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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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