Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse went into effect. Under the new program, Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) employers, medical review officers, third-party administrators, substance abuse professionals, and other service agents are required to report drug and alcohol regulation violations by current and prospective employees. Recent data from these reports show that there was an increase in truck driver drug violations in June.
FMCSA June 2020 Monthly Summary Report
The Clearinghouse rule also requires employers to query the online database for both prospective and current employees. Employees are not permitted to operate a commercial motor vehicle on public roads until such a query into their potential drug and alcohol violations has been conducted. Also, employers must conduct an annual query for each driver they employ.
The database has been queried over 1.1 million times since January, according to the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA). The Clearinghouse report of 2020 shows that there was an increase of queries during June. This is an upward shift from the low number of queries during March, April, and May, which may have indicated a dip in driver hiring due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
However, the large number of hiring queries also increased drug violations. The June report reveals that there were 4,587 drug violations and 107 alcohol violations reported to the Clearinghouse. The most frequently identified substance was marijuana, with 12,867 positive tests, followed by 3,868 positive cocaine tests. If the number of reported violations continues at this rate, it is estimated that 53,000 drivers will be disqualified in 2020.
FMCSA Minimum Annual Random Testing Percentage
This upsurge in violations comes at a time when testing requirements were stiffened due to an increase in positive drug test results for drivers during 2018. Before January 2020, when the federal law went into effect, employers were required to test 25 percent of their commercial truck drivers. Under the new FMCSA law, CDL employers must perform random drug testing for 50 percent of their drivers.
However, it has been difficult for some carriers to sustain compliance with this new rule due to COVID-19. Since some collection sites have stopped accepting walk-ins, many fleets which previously outsourced the drug testing are now unable to do so in a timely manner. The FMCSA has responded by stating that it will be flexible in enforcing the new requirement, and the agency is considering extending this leniency in enforcement into 2021.
Drug Testing Requirements for Commercial Truck Drivers
Commercial truck drivers are subject to stricter blood alcohol content (BAC) limitations than other drivers. A trucker with a BAC level of just 0.02 will have their license suspended for 24 hours. They are also required to submit to drug testing in several circumstances:
- Pre-Employment: All commercial truck drivers, including those who are self-owned and operated, must pass a pre-employment drug screening.
- Post-Accident: Commercial truck drivers who are involved in trucks accidents at work must undergo drug testing.
- Random: FMCSA-regulated employers are required to perform random drug testing on their employees.
- Reasonable Suspicion: If an employer or supervisor suspects that a commercial truck driver has been using drugs or alcohol, they must perform a drug test.
- Return to Duty: Commercial truck drivers who were previously suspended due to FMCSA violations must have a drug screening upon returning to duty.
- Regular Screenings: Drivers who violate the federal compliance regulations must have regular follow-up screenings.
Is Impaired Driving Prevalent in the Trucking Industry?
Due to the nature of the job, such as long hours, tight deadlines, and solitary lifestyles, substance abuse among commercial truck drivers is high. A global study published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal, revealed that the U.S. had the highest frequency of positive tests for alcohol and that 30 percent of the drivers that were interviewed admitted to previously taking amphetamines.
According to the FMCSA data from 2018, positive drug tests rose for the third year in a row; the positive usage rate for drugs was approximately 0.7 percent in 2016, 0.8 percent in 2017, and it spiked to one percent in 2018. Some types of drugs that truck drivers admit to taking while on duty include:
- Prescription medications, including sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, and pain medicine
- Stimulants, such as amphetamine and cocaine
- Other illegal substances, including heroin and LSD
In testimony provided to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Highways and Transit in 2019, the Trucking Alliance presented the findings of their study, which compared urinalysis and hair testing results for pre-employment testing of more than 150,000 truck drivers at 15 different companies. According to the study, thousands of truck drivers failed urinalysis and hair analysis tests, primarily for marijuana, cocaine, opioids, and amphetamines.
Drowsy Driving Among Commercial Truck Drivers
Commercial truck drivers are often sleep deprived because they travel many miles at night across desolate stretches of highway. When they take certain types of medications, they may be at greater risk for becoming involved in drowsy driving accidents. Fatigue can be just as dangerous as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fatigue slows a drivers’ reaction time, affects the ability to make good decisions, and lessens the ability to pay attention to the road.
Also, a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that nearly one-third of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea, a breathing-related sleep disorder that may increase daytime drowsiness, despite getting a full night’s sleep. Sleep apnea is an underdiagnosed disorder, so many truckers still drive without knowing they have this condition. Drivers who get treatment for their sleep apnea and regain their ability to drive may resume operations of commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce.
According to the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), there were 91,000 motor vehicle crashes involving drowsy driving in 2017, most of which occurred between midnight and 6:00 a.m. or in the late afternoon on rural roads and highways. However, a study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that the prevalence of drowsy driving is far greater than indicated by police-reported numbers. The agency estimates that there are actually 328,000 drowsy driving crashes each year in the U.S., approximately 6,400 of which are fatal and 109,000 result in injuries.
Compensation for Victims Injured in Truck Accidents
In personal injury cases, such as those involving truck accidents, Virginia follows the contributory negligence theory, which states that a plaintiff may not recover damages if they contributed to the accident. Therefore, if a plaintiff is even one percent at fault for the accident, they will be barred from recovering monetary damages. The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Virginia is two years, so it is important to seek legal assistance as soon as possible following a truck accident.
Those who are injured in drugged driving accidents may be entitled to compensation. If the truck driver’s negligence caused the accident, the injured party may collect damages to compensate for their losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Other parties may also be liable, such as the employer, the owner of the truck, the truck manufacturer, or the company responsible for repairing and maintaining the truck. A lawyer will be able to help a victim with their truck accident case.
Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers Advocate for Victims Seriously Injured by Impaired Truck Drivers
If you were injured in an accident caused by a truck driver, contact one of our Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers today. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we hold negligent truckers accountable for their actions. Call us at 757-352-2237 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shores, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.