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Ignoring Truck Drivers Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol?

The federal government’s new tool to keep truck drivers on drugs off the road may not be working so well.

It took an act of Congress but it finally happened: there now is a way to track commercial truckers who have driven drunk or high on illegal drugs. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rolled out its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse in January 2020.  This is a database that trucking companies and law enforcement can access to see if a trucker has had any drunk or drugged-driving violations.

Fatigued Truck Drivers

Semi-truck drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs pose real threats to other drivers.  Their fully loaded18-wheelers typically outweigh passenger cars by 30 tons or more.  And they can take more than the length of a football field to stop when driving highway speeds.

So the need for alert, safe truckers is obvious.

Enter the truck driver Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.  Trucking companies are required this year to check current truck drivers, as well as potential new-hires, for any drug or alcohol use violations.  And, going forward they are to do a similar check once a year for every truck driver in their employ.

But after an optimistic start this doesn’t appear to be happening.

After the first two months of this year, the FMCSA reported that 8,000 truckers were found to have been ticketed for a substance abuse violation, or refused to be tested.

21,000 Truckers with Failed Substance Abuse Tests

Then, through May it was reported more than 21,000 commercial truck drivers failed tests, according to the clearinghouse. Eighty percent of those drivers failed drug tests.  The remainder had an unlawful level of alcohol in their systems.

In preventing fatal truck crashes, this seems to be good news. Yet new reports cast some doubts on this effort to stop drunk or high tractor-trailer drivers.

According to federal rules, all trucking companies must run one check on each of their drivers by January 5, 2021. Whereas checks on potential new drivers are comprehensive, these mandated checks for current drivers are limited. Employers only check to see if their current drivers show up in the database.  They don’t have to go any further to find out why.

But few trucking companies have done even these limited checks.  There are concerns the database will crash after a rush in the remaining time by companies trying to catch up and do the right thing.

Only a third of all trucking fleets have registered with the Clearinghouse. The remaining companies – some 300,000 – are supposed to register then do their driver checks in about 7 weeks.

Shortly after the Clearinghouse came online in January 2020 it crashed following a similar rush of first-time checks.

Compounding this is that driver shortages currently is the number one concern in the trucking industry.  This according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry – 2020 List” survey.

So will trucking companies look the other way when it comes to truckers driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, to ensure a healthy bottom line? It wouldn’t be the first time the trucking industry placed profits over public safety.

If you were seriously injured or if you had a loved one killed in a crash with a tractor-trailer, turn to an experienced truck accident lawyer to investigate whether negligence on the part of the trucker and/or the company was responsible.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog November 18, 2020