My first encounter with drugs in the trucking industry came when I was just 10 years old. I had gone along for a ride in the truck of my father’s friend as he made a round trip between Sydney and Brisbane.
I’d been sleeping on the way back to Sydney when I was awoken by a knock on the truck door. It was a police officer asking my father’s friend why he had stopped his truck in the middle of the Parramatta Rd.
“I’m waiting for the sheep to cross the road,” was his reply. The man was off his face on drugs, probably on uppers known as “Queensland shakers”.
That was more than 50 years ago and drug taking is still a problem in the industry. In the 43 years I’ve been a truck driver, I have seen things get a lot worse. Very few truck drivers take drugs recreationally.
I would say our industry is no different to the number of doctors or teachers who choose to come to work high.
The vast majority don’t want to take drugs but they do it so they can stay awake, drive for longer and support their families.
I’ve never taken drugs myself but I understand blokes who do. If you’re missing a payment on your house or deciding whether you’re kids can have Christmas or not what are you going to do?
Truck drivers are at the end of the line in the transport industry.
Either as employees or blokes who own their own trucks, they are employed by transport companies who in turn carry out deliveries for the big supermarkets and manufacturers.
When these big guys at the top cut costs it sounds great for their shareholders and executives but it has a trickle-down effect which can end up with deadly consequences.
I’ve been to 51 funerals over the years of truckie mates who were killed in crashes, many because they themselves or other drivers were too tired to drive.
It shouldn’t be this way because we have rules in place to stop this.
Truck drivers are limited to driving 12 hours at a go and in a 24 hour period they must take seven hours continuous rest and five hours of breaks.
I work for Linfox, a company which takes the rules seriously and carries out mandatory drug testing. But not all companies operate in this way. Some smaller operators push their employees to the limit and if one bloke refuses to drive longer hours and won’t fudge his log book, they’ll find another one to do it for them.
The rates are low and drivers are often not paid for waiting to unload their trucks at distribution centres — a job that can sometimes take several hours. The returns for the small transport companies are often tiny with big supermarkets like Coles forever cutting their transport costs.
Then there are the truckies who own their own trucks and work for themselves. The low rates and unrealistic deadlines make things so difficult for them that any delays on the roads can mean the difference between surviving and going bankrupt.
The concerns about the industry led to the setting up of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal nearly three years ago which is looking into rates of pay for drivers to keep our roads safe. But the federal government has said it wants to get rid of the tribunal because it creates too much red tape for businesses.
If we are serious about stopping this kind of practice once and for all then we need to look at what’s happening in the industry. Police action in stopping and fining truck drivers who are high is just dealing with the symptoms of the problem not the cause.
The tribunal should be allowed to do its job and make sure drivers are not sweating themselves and their trucks. All the players in the industry need to be looked at so that the behaviour of the major retailers in driving down costs and encouraging risky behaviour is stopped. If we don’t do this we’ll still be talking about drug taking in trucking 50 years from now.
John Waltis is a veteran Australian truck driver
Extracted in full from the Daily Telegraph.