Thousands of Habitual Drug Users May Be Behind the Wheel of Big Rigs

Thousands of Habitual Drug Users May Be Behind the Wheel of Big Rigs

Illegal drug use among commercial truckers is impacting trucking safety on U.S. roads and highways across the country.

Truckers Under the Influence

A recent meeting between the trucking industry and Congress brought up major safety concerns related to drug-impaired truckers in the United States. The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, commonly known as the Trucking Alliance, gave testimony to Congress that the use of illegal drugs among commercial truckers is putting many people at risk for serious injuries. Trucking Alliance officials told lawmakers that thousands of commercial truck drivers are impaired on drugs while behind the wheel. Truck accident lawyers often discover the validate these finding in the course of discovery.

On June 12, numerous trucking industry groups including the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Trucking Alliance, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) attended a Congressional hearing called “Under Pressure: The State of Trucking in America.” During the hearing, the Trucking Alliance alleged that thousands of truckers who are habitual drug users are getting around drug testing protocols.

Trucking Alliance officials reported that thousands of habitual drug users are getting jobs as commercial truckers by manipulating the system. To back up their claims, pre-employment drug tests were given to 151,662 commercial truck driver applicants with commercial driver’s licenses who submitted to two drug tests – urinalysis and hair analysis. The urinalysis tests detected drugs in approximately 950 applicants, but approximately 8,900 applicants failed or refused hair analysis testing. Officials claim that urinalysis testing missed 9 out of 10 illicit drug users. Applicants who failed hair testing or refused the tests were disqualified for employment as commercial truck drivers, however many reapplied at trucking companies that only required urinalysis testing.

Drug Testing Requirements

All commercial truck drivers working full-time or part-time are subject to requirements imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Requirements include regular testing for alcohol levels above 0.02, and illegal drugs including marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and phencyclidine (PCP). When applicants fail drug tests, the most prevalent drug found is cocaine, followed by opioids and marijuana.

Although many commercial trucking companies use both urinalysis and hair testing, the only test required by the Department of Transportation is urinalysis. Currently, DOT alcohol and drug testing is required for the following:

  • Prior to Employment – A driver must receive a negative drug test result before he/she can be hired to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
  • After an Accident – Drug and alcohol tests are required by an employer after an accident if: (1) the commercial vehicle is disabled and must be towed away; (2) there are any crash-related injuries; (3) there are any crash-related fatalities.
  • Random Testing – Random testing if required for CDL drivers throughout the year.
  • Reasonable Suspicion – Any CDL driver who appears to be impaired or under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol can be tested immediately by his/her employer.
  • Return to Duty Followup – Any driver who has a positive test, or refuses testing, must complete counseling with a DOT substance abuse professional and receive negative drug and/or alcohol test results before he/she can resume driving duties.

Due to a combination of long hours and isolation on the road, many truck drivers use illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter medications to cope. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), prescription drug use is a factor in 28.7 percent of large truck collisions, while OTC medications account for 19.4 percent. A Nevada truck accident lawyer often sees drug-related truck collisions.

Trucking Safety

In light of recent findings, the Trucking Alliance recommends that Congress take an aggressive stance to prevent drug users from getting jobs as commercial truckers. According to statistics, there are currently 3.5 million commercial truck drivers on U.S. roads. With even a one percent margin of error in urinalysis drug tests, 300,000 drug-impaired truck drivers are still behind the wheel.

The Trucking Alliance recommends that the DOT require hair testing, in addition to urinalysis testing, to help prevent trucking accidents. The Alliance stated that until hair testing is required by DOT,  employers can’t submit drug violations into the new CDL Clearinghouse database that is being established to prevent impaired truck drivers on the road.

The CDL Clearinghouse is an online database that shows a list of drivers with commercial driver’s licenses that have received violations for alcohol and/or drug use. Information will be collected from DOT records and input into an online database that’s accessible to the FMCSA, State Driver Licensing Agencies, CMV employers, state law enforcement officials, and substance abuse professionals. All of these organizations will be allowed to access the CDL Clearinghouse online database to identify commercial truck drivers who violate DOT federal alcohol and drug testing program requirements. The CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse will include all drivers required to have a commercial driver’s license for employment. The database will go into effect on January 6, 2020.