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Crack down on driver drug use?

I'M A drug user, or that's what the majority believes because I drive a heavy vehicle.

Talk to a member of the public at any social outing and it doesn't take long to appreciate their perception of our industry. It doesn't matter if we as individuals use drugs or not - we are all deemed guilty even though statistical data of test results show only a small percentage of drivers are actual drug users.

You don't have to look far to understand why they have this perception. Media outlets, both print and electronic, abound with stories highlighting the drug epidemic of those who drive the 60-tonne behemoths on the nation's highways.

While it's an old adage to never let the truth get in the way of a good story, we should be taking a good look at ourselves as an industry at the amount of ammunition a small minority provides for the media.

Here's a recent example. "Suspension for drugged-up truckie" was the headline in the Grafton local paper. It was reported that a "professional driver", Gary Hutchins, ran off the road at Chatswood Island after being witnessed driving in an erratic way in the early hours of May 13, 2011.

A positive drug test was returned at a local hospital confirming Hutchins was under the influence of methyl amphetamine, amphetamines and cannabis. This "professional driver" also had five prior convictions for drug use and trafficking. His penalty - six months' disqualification and a $600 fine.

Five prior convictions - this makes number six all for $600 and after six months this "professional driver" will be eligible to return to work on the nation's highways. Professional athletes receive far longer suspensions. No one was seriously injured, but this headline and its content served to reinforce the public's perception of all professional drivers as drug users.

What can we do to make our workplace safer and to further remove illicit drug use from the industry?

Everybody in the industry must adopt and endorse a uniform zero tolerance policy towards drugs. This includes industry associations, employers, unions and drivers.

Secondly, a more regimented and scheduled periodic process of drug testing needs to be used.

We should only look to the standards that the mining industry has adopted in its approach to the drug problem and its zero tolerance policy approach. As relayed to me from those working in the mines, no warnings, no second chances if you fail a drug test.

Lastly, we need the lawmakers to introduce the changes needed in legislation to back the industry if we desire to remove those under the influence of drugs in our workplace.

This would mean the removal of an individual's privilege to hold a Heavy Vehicle class of licence for a period of time that would reflect the standards that industry agreed to.

Nearly 40 years ago Australian authorities got tough on drink driving, recognising its impact on the road toll and targeted the attitude of the day through advertising, education programs, RBT units and harsher penalties.

This industry is currently midway through such a change, only for us it is the attitude towards drugs.

Are we prepared to get tough?

And no, I don't use drugs.

Topics:  chris blanchard, drugs, in the know


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