When your doctor prescribes a medication, they rarely take you aside and say "Don't go to work" or "Don't drive while on this prescription".
However, if you look closely, many prescription medications advise that you avoid operating heavy machinery while the meds are in effect. And while we often forget this, vehicles are also a type of heavy machinery.
As a fleet manager, it's important to be aware of medications that can cause driver impairment and help your drivers manage illness in a road-safe way.
The Legal and Safety Concerns of Driving Under (Prescription) Influence
Driving under the influence is a phrase you may be familiar with, though most people don't realize that this - legally - includes prescription medications that make you drowsy or reduce your ability to respond to risky situations on the road. As any professional driver can tell you, reaction time, alertness, and quick decision-making are key when an accident is about to happen. Casualties, damage, and even delayed routes can be avoided when drivers are at the top of their game. However, just one or two decongestants can be the difference between alert and drowsy.
If a driver's medication has made them woozy, police officers are obligated to pull them over and may even level a DUI charge if they are found to be irresponsibly influenced by even doctor-prescribed medications.
Know When Your Drivers are On Dangerous Medications
Medications that may cause driver impairment range from simple decongestant and cough syrup to narcotic pain killers. Most allergy medications, many pain medications, and quite a few psychological medications can cause a person to lose that critical edge of alert readiness needed for safe driving, especially commercial driving of heavy or multi-axle vehicles.
There are two important factors for determining whether your drivers are safe on the road. The first is the strength and purpose of the medication. Tranquilizers and narcotic pain killers are always a no-go, while allergy and psych meds may depend on how they affect your specific drivers, and how much they need to take.
Don't be afraid to perform an ad-hoc sobriety test before a driver with bad allergies gets behind the wheel. Allergies, and their medications, can both leave a person drowsy and fuzzy-headed. Test your driver's reaction time, balance, and attention to detail. Talk about advised dosage times, when medications take effect, and what to do if they start to feel unable on the road.
Let Your Drivers Know When to Pull Over
If you have a driver on antihistamines, they may be fine on the road, especially with recent "Daytime" formulas. However, medications sometimes take time to kick in, and your driver may need another dose on their route.
Should - at any point - your drivers start to feel woozy or less capable, advise them that it is best to pull over and either rest or call for backup. It is far better to be safe than to keep a schedule with a driver who knows they are impaired.
Have Alternate Work Available for Med-Benched Drivers
Finally, make sure that you have alternative work ready for drivers who responsibly take themselves off the roster. Whether they are taking pain medication for a recent injury or their prescription allergy meds are a little too strong, drivers are more likely to make the responsible choice when stepping down doesn't mean giving up a day (week, or month) 's worth of pay.
Drivers who aren't safe behind the wheel are usually still more than capable of helping with the fleet. Assign off-route drivers to maintain offline vehicles, manage routes and calls for on-route drivers, and even provide ride-along assistance from the passenger's seat. Being a little light-headed does not remove their skills and expertise, it simply means they should avoid being the one whose reaction time is critical to safety and survival on the road.
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