Common Substances That May Cause Truck Driver Impairment

Although many people associate impairment behind the wheel with alcohol, there are many other types of substances that can significantly impair a trucker’s driving abilities, which can ultimately cause or contribute to a crash.

Substances Used by a Truck Driver that May Cause Impairment

It’s not just illegal substances, such as street drugs, that can cause impairment. Impairment may also occur with legal medications. In fact, many legal drugs come with warnings not to use while operating heavy machinery or a motor vehicle. Consider some of the common types of substances could lead to truck driver impairment.

Sleep Aids

It’s best to get a good night’s sleep before taking a long road trip, which is certainly true for an occupation that may require a driver to travel long distance for several hours at a time. Yet medication to assist with sleep (such as Ambien or similar medications) could also end up being harmful when its effects haven’t worn off completely the following morning. As a result, a truck driver could be impaired.

Prescription Marijuana

Those prescribed marijuana for certain health conditions could experience impairment such as: 

  • slower reaction time;
  • reduced attention span; and
  • impaired coordination. 

Of course, it’s also against federal regulations for a truck driver to take this type of controlled substance behind the wheel.


Stimulants help increase energy and alertness. But they may also lead to riskier behavior behind the wheel, like speeding. Despite their intended purpose to keep people awake, the effects can quickly and suddenly wear off, which may actually end up increasing the chance of a driver falling asleep. Examples of stimulants include caffeine pills and amphetamines (which are also a controlled substance and prohibited by federal trucking regulations).

Other Types of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications 

There are many other types of medicines prescribed or purchased over the counter that can cause impairment: 

  • antihistamines;
  • depression or sleeping medications;
  • cold/cough medication;
  • allergy medicines;
  • sedatives; and
  • antidepressants. 

Some of these are linked to drowsiness. But they can also cause changes in mood and behavior, which can certainly have a significant impact on driving ability.

How Impairment May Factor Into a Truck Accident Case

After an accident, it must be determined who caused it; in other words, establishing which driver mostly or completely acted in a negligent manner. Negligence is a failure to drive in a reasonable manner. Certainly a truck driver found to be impaired would have been acting in such a way.

The good news for a truck accident victim is that federal law requires not only random drug testing on drivers; drug tests must also be conducted after a fatal accident. Furthermore, if the truck driver was given a moving violation after a collision and medical attention was required away from the scene of the accident or the vehicle had to be towed away, he or she will be tested for drugs.

Not all substances can be detected in a drug test. So it could become necessary to conduct a more thorough investigation to determine if the trucker was using a dangerous substance while behind the wheel. Because of the complex issues that can be involved, it would be advisable to contact an attorney.

It’s important to have legal representation anytime a truck accident causes serious injuries to establish who was at fault and ensure that all losses (financial, physical and emotional) are adequately addressed. Call Gacovino, Lake & Associates at 800-550-0000 to set up a consultation about your case and rights to pursue personal injury damages from the trucker and trucking company.

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