Should fleets screen drivers for cognitive impairments?

John G Smith

Alcohol and drug testing is already commonplace in trucking. Driver medicals are standard fare as well. But there are also efforts to help fleets better measure cognitive impairments – and determine if truck drivers are in a position to safely climb behind the wheel.

“How do we get ahead of impairment?” DriverCheck program consultant Chris Wilkinson asked, during a presentation for the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada. “There’s not a one size fits all for every organization.”

cognitive impairment
(Illustration: istock)

The performance of an aging employee might gradually begin to decline, emerging as a rising number of near misses. A truck driver could be struggling with a yet-detected medical condition, or not be in the right frame of mind to return to work after a collision.

Truck drivers with a cognitive impairment are 3.4 times more likely to cause a crash, he added, stressing the value of on-road and computer-based cognitive tests.

“The driver medical really does not capture what needs to be captured,” Wilkinson said. A doctor may sign off on a medical because the truck driver says they feel fine. Even if they’re OK at the time of the medical, something could happen between the scheduled medical checks as well.

In one test, DriverCheck identified a driver who had Parkinson’s disease. Three weeks earlier a doctor gave the individual a clean bill of health. Another case identified a significant medical condition after doctors twice signed off on a driver who was demonstrating an increase in near misses, tremors, weak legs, and a stutter. In a third situation a truck driver was involved in a single-vehicle incident but couldn’t remember the details. A computer-based evaluation showed they were at a high risk, leading to further medical checks that found he was misusing medication.

“Some drivers just won’t come forward because, maybe they don’t want to disclose they have a medical condition,” Wilkinson said.

During the presentation he argued that a focus on the issue could help protect fleets from massive “nuclear verdicts” in the court cases after a collision, and even help to secure insurance when a fleet is told they need to look beyond compliance alone. The ultimate goal, of course, is to lower the number of unwanted incidents and care for the truck drivers who need support.

A consistent approach to measuring driver fitness can be defended, but it must be based on the ability to drive rather than a diagnosis, he said.

The issues behind a cognitive impairment can vary, too. The truck driver who struggles to remember or learn new things, or just can’t seem to concentrate, could be affected by the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, brain trauma, or depression.

“We’re looking for confusion, poor motor coordination, loss of short-term or long-term memory,” he said of the tests. “Impaired judgment is a big one.”

While versions of such tests have been around since the end of World War 1, mobile technology and expanding data analytics offer a cost-effective way to complete it, he said.

And once established, screening for cognitive impairments can support everything from pre-hire evaluations, to periodic wellness checks, return-to-work evaluations, post-incident checks, and even get behind the reasons for declining performance.

It’s something to think about.

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data

*

  • It’s the government and micromanaging that is stressing us drivers out just leave us alone and will do a perfect job. In five years this country will be so short on drivers you will understand to leave us alone. Tk u