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Is there a Trucking Industry Conspiracy to Cheat on Drug Testing?

October 21, 2009 by Steven M. Gursten

Yesterday I wrote that many experienced truck accident lawyers estimate the real number of truck drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol on our roads today may be well over 200,000. Today I’d like to expand on one of the factors allowing this to occur — what I believe is an industry-wide conspiracy allowing cheating on mandatory drug testing.

I realize many people may disregard what I say, as an attorney handling truck cases, when I opine on this issue. But last year, a Government Accountability Office report to Congress called the Department of Transportation’s drug and alcohol testing program for truck drivers unreliable and riddled with problems. For example:

“Our testing clearly shows that the drug user could easily beat the DOT drug test, even if the collection sites followed all of the DOT protocols,” said Gregory Kutz, managing director of forensic audits for the Government Accountability Office. “The test can be beat using counterfeit documents, synthetic urine or adulterants.”

Another GAO official, Katherine Siggerud, told the House Transportation Committee’s highways subcommittee, “There appears to be a significant lack of compliance [with drug and alcohol rules] among motor carriers, particularly small carriers and self-employed drivers.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the highways subcommittee, said the danger of truck drivers with drug and alcohol problems in the present is “absolutely devastating.” He added that the investigations showed, “in the United States, we have no meaningful program of drug testing for commercial truck drivers. None.”

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, agreed: “To find that [our drug-testing program] falls so grossly short, as you put it, is shocking.”

The GAO looked at the way test protocols were handled. Said Kutz, “with respect to protocols, 22 of the 24 sites that we visited failed at least two of the 16 DOT protocols we tested for.”

Products to “Beat” Drug Tests

Another industry official, as quoted in DOT Drug tests Faulty, GAO Tells House Panel, by Sean McNally in the Transportation Topics Nov. 12, 2007, issue said: “Products designed to ‘beat’ the test are marketed brazenly on the Internet.” This makes samples unreliable, even when a trucking company has a testing program in place.

Oberstar has criticized the practice of marketing and selling masking agents or synthetic samples.
“There’s no other beneficial use for those products — they ought to be banned,” he said.

Oberstar said the current system of relying on drivers to self-report positive drug tests to employers, and past employers to provide information to prospective ones was not good enough, as it allowed drivers to “jump from job to job to job and leave their drug history behind.”

GAO Report on Drugs and Truckers

The GAO report describes a flawed oversight system that allows truckers to fail a drug test and yet move on to driving for another company. Fewer than half of the estimated 85,000 truck drivers who test positive in random drug tests each year are believed to complete the required treatment and follow-up testing to return to their jobs, according to a story by Gregg Jones of the Dallas Morning News.

The GAO report also found that some trucking companies don’t bother to conduct the required pre-employment and random drug tests and have limited incentives to do so. According to the report, only about 2 percent of all trucking companies undergo checks each year by state agencies and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates interstate traffic.

In addition, truckers who choose to do so can beat the testing system by using false IDs and chemicals to alter their urine for drug tests. If caught, they easily move on to other trucking companies, again, which the GAO described as “job-hopping.”

If they fail both at beating the test and job-hopping, they can “state-hop,” since the states don’t communicate.

The report concluded that drug use could be significantly higher among truck drivers than what the random test data indicates, because not all companies actually test, urinalysis can be unreliable and results can be altered. For example, GAO investigators who posed as truckers appearing for drug tests weren’t required to empty their pant pockets at 10 of 24 sites. The requirement is designed to prevent a driver from using drug-concealing agents or substituting clean urine samples.

Among the report’s recommendations is the creation of a national database of truckers who fail drug tests. This could at least start weeding out the irresponsible truck drivers in exchange for the ones who truly care about safety, hopefully preventing thousands of unnecessary truck accidents.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by micahb37


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