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Despite increase in positive drug tests, FMSCA won’t increase testing of truckers

June 12, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Meanwhile, truck accidents caused by truckers using illegal drugs have reached startling numbers

drug testing truckers1

In many of  the serious truck accident injury lawsuits, our attorneys see reoccurring themes. Truck driver fatigue is a big one. So is dangerous trucks that are out of service.

But one of the most rampant and dangerous factors in causing serious truck accident injuries and deaths on our roads today is drug use by truckers.

It’s rampant. It encompasses illegal drugs like pot and cocaine, as well as prescription drugs like Oxycodon, Tramadol, Xanax and anti-seizure medications (I am not making this last one up, read about the trucker who killed my client while on epilepsy medication here).

As an attorney who focuses primarily on helping people involved in injuries with commercial trucks, I’ve seen positive drug test rates among truckers climbing in recent years. And apparently, so has the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA).

Yet despite  an increase in the frequency of random testing it administers, the FMCSA has decided not to increase drug testing of truck drivers. The FMCSA announced it would continue to require a minimum of 50% of truck companies to randomly test their bus and truck drivers. The FMCSA based its decision on data it received from surveys conducted in 2012, which indicated:

  • Positive test rates following an initial positive result increased by 4.1 percent from 2011 to 2012.
  • Reasonable suspicion positive test rates continued to rise sharply from 5.6 percent in 2010, to 15.7 percent in 2011 and 37.2 percent in 2012, marking a five-fold increase over the 3-year period.
  • The rate of total positive drug test results reported to the Department of Transportation (DOT) from independent Health and Human Services-certified laboratories increased from 95,427 positives in 2011 to 97,332 positives in 2012. FMCSA-regulated industries comprise approximately 80% of the reported tests.
  • Serious controlled substance and alcohol testing violations were identified in 24% of recent compliance investigations.
  • A two-week 2014 Strike Force focusing on the identification of drivers who tested positive resulted in 205 driver enforcement cases, and 138 enforcement cases against carriers for violations relating to drivers with positive test results operating a commercial motor vehicle. These include drivers operating passenger carrying vehicles and transporting hazardous materials.

How does the FMCSA collect its drug testing data?

The FMCSA collects data from motor carriers to determine how well the industry is doing in reducing alcohol and drug use among employees in safety-sensitive positions, including tractor-trailer and bus drivers.

It has started to notify trucking companies to submit their drug and alcohol testing results to the agency. These companies are selected at random and notified via e-mail. The FMCSA uses the statistics it collects to determine how well drug and alcohol programs are working.

The selected carriers must submit their 2014 test results by May 15, 2015.

The chart below outlines the annual minimum drug and alcohol random testing rates established within DOT Agencies and the USCG for 2015.

2015 truck driver drug testing

The FMSCA states that it’s committed to further reducing controlled substance use by commercial drivers.

But this is a now a safety epidemic. We need more from the FMCSA.

Truckers have special doctors who will write them a clean bill of health so they can get on the road. Open any trucking magazine and you’ll see ads for various pills and potions that will help truck drivers pass their drug tests, even after recently smoking marijuana.

In addition, truckers and their bosses would rather pay a small fine for skipping a drug test after an accident, than a multi-million dollar verdict if the driver gets tested and turns out to be high. So drivers often avoid their post-accident drug tests by just by taking off until they sober up and clear the drugs out of their systems.

If there has been a five-fold increase in the last three years, then the FMSCA must do more. It should start with increasing its random drug testing past its stated 50% minimum goal number, at the very least.

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