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200,000 Truck Drivers Suspected of Using Drugs and Alcohol

October 20, 2009 by Steven M. Gursten

The image of one trucker driving an 80,000 pound truck while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causing truck accidents on our roads is scary enough.

Now imagine 100,000 truckers on our roads on drugs and alcohol.

According to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) Roadcheck 2008, 1 percent of the truck drivers who were stopped during checks were under influence of drugs or alcohol. One percent multiplied by the number of truck drivers on our roads would be 92,500 truck drivers under influence of drugs or alcohol.

Now double that.

Most experienced truck accident lawyers believe there are least 200,000 truck drivers on our roads today with substance abuse problems.

Why do truck lawyers think 100,000 truckers on drugs is just the beginning?

The Roadcheck inspections are considered a joke by many in the trucking industry. The inspection dates are announced five months in advance; and everyone in the industry knows exactly when the inspections are going to occur. That means most trucking companies will keep their trucks with safety violations (and really bad truck drivers) off the roads during the three inspection days.

Keep in mind, despite everyone knowing the dates of this safety “pop quiz” and with many trucking companies avoiding roads during this time, the CVSA still found 1 percent of all drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol!

Attorneys handling truck accident cases believe the number of intoxicated truck drivers is at least double that for the following reasons:

* Doctor shopping,

* Industry-wide cheating on FMCSA drug testing,

* Truck drivers hired without criminal history or background checks, and

* “Disappearing” truckers following crashes where drugs and alcohol are suspected.

Below is a synopsis on each of the above factors.

Doctor shopping

When your professional livelihood depends upon being cleared to drive a truck, and you know you have a major problem that will prevent you from being cleared to drive a truck; trust me, you’re going to go find the doctor that says you can go back to work.

This is called “doctor shopping” and it’s a very serious problem. Here’s how it works: There are certain doctors that many truckers with serious medical issues visit. These doctors clear them and get them to drive — even with very serious medical issues, including drug and alcohol dependencies.

An MSNBC article, “Study finds sick truckers causing fatal wrecks,” covered this last year, noting high numbers of truckers with heart issues, seizure disorders, extreme truck driver fatigue and sleep apnea. The story also called for doctors to step up scrutiny of drivers’ medical conditions.

Doctor shopping has been rampant in the trucking industry for a very long time. In fact, in 2001, there was a safety recommendation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to prevent drivers from specifically choosing their own doctors, because so many medically unfit drivers were being cleared to drive.

Industry-wide cheating on drug testing

There is essentially an industry conspiracy to cheat on drug tests for truckers. One recent instance of irresponsibility is in the trucking trade magazine Transport Topics. In its April 14, 2008 issue, the publication listed the names of products used to cheat on drug testing, allowing drivers to purchase them on the Internet, thereby avoiding positive drug tests.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Another great example of how easy it is for truckers to cheat on drug testing comes from a transportation logistics company, J.B. Hunt Transport Services. I think J.B. Hunt should be commended for this. A top safety official for J.B. Hunt named Greer Woodruff recently reported that it had achieved more accurate drug testing results from testing hair samples of drivers than the usual urine samples.

A hair sample test is dramatically harder to cheat than a urinalysis. According to J.B. Hunt, 866 drivers applied for a job in 2007, and 9.22 percent tested positive for drugs based on the hair sample, but only 1.59 percent of the exact same group tested positive through traditional urinalysis.

Drug cheating is so prevalent and so widespread, that an additional 7.63 percent of the truck drivers applying for jobs were discovered positive when J.B. Hunt used hair testing instead of urinalysis. (Hair drug testing does not detect recent use, as it takes 5-7 days for the hair to grow enough to be tested. But hair testing is much better at detecting a history of drug use.)

Additionally, the Government Accountability Office has told Congress that the Department of Transportation’s drug and alcohol testing program for truck drivers is unreliable and riddled with problems. Tomorrow I will expand on the GAO statements, and how the problem of industry-wide cheating on drug testing is worst than your worst nightmare.

No criminal background checks

There is no requirement under 391 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations to perform a criminal background check on a truck driver. Michigan law does not demand them either.

This is how truck drivers with histories of marijuana and cocaine use, criminal drug distribution, and other problems are hired and allowed to drive these large commercial vehicles.

“Disappearing” truckers

Over the years, I’ve witnessed that truckers who have caused serious or catastrophic truck accidents tend to “disappear” immediately afterward, especially where drugs and alcohol are suspected. This is because truck company safety directors know there will be little in the way of fines or criminal prosecution for failing to drug test, compared to the substantial threat of punitive damages and large liability for failed safety programs.

