Canadian Post-Accident Drug Testing

It’s been over a decade since federal law changes gave police in Canada the authority to administer roadside sobriety tests, yet Canadian trucking and transport industry employers continue to grapple with an unyielding lack of governmental direction and support surrounding the drug and alcohol testing of their drivers.  While impaired driving has been illegal under the Criminal Code for almost a century, carriers remain fraught with a myriad of scientific and legal challenges surrounding controversial testing issues.

Driver drug testing in the Canadian trucking and transport industry was only implemented during Kim Campbell’s brief stint in office in 1993 and has since been abolished, leaving employers tasked with the daunting responsibility of keeping their employees, workplaces and roads safe.  The CCSA (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse) reports that drug-positive driver percentages have risen by about a third since 2000, indicating that an estimated 37% of professional drivers use illicit or prescription drugs that could negatively affect performance, and Canadian carriers are urged to take an independent, pro-active stance on safety and enforce their own versions of drug and alcohol testing.

Since 1996, Canadian fleets have been required to drug test their US operational drivers, following U.S. DOT guidelines, but these rules don’t exist within Canadian borders.  Barry Kurtzer, Chief Medical Review Officer with DriverCheck, a leading service provider of workplace medical testing, is an expert on the subject of drug testing and advocates the utilization of monitors by third party agencies.  Sobriety is crucial not only to human health, but also to the cost effectiveness of companies, as impaired driving charges are a chief cause of litigation and bankruptcy in the industry.  Testing drivers—at least on a post-accident basis—helps carriers avoid countless safety and legal pitfalls that can significantly damage, and even destroy, businesses.  

Today, almost 20% of Canadian adults use marijuana or stimulants, like cocaine and amphetamines.  This number has more than doubled over the past decade and supports the urgency of standardized Canadian drug testing policy in transport industries.  But testing in legitimate, measurable ways is complicated, and even the basic task of determining critical levels for various legal drugs requires long-term study and increased scientific funding.  It took over 50 years to establish the level of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, for example, in the case of the common breathalyzer, and currently no time or resources are being applied to other substance detection models.  While law enforcement agencies are beginning to use roadside salivary testing for THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, the technology is still in its infancy.

The system for drug testing Canadian drivers is virtually non-existent because its very development posits a host of problematic legal and ethical ramifications.  Employers must literally make a job offer before conducting a drug test, for example, and the test must be administered voluntarily and within close proximity to on-duty time, or its results are moot.  If a driver tests positive for narcotics, there’s then an automatic onus on the employer to accommodate addiction.  Drug and alcohol dependency is considered a disability, and Canadian human rights legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability.  Drivers who admit addiction become the carrier’s responsibility.  Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs) can be contracted to evaluate addictions in domestic drivers, but this is time-consuming and expensive.

The most tangible solution to the cost shrink associated with court time and impaired driving charges in the transport industry is post-accident drug testing, and employers are catching on.  Workplace studies show significant decreases in accident rates of companies implementing post-accident drug testing and strong correlations in cost-effectiveness and profitability.  A prominent study of the Southern Pacific Railroad, for example, showed that accident-related injury plummeted from 2,234 reported accidents before drug testing to only 322 a few years following, a drastic 71.2 percent decrease!  Additionally, employees want a safe, productive working environments, and post-accident drug-testing programs are proven deterrents that lessen accidents, absenteeism, tardiness and behavioral issues.  Post-accident drug testing is quickly gaining momentum as the new Best Practice, by dramatically cutting costs, improving morale and saving lives.  It’s not only good for your bottom line, but also for the human condition!

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