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Reducing Incidents of Impaired Driving in the Trucking Industry


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.

Improve Education

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.

Preventive Maintenance

How Fleet Managers Can Simplify Preventive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance is essential for keeping a fleet on the road. By using a maintenance schedule and regularly inspecting essential vehicle components, fleet managers can extend the lifespan of their fleet vehicles and reduce unplanned downtime.

While preventive maintenance prevents costly repairs in the future, it can be both time-consuming and difficult to schedule in-the-moment. For managers, knowing how to streamline this maintenance approach will make it easier to avoid disruptions without making inspections or repairs less effective.

1. Digitize Paperwork and Scheduling

Administrative work can be one of the most time-consuming portions of preventive maintenance. Every inspection or repair generates paperwork that must be logged and stored properly to create effective records of maintenance.

Digital solutions can make storing, accessing, and analyzing this information much simpler. Support staff and mechanics can generate templates for common repairs using information from previous work, streamlining the process of documenting maintenance.

Once all information about the fleet is properly stored in the system, managers and technicians will be able to see at a glance all fleet vehicles and upcoming repairs, plus an overview of the business’s maintenance backlog. Having this information stored in one location will make it easier to track the movement of the fleet and forecast maintenance needs.

This technology can also simplify scheduling and planned downtime. By integrating a fleet management system with the scheduling system, fleet managers can more easily catch potential schedule conflicts and better plan maintenance-related downtime to minimize disruption.

2. Train Drivers

Effective maintenance practices can go to waste if drivers don’t know how their behavior can preserve fleet vehicles.

Harsh driving, for example, isn’t just dangerous. It can also have a real impact on vehicle health. Harsh braking can wear out brakes and trigger a vehicle’s automated braking system, potentially causing it to fail earlier. Harsh acceleration can reduce a vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Idling is bad for the environment, can be in violation of local anti-idling ordinances, and may result in an under-lubricated engine, which can cause a wide range of problems in any vehicle.

Training fleet vehicle operators to drive in a way that minimizes these behaviors can reduce a business’s need for maintenance. For example, drivers should know how to cut down on their fuel use and facts about fuel efficiency, like the fact that idling uses more gas than shutting off and restarting an engine. They should also know how to avoid harsh braking and acceleration, as well as the impact these behaviors can have on their vehicle.

Often, vehicle telematics systems and tools like electronic logging devices (ELDs) include features that help managers monitor for harsh driving, idling, and other unwanted driver behaviors.

A dashcam, for example, connected to certain ELDs can monitor for distracted driving, hard braking, reckless turning, and speeding. Most telematics systems can detect idling and automatically alert drivers and managers.

3. Maintain Part and Equipment Inventory

Keeping a part and equipment inventory that’s up-to-date will streamline maintenance. Most preventive maintenance involves the same few common replacement parts — like a new oil filter, new battery, or new belt. If a fleet is mostly made up of the same types of vehicles, managers can keep the right spare parts on hand to reduce repair time and maintenance costs.

With a regularly updated inventory record, the maintenance team will be able to instantly see if they have those parts in stock and plan maintenance without having to manually check part storage. This can make it easier for a business to further streamline preventive maintenance.

This inventory system can also assist technicians and managers in culling obsolete or expired stock. These items will take up storage space, clutter workspaces and can make finding the right part more difficult.

Digital inventory solutions can make this process easier. Barcoding essential items and equipment, for example, will allow mechanics or support staff to quickly perform inventory counts and update equipment status in an inventory tracking system.

4. Perform Regular Tire Pressure Checks

Prioritizing certain maintenance tasks can prevent repairs and simplify checks down the road. Regularly checking tire pressure is probably one of the most important ones — tire pressure affects a massive range of vehicle characteristics, including handling, rate of tire wear, rate of suspension wear, and fuel economy. All of these factors can influence driver safety — handling or suspension issues can pose serious risks to drivers — and may require premature maintenance or fuel stops.

Changing air temperature can also raise or lower tire pressure, meaning tire pressure will change over time, even without a leak. Regular air pressure checks prevent underinflated tires and the risks they can come with.

Automatic tire inflation systems, which bundle together gauges and inflators, can make the process of regularly checking and filling tires more convenient if a business’s fleet management team currently relies on separate devices.

In addition to regular tire pressure checks, fleet managers can also use digital solutions to track tire pressure across the fleet. Modern vehicles often have tire pressure sensors that monitor the current pressure in each tire. A telematics system with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) can help fleet managers and other staff access this data remotely and provide alerts when tire pressure for any fleet vehicle falls below a certain level.

5. Review Maintenance Data

A regular review of maintenance data will take time, but it’s the best way to spot recurring bottlenecks and process issues at a business.

For example, it’s not unusual for maintenance practices to generate process waste — like the waste generated when a poorly performed repair leads to additional work on a vehicle down the line. Identifying and removing the conditions that caused the poor repair will prevent these mistakes in the future.

Making maintenance records easy to store and access can help make this review a little simpler. If fleet managers know where all essential maintenance data is, they and their team won’t have to spend as much time prepping for the review.

