National Alcohol Awareness Month 2022: Facts & Tips for Fleet Owners
April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to shine the spotlight on a topic that’s easy to grow complacent about thanks to social media memes that make light of “wine thirty,” films and TV shows that glamorize drinking, and sporting events punctuated by endless ads for beers and liquors.
What’s the big deal, right? It’s just alcohol, after all.
Of course, alcohol is a big deal, especially when it’s abused and/or used inappropriately (for example, by someone about to get behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle).
National Alcohol Awareness Month aims to fix these misconceptions by educating people on alcohol’s inherent dangers, reducing the stigma around alcohol use disorder (AUD), and offering insight and resources for the treatment and prevention of alcoholism.
Sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), this awareness month has taken place every April since 1987. While young people are often (and rightly) the main focus of the outreach, this doesn’t mean that adults are off the hook. People from all walks of life are affected by alcohol.
Consider these three quick stats:
- Each year, 95,000 people die due to excessive alcohol use [Source: The Baltimore Sun]
- Every day, 29 people in the U.S. die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. [Source: CDC]
- In 2019, 14.5 million people in the U.S. who were 12 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD) [Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism]
And the pandemic has only made things worse. According to The Harvard Gazette, “Scientists estimate that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.”
Truck Drivers & Alcohol – A Bad Combination
First, here’s a refresher from the FMCSA: “Drivers are forbidden to consume or be under the influence of alcohol (as defined in 49 CFR 382.107) within four hours of going on duty or operating a CMV (49 CFR 392.5). Drivers are forbidden to use alcohol, be under the influence of alcohol, or have any measured alcohol concentration, while on duty, or operating, or in physical control of a commercial motor vehicle. Alcohol can only be transported as part of a shipment.”
Unfortunately, despite the rule, studies suggest that truck drivers are at increased risk for alcohol use disorder due to the job’s high stress levels and long stretches of isolation and loneliness (to name just a few contributing factors).
In fact, according to American Addiction Centers, “Truckers in the United States had the highest frequency of positive tests for alcohol in the entire world, at 12.5 percent of American-based drivers.”
We’re seeing this play out in real time with the DOT Clearinghouse. Now that we have two full years’ worth of data, we can do a year-over-year comparison. And the results are in: Both drug and alcohol violations increased in 2021.
What Can Carriers Do to Promote Alcohol Awareness and Support Drivers?
Provide meaningful training. Don’t require drivers to view the same old videos. And don’t approach training like another box that you need to check off your to-do list. Provide relevant training that demonstrates you’re aware of the challenges inherent to alcohol. As the FMCSA notes, the purpose of an alcohol and drug testing program is “deterrence rather than detection. Public safety is best served if drivers are aware of the effects of alcohol and controlled substances on health, safety, and the work environment.”
Practice what you preach. For example, telling drivers they must follow hours-of-service rules, but giving them a hard time for taking longer to complete jobs doesn’t make sense—and doesn’t serve anyone. Instead, show drivers you want them to get proper rest. A good way to do exactly that is by participating in the North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP) and promoting it to your drivers.
Think outside the box. Loneliness, isolation, depression—all those feelings can swirl around drivers on long hauls. Think of ways to fight these things with tools your drivers already have: their phones. Mindfulness apps can be a great way to help drivers calm and settle their minds. (Instead of turning to alcohol or drugs.)
Make sure your drug and alcohol testing policy is transparent, accessible, and easy to understand. Think beyond the basics about testing and get down to brass tacks. For example, what happens if a driver tests positive for alcohol (or drugs)? In addition to the FMCSA’s return-to-duty requirements, what’s your company’s policy for potentially returning that person to the fold? If a driver admits to off-duty alcohol abuse, what’s your policy?
Remember, one of the main functions of National Alcohol Awareness Month is removing the stigma around alcohol use disorder. Getting drivers to seek treatment will likely be easier (relatively speaking) if they have a clear understanding of the recertification process—and your company’s position on rehiring drivers who are successfully treating their alcohol use disorder.
Keep drivers aware of updates and changes, particularly to the Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse has been around for a little over two years now (at the writing of this article), and to say there’s been a lot of confusion along the way would be an understatement. If the Clearinghouse is confusing to you, imagine what it’s like for your drivers.
When there’s something new for your drivers to know, tell them in multiple ways and in multiple places: Through text alerts, through email, through a company intranet, through signage, and through good old-fashioned outreach.
When reaching out, make sure you know what you’re talking about—and that you’re clear on whatever it is you’re asking the drivers to do (if anything).
This brings us to our final “bonus” tip below . . .
BONUS TIP: Work with a compliance partner that will always have your back when it comes to alcohol and drug testing.
The recent supply chain issue with collections cups is a great example of challenges that can happen—and that can adversely affect your drivers and your program. When issues come up (and they will), you need a vendor who you can call and get an answer from ASAP. Not all vendors are created equal. Learn more about Foley’s alcohol and drug testing services here.
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