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How common is substance abuse among truckers?

Driving a truck for a living can be a lonely life with long hours. Those long stretches on the road alone lead some truck drivers to turn to drugs or alcohol. While alcohol or drug abuse by any motorist is cause for alarm, when the person abusing drugs or alcohol is also sitting at the wheel of a massive commercial truck, the repercussions are too often deadly.

According to the American Addiction Centers, substance abuse by commercial truckers is a growing problem on America's roadways. It is an issue safety advocates and regulatory agencies struggle to get under control. Just how frequently are semi-truck drivers abusing drugs and alcohol?

Trucker substance abuse facts and figures

The results of a series of 36 separate studies focused on truck driver substance abuse between 2000 and 2013 have shone a spotlight on just how many truckers drink, use drugs and endanger the public.

  • Amphetamine use, for example, was especially common among semitruck drivers, with a significant percentage involved in the various studies acknowledging their use of amphetamines while on the road.
  • Marijuana use was also a common thread in studies. Drivers under the influence of marijuana have impaired attention, judgment and reflexes. 
  • Alcohol use was disturbingly common. Study results showed that a high percentage of commercial truck drivers have drunk alcohol while on duty, if not regularly. Even in moderate amounts, alcohol impairs concentration, reflexes and decision-making.

Why would truckers use illegal substances?

Aside from the danger to the public, truck drivers risk losing their commercial driver's license if they are caught with drugs or alcohol in their system. Why would they drink or use drugs on duty?

Some believe amphetamine use is especially high in the trucking industry because such stimulants increase alertness for a time, enabling drivers to cover longer distances. Doing so is undeniably dangerous, however, as the substance can lead to a false sense of invincibility among truckers, which can make them more prone to taking risks. Truckers who abuse amphetamines also typically experience a come-down effect after use, which can make them more prone to operating a truck while dangerously fatigued. Inattention and fatigue are among the leading factors in truck accidents

Several of the studies found a correlation between use of psychoactive substances and the following factors: younger drivers, overnight shifts, long hauls, productivity-based pay and (yikes) prior traffic accidents. Older and experienced truckers are less likely to jeopardize their careers. Truckers who are forced to work long hours or who have a financial incentive to take risks are more likely to use drugs as a boost.

An accident waiting to happen

Because of the sheer size of their rigs, truck drivers have a high degree of responsibility to help protect the motoring public. Most commercial drivers are conscientious and law-abiding. But substance-abusing truck drivers place everyone on the roadway at a heightened risk. And they give all truckers a bad name.

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