The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a study last week that finds that the percentage of fatally-injured drivers with known drug test results* who tested positive for drugs has risen over 50% in the last ten years. Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States presents new research to examine the impact of marijuana and opioids on driving ability and provides recommendations on how best to address these emerging challenges.
The ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and the concurrent enforcement efforts appear to have achieved some small success – the presence of alcohol in fatally-injured drivers has fallen from 41% in 2006 to 38% in 2016. During that same period, however, the percentage of fatally-injured drivers testing positive for drugs jumped from 28% in 2006 to 44% in 2016. In about half of the tests, the drivers had either two or more drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their systems.
Ralph Blackman, President and CEO of Responsibility.org states “that alcohol-impaired driving and drug-impaired driving can no longer be treated as separate issues” and the study suggests that some of the same messages and techniques that have been used to heighten awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol could be adapted to deter drug-impaired driving. However, the report also notes that drug impairment presents unique challenges. For example, there is still no nationally-accepted method for testing driver drug impairment; there are an unwieldy number of drugs to test for; and different drugs have different impairment effects in different drivers.
Further, according to GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins, “Too many people operate under the false belief that marijuana or opioids don’t impair their ability to drive, or even that these drugs make the safer drivers.”
Labor relations issues
Whether driving a company vehicle, or working in the shop or on the jobsite, an alcohol- or drug-impaired employee is dangerous to himself and others and a very real liability for a contractor.
While substance abuse testing for current employees represented by unions must be negotiated, most NECA-IBEW agreements have adopted such programs. If your area has a locally negotiated substance abuse testing program, be sure your company is taking full advantage of its provisions, including training on identifying impairment in the field. This will help preserve the safety of your employees and others by preventing accidents that can lead to damage to property, equipment, injuries, and even deaths. In addition, failing to participate in an available drug-testing program could compound the company’s liability in the event of an accident.
If your area does not have an active drug testing program (it should, drug testing has been a Category I provision for many years), consult with your chapter manager about steps you can take independently to reduce drug- and alcohol-impairment on the job and the road.
Drug and alcohol testing is important, but is it also important that the program and policies you adopt or develop are in compliance with applicable laws and agreement provisions.