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.
Janet Ruiz, a West Coast representative of the Insurance Information Institute shared data with Automotive Fleet pertaining to the frequency of collision claims in states that have legalized recreational marijuana versus the frequency of claims in surrounding states that have not legalized recreational marijuana.
What that data showed was that from 2012-2016, collision claims increased an aggregate average of 3% in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon — three states that have legalized medical marijuana.
Looking at the states individually, Colorado saw the biggest rise in claim frequency. In Colorado, collision claim frequency was 14% higher than in the surrounding states.
In Washington and Oregon, collision claim frequency was up 6% and 4%, respectively, compared to surrounding states that did have legalized recreational 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.
Fleets in States with Legal Marijuana
Marijuana has been made legal for recreational use in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Fleets that operate in these states should definitely establish their company’s stance on drug use within their fleet safety policy, noted Jen Gordon, product specialist for Merchants Fleet Management.
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, Gordon added.
“If a fleet policy states that a driver will be immediately dismissed, then the company has to adhere to it,” Gordon said. “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.”
Gordon also noted that a fleet may decide that immediate dismissal is not something they want to include into their fleet policy. Should this be the case, she added, there should still be varying levels of negative enforcement for drivers caught under the influence of drugs within the fleet policy.
“One example is that if a fleet vehicle was involved in an accident, and the driver was at fault due to being under the influence of a drug, then he or she should be responsible for the full amount of the damaged vehicle,” Gordon said.
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.
Gordon noted that she has seen an uptick in the number of fleets interested in safety training in the last couple of months.
Gordon didn’t claim that there was a connection between a rise in drug use and more fleet managers interested in safety training. 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 have explained 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.