FMCSA Tells States to Ban Truck Drivers with Drug and Alcohol Violations

FMCSA Tells States to Ban Truck Drivers with Drug and Alcohol Violations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has enacted a new rule requiring that state licensing agencies revoke commercial drivers’ licenses within 60 days of a drug violation. The FMCSA crackdown was enacted to address a regulatory loophole for drug and alcohol violations.

Per the previous legislation, truck drivers with substance violations could easily keep their license and stay on the roads despite drug and alcohol violations because states were only required to check violation status at time of renewal. The new rule, which was published on October 7, 2021, and takes effect on November 8, 2021, of this year, states that state driver’s licensing agencies may not issue, renew, upgrade, or transfer a commercial driver’s license or commercial learner’s permit to drivers who have one or more substance violations.

Details on the New Rule

Previously, states were required to check if their drivers had violated the substance rules with the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a database established in late 2019, before they were allowed to renew licenses or issue a new one. However, this “knowledge gap” essentially served as a loophole for drivers in violation to stay on the roads because most states were not receiving information about their drivers’ drug and alcohol violations. This meant that drivers with drug and alcohol violations were still able to hold valid commercial driver’s licenses and permits despite breaking the rules.

The new rule closes this loophole, requiring states to revoke driving privileges for drivers found in violation within 60 days of being notified of their failed substance test. In addition, state driver’s license agencies are to downgrade the commercial driver’s license or commercial learner’s permit privileges until the driver is compliant with the “return-to-duty” requirements. In a statement, the FMCSA said that “The CDL downgrade requirement rests on the simple, but safety-critical, premise that drivers who cannot lawfully operate a CMV because they engaged in prohibited use of drugs or alcohol or refused a test should not hold a valid CDL or CLP.”

The rule also requires state driver’s license agencies to access information in the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, and to report it as well. The new ruling requires all violations remain in the clearinghouse for five years or until the driver in violation has completed the return-to-duty process.

The FMCSA’s return-to-duty process consists of a SAP (Substance Abuse Professional) Evaluation, followed by a drug test. Return-to-duty drug tests are more stringent than pre-employment drug tests because they must be conducted under direct observation to ensure the driver is not falsifying the results. Only once the driver has completed the return-to-duty process will the state they work in be allowed to reissue their commercial driver’s license or permit.

Sober Drivers, Safer Roads

The FMCSA hopes that this amendment works to decrease the number of drivers with drug and alcohol violations on the roads. In late 2020, the FMCSA reported that a new study estimated that over 300,000 truck drives would fail a drug test if given one randomly. And early this year, they released a clearinghouse that recorded more than 56,000 truck driver violations in 2020, thousands of which were drug and alcohol violations.

In addition to endangering other drivers and nearby pedestrians, truck drivers who abuse substances are also endangering themselves. One study found after analyzing trucking fatalities across eight states that 67% of truck drivers fatally injured in a truck accident had at least one drug in their system, and 33% had detectable concentrations of drugs in their bloodstreams at the time of the collision.

In a notice, the agency stated that “the final rule will help ensure that [commercial motor vehicles] are ‘operated safely,’ and that the physical condition of CMV operators is adequate to enable their safe operation,” adding that “the requirement that states enforce the [commercial motor vehicle] driving prohibition on individuals who engage in prohibited use of drugs or alcohol will promote the safe operation of CMVs.”

Opponents of the rule have until November 8th of this year to submit petitions to reconsider it. If the rule goes into effect, then states will have until November 18th of 2024 to ensure that they are in compliance with the new regulations.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident caused by an 18-wheeler or other commercial motor vehicle, contact the Truck Accident Lawyers at The Callahan Law Firm today.  Truck accidents can be complex cases of liability, with the truck driver, their employer, the broker, the shipper, and a number of other parties who could potentially be liable. We have a history of successfully representing truck accident victims, and we can help you too. To set up a free case consultation, give us a call at 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form here.