The number of U.S. truckers failing drug and alcohol tests has been steadily increasing when comparing March month numbers over the past three years.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Information Center, there were 5,258 positive tests in March 2022, up from 4,723 a year earlier and 4,234 in the same month in 2020. There was also an increase in the number of truckers who refused to test. There were 929 such cases in March this year, up from 721 in March 2021 and 604 in March 2020.
For alcohol-related offenses, 88 tests were unsuccessful for drivers with a BAC of 0.04 or higher, up from 82 in March 2021 and 53 in March 2020. In addition, 28 truck drivers refused alcohol testing, almost unchanged from 32 in March 2021 and 29 in March 2020.
The majority of positive and refusal tests were detected through random and pre-employment drug tests, whereas the majority of positive and refusal alcohol tests were detected through random testing and reasonable suspicion.
As well, FMCSA data show that marijuana continues to be the most popular illegal substance among commercial truck drivers with 37,261 positive tests for marijuana in March 2022. Second place goes to cocaine with 9,848 positive results. And methamphetamine is the third-highest used drug.
The primary reason for a large number of positive marijuana tests is the rapid development of state-wide legislation across the country. Some states allow marijuana for recreational use, others allow it for medical use only or not at all. But at the federal level, it still remains a Schedule I drug.
A future device capable of instant detection of marijuana, just as a breathalyzer detects alcohol, will help solve this situation. It would allow you to know if a driver is stoned right now, which would probably change the federal position on weed.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse was created a year and a half ago. Although the drug and alcohol testing and reporting provisions have not changed, the Clearinghouse is beginning to make it much easier for employers to check their drivers.
Before it was created, when hiring a new driver, the trucking company had to request information about alcohol and drug tests for the past three years from the driver’s previous employers. Now, for half the time period required, this can be done by simply requesting the CDL number in the database.
By 2023, the Clearinghouse will have been open for three years and employers will only be able to manage their pre-employment background checks at the Clearinghouse.
If now a driver who previously has not passed a drug test can hide this fact simply by not mentioning his previous job, then in the near future it will be impossible to do so.
The number of violations registered in the Clearinghouse stands out because of something else. By coincidence, this is only a few hundred fewer than the estimated number of drivers required to fill the shortage of commercial drivers to keep up with the demand for trucking. The database does what it’s intended to do, which is to identify people that shouldn’t be driving. Losing drivers may not always be a good thing for trucking, but in this industry, safety is first of all.
Drivers who committed even one violation related to substance abuse are prohibited from driving a commercial truck till they complete the return-to-work process, which includes some steps one of which is providing a negative retest. However, the percentage of drivers who complete the RTD process has been steadily increasing since, and by 2022 is about a quarter.