The number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana is ever-growing. The number of states allowing medicinal use has reached thirty-three. There’s no doubt that using marijuana is more and more accepted in our country. However, it’s causing problems in the workforce that can’t be denied. The trucking industry is no exception.
Already struggling with a driver shortage due to poor working conditions and low pay rates for non-unionized drivers, marijuana legalization is now being thrown into the mix. Let’s hope it’s not the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous. Studies show that the number of accidents caused by impaired driving is increasing. This is especially true in states where it is legal to use the drug. However, it’s not just the general public that chooses to drive stoned. Truck drivers and potential truckers are testing positive for the drug in higher numbers.
The safety of everyone on the road is jeopardized when truck drivers are impaired. In fact, at a hearing at the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit in June of this year, Chris Spear, President and CEO of the American Trucking Associaton, spoke about that fact during his testimony. He told congress members that he didn’t believe states that had legalized the drug were taking the trucking industry into consideration at all.
He said that even though the DOT requires a urine test, a growing number of motor carriers are voluntarily conducting pre-employment and random drug tests using a hair follicle test as well. When asked if the trucking industry was seeing even more of a shortage of drivers in states that had legalized recreational marijuana, Mr. Spears replied, “Absolutely. We have several carrier members that pay the extra expense to do hair testing in addition to the urinalysis, and when the driver comes in and applies and they know they have to take the hair test, a lot of them just walk right out the door.”
Drivers get the point
This is because drivers know there is absolutely no way to adulterate a hair follicle drug test. Drug metabolites deposited in the hair follicle grow out into the hair shaft. This leaves a permanent record of drug use. If someone refrains from using marijuana for a period of around thirty days, they almost always pass a urine test.
The American Trucking Industry, the largest in the nation, fully stands behind changing the DOT’s (Department of Transportation) regulated form of drug testing from the urine test to hair testing. However, experts estimate that won’t happen for another three years.
The trucking industry is increasingly manned by an older workforce. Young people are not as interested in entering the blue-collar workforce. The trucking industry falls under that category. In hopes of attracting a younger workforce, some lawmakers have proposed lowering the age requirement for long-distance truckers to eighteen.
This raises concern for some people. However, it’s not only because of the potential for drug use. Inexperienced drivers may be more likely to be involved in accidents over the long haul. The American Trucking Association supports the bill. In addition, they asked that congress consider encouraging states to administer the skills test for a commercial driver’s license within seven days of receiving an application. Currently, applicants wait up to two months to take the test. The wait time discourages some applicants. They don’t follow through with the process.
Because marijuana remains in the system for days or even weeks after discontinuing use, there is a need for a current impairment test. This would ease the fear of potential truck drivers that use the drug on their off time. They won’t have to worry about popping positive on a drug test.
Actually, the trucking industry is not the only one that suffers from the inability to find workers that can pass a drug test. It’s a widespread problem.
There are several companies working to get a marijuana breathalyzer on the market. In fact, Hound Labs, a breath technology company, reports they are very close to hitting the mark. The company has a marijuana and alcohol breathalyzer currently undergoing clinical trials. The equipment is intended for use by law enforcement, employers, and insurance companies.
If you’re high, you shouldn’t drive
In addition to the fact that the trucking industry is struggling to find drivers who don’t use marijuana in states that have legalized it, it’s foolish for drivers to think they are perfectly capable of driving while impaired. Marijuana use impacts driving skills. It impacts both psychomotor skills and cognitive functions that we use while driving.
- Time and distance perception
- Reaction time
- Attention span
- Lane tracking
Moreover, we don’t just use these skills while driving. They are used in all manners of employment. Drug use has no place in the workplace whether it’s on the road or in a building. It’s a safety hazard.
Of course, there are some instances where marijuana use doesn’t present as much of a concern, for example, working the night desk at a hotel. It’s up to individual employer’s of the general workforce to make that call. But for the safety-sensitive workforce, it is another matter entirely. Marijuana use in this industry is putting employers at a huge risk. It also puts us, the general public, at-risk each and every day.
Our families are out there on the roads too. Risking their safety by allowing drivers to pull out onto the highways and byways of our nation after they’ve smoked a joint is unacceptable. Citizens of this great nation have every right to speak up.
The trucking industry has every right to voice concern as well. Our government, both state and federal, needs to take a step back and rethink this issue. They need to think hard. Their families are out there on the road every day, too.
Have politicians considered that fact? If not, we hope they do soon. Waiting until after the fact, of course, could be too late.