Online Program

Driving on speed: Sleeplessness and amphetamine use among long-haul truck drivers, 1950-1973

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kevin Riley, PhD MPH, Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
This paper presents an historical case study of long-haul truck drivers and amphetamine use during the 1950s and 1960s by situating the issue within an occupational health framework. It considers the factors creating driver demand for so-called “pep pills” during this period. I argue that work rules and incentive schemes, particularly for independent owner-operators and haulers of commodities exempt from federal wage and rate schedules, created intense competitive pressures to move goods as quickly and cheaply as possible; within these sectors of the industry, sleeplessness was endemic. Amphetamines and other artificial stimulants served as convenient remedies for fatigue. Yet, the adverse health effects of prolonged amphetamine consumption posed serious safety hazards for both truck drivers and other motorists on the roads.

The paper also traces the activities of federal government agencies, organized labor, and highway safety advocates over more than two decades to eliminate amphetamine use among drivers. I contrast the efforts of federal drug enforcement officials to combat illicit drug sales with advocacy by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and others to secure better enforcement of safety regulations.

This case contributes to a growing body of scholarship on the history of sleep concerns among American workers, particularly within the transportation industries. I suggest the factors creating a demand for stimulants among owner-operators and exempt carriers in the postwar period mirror sleep-denying conditions facing many contingent workers today, while the predominant discourses around drivers and amphetamines laid the seeds for debates about drugs and work in subsequent decades.

Learning Areas:

Occupational health and safety
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Describe the predominant patterns of amphetamine use among long-haul truck drivers in the 1950s and 1960s and various efforts to address this occupational health concern. Compare factors creating a demand for stimulants among owner-operators and exempt carriers with working conditions of contingent workers today.

Keyword(s): Occupational Safety, History

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have conducted historical research and written a dissertation on this topic.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.