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Major crash on heavily travelled highway renews calls for drug and alcohol testing

Drug and alcohol testing of long haul truck drivers has been the norm for certain cross-border commercial drivers in Canada since the U.S. Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) made it mandatory.  And even though employers of certain drivers who don’t cross the border are legally permitted to develop a policy that would allow for testing, the majority of our clients to this day are D.O.T. regulated only. But in the wake of yesterday’s crash on a heavily travelled highway, there are renewed calls from the public for testing of all commercial truck drivers.

The driver involved in the crash on the Toronto-bound Burlington Skyway in Ontario yesterday was allegedly impaired at the time. Reports say the truck’s bed was raised when it plowed into the scaffolding and the bridge itself. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. Eye witnesses say the construction workers who were doing scheduled bridge maintenance were able to get off the scaffolding in time.  But the longer the bridge stays closed for repairs, the bigger the economic impact – potentially slowing down the delivery of 480 million dollars’ worth of goods that move across the highway each day.

The big questions that arise out of a crash of this magnitude are: If the driver was impaired, why didn’t the company know about it? Why was the driver allowed to get behind the wheel?

That’s where prevention comes into play. Drug and alcohol testing programs for employers involve training supervisors on their legal obligations and on how to identify performance problems and potential crisis situations. This training allows for a supervisor to order a drug and alcohol test on a truck driver if they have sufficient reason to believe that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Random testing is also a deterrent, as reflected in the statistics from the DOT-regulated transportation industry. Statistics compiled by DriverCheck show that over a period of 14 years and more than 237,000 tests, random testing has helped reduce positive rates among drivers in the trucking industry by 80 percent.

These statistics demonstrate the importance, value, and benefits of introducing pro-active, professionally designed and managed programs into the workplace. The benefits of these policies and programs far outweigh the costs, especially given their potential to help prevent much more costly consequences that stem from crashes like this one.