Driving impairments, whether they’re caused by devices or substances, are root causes of vehicle crashes and fatalities.
As Automotive Fleet reported in its January 2018 issue, vehicle fatalities had been on the rise in the past two years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is projecting declines in fatality rates for the 2017-2018 calendar years, however, fatality rates are still at high levels due to the past two years of growth.
Electronic device use has grown prolific in the area of distracted driving. Studies have shown that driving while operating a phone can impair driving ability to the same extent as driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Substance abuse is not a new trend. However, in recent years, the leading type of substance being abused has been new.
In 2017, an expansive report by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility found that for the first time, vehicle fatalities caused by drugged driving outnumbered vehicle fatalities caused by drunk driving. And, one of the leading drugs – present in more than a third of fatally-injured drivers that were tested for drug use – was marijuana.
In recent years, marijuana has seen more lenience in the eyes of the law at a state level, as many states have decriminalized it and made it legal for medicinal or recreational use; although the drug is still considered illegal from a federal perspective.
The science behind how marijuana use affects a person’s ability to drive has yet to reach a solid conclusion, as some studies show that there are links between vehicle crashes and marijuana use, while other studies are not so certain of the relation.
Marijuana has been made legal for recreational use in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia; and fleets that operate in these states should establish their company’s stance on drug use within their fleet safety policy.
Whether or not a fleet driver is immediately dismissed in an instance where a fleet driver is the cause of an accident while under the influence of a drug should be clearly addressed in that fleet policy. And, if there is an instance where it happens, the policy should be carried through.
If a fleet policy states that a driver will be immediately dismissed, then the company must adhere to it. If the company doesn’t, then it may set a precedent that makes other drivers feel like they won’t be dismissed either if it happens to them. However, a fleet may decide that immediate dismissal is not something they want to include into their fleet policy. Should this be the case, there should still be varying levels of negative enforcement for drivers caught under the influence of drugs within the fleet policy.
Another approach to promoting a safety-focused culture is a three-step approach to safety training. The first step begins when a driver is hired. Before a new hire even gets behind the wheel of a company vehicle, these hires should be trained to abide by company policies. The second step is an annual or biannual training. This can be seen as a check-up for company drivers, to ensure that they’re knowledge of the company’s safety policy is up-to-date. The third step is trigger-based training. This means that if a driver is involved in an accident, the training will be based on whatever caused the accident. Or, if a company pulls an MVR and there are reported instances of speeding, then that driver will be sent to training based on speeding.
There has seen an uptick in the number of fleets interested in safety training in the past year. However, the fact that there has been a rise in fleets showing interest in safety training is indicative of the current safety climate in the U.S. Fleet managers today have a difficult task when it comes to the safety of their drivers and enforcing a certain safety culture within their fleets.
On the matter of drugged driving, there are a number of steps that fleet managers can take to reduce the likelihood of their drivers operating a vehicle while under the influence of a drug. However, they do not have much control when it comes to the driving habits of the general population. Data has shown that the people who fleet drivers share the road with have been driving under the influence of a drug in higher frequency. The most a fleet manager can do is reinforce a proper safety culture within his or her company, and institute a safety policy that stresses the importance of always being focused on the road ahead.