Reducing Incidents of Impaired Driving in the Trucking Industry
Trucking can be a dangerous profession, and impaired driving makes it needlessly more so. Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs are a danger in any vehicle, but especially in a 17-ton semi-truck. Fleet managers must reduce impaired driving incidents in their fleets in light of this danger.
No fleet manager would argue against the need to eliminate impaired driving incidents. However, the path toward that goal can be less clear. The dangers are immediately evident, but it can be harder to determine which remediation strategies are most effective.
The State of Impaired Driving in Trucking
Thankfully, drunk driving incidents are far less common in truck drivers than among ordinary passenger vehicles. While 20.6% of drivers in passenger cars involved in fatal crashes were above the legal limit in 2017, just 2.5% of truck drivers were. However, that figure rises to 3.6% when considering truck drivers who had alcohol in their system but weren’t above the legal limit.
Drug use is a more common factor in impaired driving among truck drivers. Over-the-counter medication accounted for 17% of fatal and injury crashes among commercial drivers. While many of these medicines aren’t inherently dangerous, they may make drivers drowsy or unattentive, putting them at risk.
Impaired driving may not be a frequent issue for fleets, but considering how dangerous it is, just one incident is one too many. With that in mind, here are five ways fleet managers can reduce these incidents.
Implement Strict Policies
One of the most effective methods is also one of the most straightforward. Stricter impaired driving policies discourage these incidents, as heavier consequences provide more motivation to avoid unsafe behavior. Drunk driving laws reflect this, as DUI fatalities have trended downward as regulations have become stricter.
Fleet managers can apply this concept by establishing harsher penalties for incidents surrounding impaired driving. Ideally, these policies should be tighter than local laws, imposing sanctions for lower blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. Actions that break the law should result in termination, and smaller offenses should still carry consequences like temporary suspensions.
It’s also important to formalize these policies and communicate them early and often. The more drivers are aware of these actions and their penalties, the less likely they will engage in them. Management should also enforce these rules evenly to solidify their stance on their gravity.
Install Ignition Interlocks
Technology can also be a helpful resource in reducing impaired driving incidents. The most useful technology fleets can use is ignition interlocks, which require drivers to pass a BAC test to start their engines. Studies show that programs reduce repeat drunk driving offenses by 50% to 90% after installing these devices.
Ignition interlocks can take several forms, too. Some use traditional BAC tests that drivers blow into, and these may provide the most accurate readings. Other systems use passive sensors that detect alcohol vapors in the air. These are less disruptive but may not be as precise.
Fleet managers should also use ignition interlocks to measure data and track trends related to impaired driving. Even if someone is below the legal limit and can thus drive, their readings can show trends in alcohol consumption. Managers can then notice when a driver may be at risk and take appropriate intervention steps.
Monitor Impairment Risk in Hiring
Fleet operators can also reduce impaired driving by looking for risk signals in the hiring process. Hiring managers should perform background checks to look for any past impaired driving incidents. This should apply to more than just DUIs, including crashes where alcohol was present but below legal limits.
Past driving behavior is often a reliable indicator of how someone will act in the future. One study found that 20.7% of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes had a record of previous accidents. Past incidents of drug and alcohol use could likewise make an applicant more at-risk of driving while impaired.
Hiring managers should ask applicants about their history if any crash or substance abuse-related records come up. Some drivers may have made substantial strides and improved from past mistakes. Where fleets draw the line is up to the individual company’s discretion and ability to accept risk.
It can also help to ensure employees understand the risks of impaired driving. Drivers are likely already aware that they shouldn’t drive drunk but may feel like having a few drinks before driving isn’t a big deal. Fleet managers should educate drivers on how dangerous this can be to encourage safer behavior.
These sessions should focus on the less obvious factors, such as over-the-counter medications causing drowsiness. Point to figures like how BAC levels as low as 0.015% can impair hand-eye coordination by 20%. It may also help to stress how these factors impact the drivers’ personal safety to make it more resonant.
These training sessions should occur during onboarding and at regular intervals after. Educating employees and offering the latest facts and statistics at least once annually can help them retain this information. When they better understand the risks, they’ll be less likely to engage in dangerous behavior.
Minimize Related Risk Factors
Fleet managers can avoid impaired driving incidents by preventing situations that lead to them. Most drivers probably won’t drink on the job, but some circumstances could change that.
Professional drivers are especially vulnerable to having mental health issues like stress. This could lead them to drink or take medication when they otherwise wouldn’t, leading to impaired driving. Fleet managers can mitigate this risk by reducing on-the-job stress.
Improved route planning can help by making drivers feel less rushed, and keeping them informed of any changes has similar effects. Flexible schedules can also reduce stress by making it easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Fleet managers could also survey their drivers to see what would help them feel less strained, reducing the risk of impaired driving.
Reducing Impaired Driving Is a Must for Fleet Managers
Impaired driving may seem like a straightforward issue at first, but it can be multifaceted. Likewise, multiple prevention strategies should be used to attain the greatest risk reduction.
Fleet managers that employ these five steps can create safer operations for their drivers and others on the road. They can then prevent injury, ensure timely deliveries and avoid hefty legal consequences.
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