Road Trauma and Substance Abuse…A Case for Drug Testing

Alcohol and driving don’t mix. Anyone who is paying attention to the government news reports and public service messages knows that. The 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey estimated that one-third of driver and pedestrian deaths are connected to alcohol. Alcohol is also associated with up to 11% of workplace injuries or impaired work performance, absenteeism and productivity.1

Now combine the abuse of alcohol and drugs and the picture is even grimmer. A special presentation to the Parliament of Australia House of Representatives on road trauma over a 10-year period reports that in addition to the one-third of road deaths attributed to alcohol, another 8 percent were due to the use of drugs. The most common drugs found in drivers who are killed in road accidents are benzodiazepines, amphetamines and cannabis. The risk of a fatal accident increases by 2.7 times with marijuana use and 2.3 times with use of stimulants.2

As an employer, do you want to hand the keys to a business owned vehicle to an employee under the influence of alcohol and drugs? Obviously the answer is a resounding “no”, and yet it happens.  Alcohol, marijuana, stimulants and other drugs impair:

  • Motor functions like hand-eye coordination
  • Time perception
  • Space perception
  • Mental awareness of surrounding events
  • Cognition or the ability to transform visual signals into thoughts or actions

There were a couple of very interesting results that were reported to Parliament that have implications for employers concerned with worker safety on Australian roads. The first surprise was that 73.5 percent of drivers arrested for traffic offences in the study did not  believe they would be caught driving under the influence whilst using marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine or heroin, yet 89 percent surveyed knew that alcohol increased their chances of getting caught.2

People are less aware of the consequences of drug use, as opposed to alcohol use, on driving ability. The implications for employers is clearly that alcohol and testing programs are essential for worker safety and should include employees operating outside of the regular workplace as well as inside. Another important implication is that the supervisor and employee training programs should incorporate information concerning the negative impact of alcohol and drug use on the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle of any kind.

It is unfortunate that society has focused primarily on alcohol and neglected to address drug use though that is rapidly changing. Anti-alcohol public campaigns have raised awareness of the dangers of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol. Yet a more recent study on drugs and driving in Australia commissioned by the Australia Drug Foundation and the national insurer AAMI indicated that people are still not aware of the dangers of driving whilst using illicit or prescription drugs. One of the findings was that most people had no idea how long they should wait between using a drug that can impact motor and cognitive skills and driving.3

Random drug testing by the police has proven to be an effective countermeasure against driving under the influence of alcohol. It is now being used to deter driving whilst under the influence of drugs also. A survey indicated that the risk of being caught was a significant deterrent to drug driving. As many as 38.5 percent of cannabis users chose to not drive out of worry of being caught. The numbers were 45.4 percent of methamphetamine users and 41.5 percent of those who chose to use ecstasy.3

Employers also need to use random alcohol and drug testing for the same reasons the police are using them. Employers can use products like the DrugWipe 5+ in the workplace or the Oraline Saliva test and detect use of marijuana, opiates, cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy…all known to impair driving ability. When coupled with alcohol testing using the Lion Alcoblow, you can hand the keys to a company vehicle to an employee knowing you have done everything you can to keep the employee and other road users safe.

CMM Technology at http://www.cmm.com.au/ has quality alcohol and testing equipment that can play an important role in an employer’s efforts to minimise the number of road accidents and fatalities due to substance abuse. An alcohol and drug employee information program should be coupled with blanket and random testing for maximum results.

References

1Australian Drug Foundation. (2007). Drugs and Driving in Australia – a brief report. Victoria: Australian Drug Foundation.

2NSW Government. (2003). NSW Summit on Alcohol Abuse 2003. Sydney: December.

3Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. (2003). Road to Recovery. Canberra: Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.

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