FMCSA Reports Truck Driver Drug Violations Increased by 10% in 2021
An empty 18-wheeler weighs roughly 35,000 pounds, and a fully loaded one can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds. This means that if they are in a collision with a car, which on average weighs between 3,000-4,000 pounds, the force of the impact could have extreme consequences. Truck drivers have an obligation to ensure they are following safe driving practices to keep themselves and the drivers they share the roads with safe. Unfortunately, they do not always do so. Data from the FMCSA reports that the number of truck driver drug violations increased 10% in 2021 from the year before.
The FMCSA Clearinghouse
In 2020, the FMCSA enacted a clearinghouse meant to track drug and alcohol usage among truck drivers. The first year it was in operation, the agency reported 52,810 instances of drug and alcohol violations. The following year, that number jumped to 58,215 truck driver drug violations, an increase of 10.2%.
Most of the violations were positive drug tests, with 49,013 individuals testing positive for a forbidden substance in 2021. 8,152 violations were drug test refusals, and the remaining 1,050 violations reported were knowledge violations reported by employers.
Which Drugs are Being Found?
Of the substances tested, marijuana was the most commonly found. 31,085 tests returned positive for marijuana in 2021, an increase of 5.3% from the previous year’s reported marijuana violations. The second-highest substance found was cocaine, with 8,765 tests coming back positive for a 10.4% increase from 2020 to 2021.
The third most commonly found drug was methamphetamine, with 5,082 2021 tests coming back positive (a 2% drop from the year before). The only other substance that saw an increase in violations in 2021 over 2020 was methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA). In addition to truck driver drug violations, alcohol violations were also reportedly on the rise. While 2020 saw 1,122 violations, there were 1,422 reported in 2021.
Truck drivers are required to undergo pre-employment testing and receive a negative result in order to get their commercial driver’s license. Once they are on the road, they may undergo random, unannounced drug and alcohol tests. In addition, commercial driver’s license holders must be tested if they are involved in an accident. If the accident results in a fatality or if they are cited as at-fault for an accident in a police report, truck drivers are required to undergo an alcohol test within 8 hours and a drug test within 32 hours. Furthermore, Department of Transportation supervisors can direct truck drivers to undergo drug and alcohol testing if there is reasonable suspicion to believe they are exhibiting signs of substance abuse.
When a drug and alcohol violation is reported, there is a return-to-duty process that truck drivers must complete within a certain period of time in order to get their commercial driver’s license reinstated. First, the violation must be reported by the employer to the FMCSA within 3 days, as required by §40.287. Next, a substance abuse professional (SAP) must conduct an initial assessment of the driver. Based on the results of the assessment, the SAP recommends education and/or treatment to the employer.
Once the driver has completed their assigned duties, the SAP then re-evaluates the driver to determine if and when the driver is eligible for return-to-duty testing. Once the driver is eligible, they can take a return-to-duty test conducted by their employer. If the test has a negative result, they are able to return to duty, and undergo follow-up testing. The information related to their violation and return-to-duty process is then retained by the clearinghouse for five years.
In 2020, the clearinghouse found 104,840 drivers who had at least one drug or alcohol violation. Of those drivers, there are still 81,052 truck drivers who have not completed the return-to-duty process, and only 13,050 have completed the requirements allowing them to be eligible for return-to-duty testing as of January first of this year.
Steps to Prevent Drug Violations
In October of last year, the FMCSA enacted a new rule requiring states to revoke the commercial drivers’ licenses of truck drivers facing drug or alcohol violations in hopes of removing a regulatory loophole that allowed drivers with drug and alcohol offenses to renew their licenses despite their substance violations.
Although truck drivers are highly trained and have a duty to ensure they are safely operating their vehicles, experts fear that drug and alcohol violations are a systemic part of the industry. A study done by Reuters found that the issue may be systemic due to the nature of the job. In their research, they found that many truck drivers have cited the use of amphetamines and cocaine to stay awake for long periods of time so as not to get sleepy on the roads. FMCSA hope that cracking down on hours-of-service regulations will help to cut down on drug use, but it is up to truck drivers to ensure they are doing their part to keep themselves and those around them safe.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, contact our Truck Accident lawyers today. We have been successfully representing people injured in truck accidents for over 25 years, and we can help you too. Call us at 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form here.
Michael S Callahan is an attorney and founder of The Callahan Law Firm. He focuses his practice on representing individuals and families in personal injury cases involving motor vehicle and truck accidents, workplace accidents and defective products. With over 25 years of experience, he is dedicated to fighting on behalf of people whose lives have been forever altered by the negligence and carelessness of corporations and individuals. Originally trained as a mechanical engineer, Michael has been practicing law and fighting for justice for those who need it most since 1994. He is board-certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and a member of various esteemed legal associations. Outside of work, Michael enjoys spending quality time with his family, outdoor activities, and continually striving to improve as a trial lawyer and human being.