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Truck Drivers and Drug or Alcohol Impairment

Posted by Goldberg Noone Abraham | Oct 07, 2020 | 0 Comments

Nobody will argue that the economy needs trucks and truck drivers who transport about 71% of all freight in the U.S. annually. Without them, the country would come to a standstill.

But it is the responsibility of the trucking companies and their internal systems to ensure that their drivers are driving safely, and not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.

Early this year, the Department of Transportation announced they have established a new database meant to track drivers who had failed a drug test and restrict them from getting a job as a truck driver. (The DOT counts a refusal to take a drug test as a “fail.”)

Known as the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, the data showed that in a 7-week period at the beginning of the year over 8,000 CDL holders either failed or refused to take a drug test, or committed an alcohol violation. Drivers were screened either following a crash, for pre-employment purposes or in a random test by their employer.

But, here's the catch – a driver who failed or refused a pre-employment drug / alcohol test are under no obligation to report that to the trucking company they may currently work for. There are no self-reporting requirements. The trucking company is required to search the new Clearinghouse database for driver drug test results at a minimum of once per year.

That means if a driver is currently on the road for Company A but fails a drug / alcohol screening when applying at Company B, they are under no obligation to tell Company A and can still continue to drive for them.  

Although the law states that driver's do have an obligation to tell their employer that they failed a drug / alcohol test, but the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration admit that does not always happen. Checking a driver through the Clearinghouse costs a little over $1.00, or trucking companies can choose a plan that covers all of their drivers in a monthly scan for about $15.00 per year. But there are still gaps in the system which could result in an impaired trucker being on Florida's roads.

Trucking crash attorney Logan Goldberg at the Goldberg Noone Abraham personal injury law firm points out that accidents involving large commercial trucks are very different than ones involving standard passenger vehicles.

“Trucking companies owe a duty to everyone on the road to ensure their drivers are operating safely, and without being high on drugs or alcohol,” he says. “That's why the regulations state that any driver involved in a crash has to be tested right away, but there are still situations where a driver who failed a previous test may not have told his employer, or the employer did not run that driver through the Clearinghouse.”

Urinalysis or Hair Follicle Tests for Truck Drivers

The vast majority of trucking companies across the country utilize a urinalysis test for their drivers to screen for illicit drugs or alcohol. But those types of tests have proven to be flawed for a number of reasons. There are many ways a urinalysis screening can be deemed invalid, such as the transportation of the sample to the testing lab or the way the samples are stored prior to getting to the lab.

Urinalysis screening also only has a 2 to 3-day period known as a “look back” timeframe. That can mean that a truck driver only has to stop using illicit drugs or alcohol for a 3-day period prior to being tested in a pre-scheduled test for employment, get the job and go right back to using drugs while behind the wheel.

It comes as no surprise that unannounced drug and alcohol screening is a more effective deterrent than are scheduled screenings. In an unannounced, roadside screening in Oregon, law enforcement collected urine specimens from 822 commercial truck drivers and found that 21% of the samples came back positive for one or more substances including cannabinoids, alcohol, or stimulants.

Current law states that trucking companies are mandated to utilize the urinalysis method to screen their drivers, but many companies also use a hair follicle testing method, which is thought to provide more accurate results. Currently the federal government does not recognize hair testing as a single method of testing – it must always be accompanied by a urinalysis.

The Alliance for Driver Safety and Security conducted a study of both urine and hair drug tests to compare their pass / fail rates, and the results were very clear that hair screening is far more effective than a urinalysis. Out of over 150,000 pre-employment test results from 15 different trucking companies, only 0.6% failed the urinalysis but 8.5% failed the hair screening.

“Trucking companies are required by federal law to conduct drug screening under strict guidelines and procedural systems,” notes attorney Goldberg. “Failure to do this as required can result in a driver falling through the cracks and end up as an impaired driver trying to safely operate a large, heavy vehicle.”

Requirements for drug and alcohol screening in the trucking industry include:

  • Employers must test employees before beginning safety sensitive duties, when reasonable suspicion of substance abuse exists, after accidents, or before allowing an employee to return to work following a violation.
  • Implementation of a random drug testing program.
  • Drug testing must be administered by a certified Department of Health and Human Services laboratory. All drug testing must check for the presence of five classes of drugs: marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, and phencyclidine (PCP).
  • All alcohol testing must comply to DOT policies and procedures. Testing must be conducted using DOT approved devices.
  • All tests must be reviewed by a medical review officer (MRO).
  • All employees must receive drug and alcohol awareness training.
  • All supervisors must receive training in substance abuse detection, documentation, and intervention with the training consisting of equal parts drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Employers must refer employees to a substance abuse professional if a substance abuse problem is uncovered.

 With the large and increasing number of trucks on Southwest Florida roads, from local box truck delivery vans to huge, 18-wheel big rigs, it is critical to regulate the industry and the drivers to keep impaired drivers off the road. When it comes to filing a personal injury claim against a truck driver and the company they work for, the attorneys and investigators at Goldberg Noone Abraham are experts in discovering if that driver and his employer are strictly following the mandated testing guidelines. Failure to do so is a key factor in determining who is liable for a trucking crash, and who should be held accountable in the fight for an injured victim.

If you have legal questions about a crash involving a truck or any other topic, we invite you to call us for answers, at no cost. We're always here to help at 239-461-5508, or just complete this short form and we'll contact you immediately.

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