These truck drivers don’t go home, because it’s too easy to be found and tested. They always seem to go to the house of a “friend” or “relative,” claiming they were so emotionally upset by the crash that they had to be consoled. They always reappear after the alcohol in their system metabolizes, or the drug trace disappears.

There is a game being played here. If a trucking company owner or truck safety director strongly suspects drugs or alcohol involved in a crash, the last thing he or she will do is test for it, even though testing is required under 382.303 and 382.401 of the FMCSR. The choice is easy and the problem, as any experienced truck accident lawyer will tell you, is this happens time after time.

Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious truck accident injury cases. Steve has received the largest reported ury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in four of the last seven years, including 2008. Recently, he was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his tireless efforts to hold trucking companies accountable for negligence.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Meepocity

Related information:

Trucking Accident Cases: 8 Things to Know

Michigan Truck Accident Attorney Promotes National Truck Safety

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout Michigan. For more information, please read our law firm quick facts.

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5 Replies to “200,000 Truck Drivers Suspected of Using Drugs and Alcohol”

  1. I think EVERY tucking company should have to drug test there drivers without notice at least once a month if not every week then you start fining these companies if there drivers are on the road and cause an accident/death make the fines stiff enough they would think twice about not drug testing then start checking there log books because if there doing drugs and alcohol you know they are cheating on there log books too. Because if they are doing foil or crank /meth they are running any where from 2-20 hours on that,that means they are running on 4hours of sleep how safe is that ? Think about the laws and the safety of the OTHER drivers on the road. If those truckers wanna be stupid and kill them self so be it, but they are putting other peoples lives on the line when they do and get away with it.

  2. I agree, and also drug test everybody who drives a car. especially the elderly and young adults..oh and dont forget the ones who pull out in front of an 80000 lb. tractor trailer instead of waiting for it to pass, or those people who would come all the way from the left lane to the right lane in front of a truck to exit the interstate when it is only 2 seconds away.

  3. First, since this isn’t my first comment from an angry truck driver, let me repeat what I’ve written earlier here:
    I am not anti-trucker. Currently, about 10% of my practice is truck drivers who were seriously injured in truck accidents. I also speak and teach at a number of industry safety seminars to help truckers and trucking companies. I can’t tell you how many emails I have received from truckers who are furious at their company (usually the safety director) for forcing them or putting pressure on them to break mandatory safety rules. Many of these cases where they are being pressured, it is coming from the company safety director himself, which would be wonderfully ironic if it weren’t so damn tragic and dangerous.
    I have never said truckers cause all truck accidents. I am aware that many truck accidents are caused by bad decisions that motorists make around trucks, which is actually why I have so many truck drivers as clients today.
    I consider myself pretty fair about this, and frankly, I really like most truckers and I really appreciate the ones – the majority – who do play by the rules and take their job seriously and drive with professionalism. I think they appreciate working with me as well, and it helps me serve them better that I know more about the FMCSR and CDL requirements than any other lawyer in Michigan.
    But there really should be no debate between truckers and our truck accident lawyers.
    I agree with “Trucker for life” in that many people make very foolish decisions around big trucks, and these people cause many serious truck accident cases are not the truck drivers’ fault. Again, bad decision-making by car drivers that result in serious accidents is unfortunately one of the reasons why I end up having so many truck drivers as clients.
    On the other hand, many truck accidents are caused when negligent truck companies push their drivers to drive beyond the legal limit, and when the truckers, in turn, become fatigued or when their driving judgment becomes impaired.
    Professional truck drivers are required by federal and state law to drive in a safe and alert state. In this, “trucker for life” is just plain wrong. There is a huge difference between truckers, as professional drivers, and ordinary drivers. Truckers are driving 80,000 pound machines that are by the very nature of their size and weight and mass, inherently dangerous. And the potential for causing incredible carnage, including personal injury and death, by a big truck is far greater than for a person driving any ordinary passenger car. That potential for devastation is obviously why truck drivers are required to be professional drivers, why they are required to have commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and that’s why the FMCSA has so many important safety rules and regulations that don’t apply to people operating cars. To compare them and judge them the same is not only wrong, it ignores all the training and regulations that you – “Trucker for life” have been trained, licensed, and that you have sworn an oath to follow.

  4. Its funny how people think drugs are the only cause of accidents amongst truck drivers. What about running on little sleep, like what most long haul drivers do? No sleep is just as bad if not worse. Alcohol (legal) being far more dangerous than marijuana (illegal). If it were up to me, they wouldn’t test for marijuana.

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