefit financially from these long working hours," van der Beek wrote.