Doctor says fatigue and marijuana challenging for drivers and fleet managers

CALGARY, Alta. – It’s been said before and it will be said many times again: driver fatigue is dangerous and causes accidents.

Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler, chief medical review officer for DriverCheck, hammered this point home during a Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) session in Calgary May 17, underscoring the fact that 20% of vehicle collisions are due to fatigue, and that being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent of having a blood-alcohol level of .05, jumping to .1 after 24 hours.

Addressing the common issue of sleep apnea in truck drivers, Snider-Adler said the vast majority of people require between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep every day to function normally, and should be combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet and consistent bedtime routine.

Signs of sleep apnea include snoring, daytime sleepiness, a small or recessed jaw, being overweight, and a large neck size.

When drivers are properly treated for sleep, studies show a 30% reduction in collisions, 48% cost reduction, and a 60% better driver retention rate.

“Almost every aspect of your body can be affected by (sleep apnea),” Snider-Adler said, ringing off a multitude of health issues associated with sleep deprivation.

The doctor said napping was important for those who may feel fatigued, saying, “Naps actually do make a big difference, but it depends on time.”

The ideal amount of time a person should nap is between 20 and 30 minutes.

Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

Snider-Adler also addressed the possible legalization of marijuana, and the challenges that would present in the workplace, particularly for those in the trucking industry.

Snider-Adler was not a proponent for the drug, saying many in Canada have developed laid-back attitudes when it comes to marijuana use, believing it is mostly not harmful.

The doctor said just because a medical professional says a person can use medical marijuana does not mean it is safe to use at work, and that many prescribe the drug for anxiety and insomnia, but little evidence exists showing it helps these issues.

Snider-Adler said marijuana use is more common than many think, and managing this reality is important from a workplace perspective.

She highlighted a study showing that in jurisdictions that have legalized the drug, like the state of Colorado, there has been a 230% increase in positive THC tests when looking at fatalities from motor vehicle collisions from 2006 to 2012.

A random roadside test in B.C. also revealed that 5.5% of drivers tested positive for cannabis. Last year, a survey showed that 19.2% of men used marijuana, as well as 10.2% of women. There are currently more than 140,000 Canadians authorized to use medical marijuana.

DriverCheck provides assistance to companies on how to best manage this issue, going through the process of establishing if employees have proper authorizations to use the drug and have acquired it from the proper vendor.

However, as Snider-Adler pointed out: “We don’t look to see if they are using it for the right reasons.”

One of the major hurdles in dealing with the possible legalization of marijuana is the absence of an impairment testing method, which has not yet been developed.

Because of this, Snider-Adler advises companies look at the issue the same as it would with alcohol, and take a zero-tolerance approach.

When developing a management strategy, the doctor said performing random testing is a good deterrent, as is oral fluid testing, which has a shorter window of use and would reveal if a person had used the drug during a narrower timeframe.


“I’m not going to lie to you, there will be pain. But once your drivers get used to it and accustomed to it, there will be time savings.”

Mike Millian, president of the PMTC, told attendees that electronic logging devices (ELDs) may be a frightening reality for some, but even the most resistant of drivers would come around once they had the chance to use one.

Millian said that so far, the proposed Canadian ELD mandate is 95% the same as the US version, which is set to become law this December.

He added that companies that are not using any type of electronic device will have to become compliant by Dec. 18, but if they are using a device, the company will have until Dec. 16, 2019 to make the change to an approved device.

This, Millian said, is prompting some companies to rush out and purchase cheap devices to afford them extra time before having to purchase approved ELDs. However, Millian said this is a bad approach, as it means companies and drivers will be forced to purchase two different sets of devices, and learn how to use them between now and December of 2019.

South of the border, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) has put up a list of compliant ELDs, however, do not certify the devices but rather leave them to be self-certified, a process Millian feels is “the dumbest thing he’s ever heard.”

“You need to do your homework, you need to check up on them and verify that they are certified,” he said, adding that if a device is removed from the list for whatever reason, companies using that devices are not notified, and could become uncompliant unknowingly.

Millian said most of the big players in the ELD market have not yet put devices on the market, as they are waiting until all the final rules for compliancy have been established.

In Canada, the PIT Group of FPI Innovations will be certifying Canadian devices.

If an ELD breaks down, companies will have eight days to replace or repair the device. Likewise, if a device is taken off the FMCSA compliancy list.

ELDs must offer separate accounts for drivers and administrative staff, must have accuracy of one mile radius during on-duty periods and 10 mile when the truck is used for personal matters. Drivers can edit their logs, but must retain the original log to show the edits with a written explanation for the change. If a truck moves, there must be a driver logged into an ELD; not ghost drivers will be permitted.

When working for an agricultural hauler in Ontario, Millian converted the fleet from paper logs to ELDs, and said even the 10 most resistant drivers came around following training.

Prior to training, Millian said sentiment from drivers was 50/50 when it came to their support of ELDs, and after, it rose to 90/10.

“You need to train a segment at a time, and that’s why you need to get on this now,” he said. “If you’re not researching this now and you’re heading into the states, you’re already behind.”

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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  • With legal medical or recreational adult use of marijuana comes responsibility. Sadly many users do not behave in a safe manner for themselves or the public. Law enforcement has few tools to remove the at risk drivers from the road. The tests of biologic function; blood, breath and saliva only give indication of THC in the system. Objective, sensitive and specific tests of function are needed. IMMAD-Impairment Measurement of Marijuana and Driving is a test under study. It capitalizes on the retinal ganglion cell dysfunction that occurs with marijuana use. Preliminary studies are showing IMMAD to be sensitive to the acute use of marijuana. IMMAD is demonstrating scotomas (DEAD SPOTS IN VISION-ABSENT OF FUNCTION) and tunneling of vision. With such impairment of visual function a person using marijuana can miss seeing a stop sign, traffic signal, pedestrian or bicyclist. The state of Washington has found that those involved in a fatal crash testing positive for marijuana alone, no other drugs or alcohol, are five times more likely to kill someone other than themselves compared to a driver positive to alcohol. It is not surprising that with the significant impairment of visual functions that IMMAD is detecting; deaths of innocent pedestrians, children, bicyclist are an outcome of impaired driving with the use of marijuana. IMMAD is a technology that can be a tool of law enforcement to protect the public.

  • check out the Canadian company under ticker BLO they have made a marri tester, to see if your using or not and has been selling them to law officers . and company officials. this was a good investment and still is. this can be used on a road side check as it looks like a breathalyzer