The Right Practices Can Streamline Preventive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance is the gold standard for vehicle upkeep, but it can be both costly and time-consuming. Finding ways to streamline maintenance without sacrificing repair quality will help any fleet manager make their preventive maintenance strategy more efficient.

Digital maintenance and fleet management solutions are often useful in streamlining maintenance operations. Driver training and prioritizing specific types of maintenance — like tire pressure checks — will also be helpful.

oversized loads

6 Safety Tips for Transporting Oversized Loads

Stepping behind the wheel of a transport vehicle is dangerous enough, but when oversized loads are added to the mix, the risks are exponentially increased. Hauling these, whether across long or short distances, is no joke. It’s difficult and stressful, and there are many elements to consider, including traffic, road hazards and weather conditions.

That’s why it’s important that every driver understands, and is armed with, some safety tips to improve the experience. Here’s what every truck operator should know before hitting the highway with an oversized load.

1. Plan the Route Ahead of Time

Planning the route is a no-brainer, and modern technologies can be used to do it smarter and better. Logistics and route-planning tools can be used to research traffic, hazards, weather conditions, construction and any other encounters one might come across on the open road. Most importantly, drivers should always have a set of contingencies handy that allows them to choose alternate routes or roadways because there’s no telling what may happen.

Whether it’s the primary choice or an alternative, every route plan should include information about travel times, delays, fueling locations, and break spots. It’s important to think about every possible factor when planning the route. Not having a stringent refueling plan in place can balloon transportation costs, as drivers are forced to go out of their way or choose fueling stations that are less than ideal or overpriced.

2. Know the Weather

It doesn’t matter whether drivers use their smartphones or listen to the radio — they should always have a beat on the local weather and any upcoming changes. The entire forecast should be referenced and recorded before the drive. Any updates or changes should also be monitored throughout the journey. Some loads cannot be exposed to inclement weather, so it’s vital to avoid rainy, overcast or muggy areas.

Hauling oversized loads should never happen in extreme weather conditions, except in rare circumstances, such as a major emergency. If possible, find a rest stop to wait out the storm and hit the road when it’s safe to travel again.

3. Reference the Laws

There are rules and regulations about hauling oversized loads or items. Drivers and their sponsors must abide by those laws at all times. Nearly every state, province, and country has custom and defined dimensions for what constitutes an oversized load. Most describe it as anything wider than 8.5 feet, which takes up a substantial portion of the driving or travel lanes on roadways. Weight and height limitations may also apply, and it’s up to the drivers to know them.

Furthermore, hauling oversized loads requires a permit, which details the origin of the shipment and its destination. Driving without one can result in severe fines and sometimes other penalties and may even come with a license suspension for the driver. It’s important to keep all documentation updated before, during and after a haul.

4. Use the Right Securement

When hauling loads of any size, it’s critical to keep the pieces, items or components locked down and secured. There are many different types of fastening devices, from ropes and straps to friction mats and binders. They’re not always interchangeable, and sometimes those devices are not ideal for certain loads or gear. It’s up to the drivers to know which securement tools are best for a particular load. Using the wrong devices can have major repercussions and may or may not lead to the heavy load falling off the trailer or transport.

What’s more, those devices should be inspected regularly to ensure they’re in proper working order and have not been damaged in any way. This should be done before and after a haul, and any broken or failing items should be replaced right away.

5. Drive Defensively

It’s important to drive defensively and safely when hauling oversized loads. This is not to be confused with going slowly. It can seem safer to maintain slower speeds, but that’s a misconception, more so on highways and major roadways. It’s best to drive at the recommended speed limit and to remain in lanes that are expressly labeled for trucks — sometimes, there are dedicated lanes you must stay in with an oversized haul.

Drivers should make a habit of checking their speed regularly during a trip. They should also maintain a safe stopping distance that’s far enough away from vehicles and other cars nearby.

6. Proactive Maintenance

The last thing anyone wants during an oversized haul is for the truck to malfunction or break down. It’s important to carry out proactive maintenance on a vehicle or fleet before a big trip to prevent that from happening. Fluids should be topped up and monitored, the tires should be checked, spare parts and gear should be added to the truck, and basic maintenance should be handled.

Another facet of this is to have a service plan at the ready if and when something does happen. Drivers should always know who to call and where to go to get their vehicles serviced or where the much-needed support is going to come from. That can be something researched when building the initial route plan, or it can be information that’s gathered and recorded over time. Either way, every driver should know what to do if their truck breaks down.

Be Safe When Hauling Oversized Loads

Proper planning is crucial to a successful trip. It’s vital to plan the route and situational factors, research local weather conditions and work around them, drive defensively, and use the correct securements. It’s also important to know and understand the laws and keep all permits and documentation up to date. Proactive maintenance should be followed to keep the trucks or fleet in tip-top shape. Every driver should have a plan of action if and when their vehicle breaks down or malfunctions.

By knowing and adhering to these safety guidelines, drivers can secure their health and success while hauling oversized loads. That assurance alone is worth its weight in gold.


Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. As Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, she regularly covers how technology is changing the industry.