In the midst of an industry-wide driver shortage, a national database has been tracking truckers’ compliance history and working to prevent truck drivers from leaving the industry due to failed drug tests. During 2020, the number of drug and alcohol violations recorded hit over 56,000.
This number was around 10,000 higher in the last two months of the year as compared to the 10 months prior. 2020 was the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouses’ first full calendar year of operation, and the year saw 1,203 alcohol-related driver violations, as shown in its latest summary report. Out of those violations, the majority were drivers testing with a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.04.
Around 45,000 drivers lost their jobs after these violations were recorded, and only 11,000 of those have undergone the return-to-work program. Because of this, many industry experts are worried that the remaining drivers will not be returning to the industry at all.
A large number of violations also included many drivers either declining a drug test, testing positive for drug use, or being suspected of cheating on a drug test.
“The good news is that the system is working in capturing violations by drivers and allowing employers and enforcement personnel to verify a driver’s status prior to permitting him or her [to drive],” said FMCSA spokesman, Duane DeBruyne. “Any violation reported is a bad thing; blocking prohibited drivers from endangering themselves and the lives of the motoring public is a good thing.”
The Clearinghouse–which is used by law enforcement, state driver licensing agencies, and carriers alike to monitor driver violations–has made it trickier for drivers to illegally skip a return-to-duty process once they’ve been prohibited from re-entering the industry. This helps bar them from returning to commercial motor vehicle operation and endangering “themselves and the lives of everyone traveling our nation’s roadways,” DeBruyne explained.
Vice president of safety policy for American Trucking Associations, Dan Horvath, agreed. “I believe the 56,000 drivers with violations reiterates the importance of this Clearinghouse, and shines a spotlight on a rather large loophole in the drug and alcohol testing process that has existed for many years,” he said.
This issue has seen little change over those years, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting President, Dave Osiecki, explained. He also noted that FMCSA’s final Clearinghouse rule, which was released in 2016, used historical data to create an estimate of yearly violations.
“FMCSA’s estimate was 53,500 drug and alcohol violations annually,” he said. “Their estimate was remarkably close.”
Even the number of those who do decide to return to the industry after undergoing the proper treatment and testing is not enough to fill the gap made by those leaving trucking for good, he continued.
“It’s concerning, and it bears watching and tracking. The percentage of drivers with violations who are getting evaluated, and completing the treatment process, has risen slowly over the past several months. This is a good sign, but it’s also clear that many drivers are not entering treatment, which suggests they’ve left the industry.”
The report, which showed data from violations beginning on January 6th, 2020 (when the Clearinghouse went into effect), reported 29,500 drug test failures for marijuana, specifically, 7,940 for cocaine, and 4,953 for amphetamines. An additional 1,120 tests were marked as having reasonable suspicion regarding efforts to cheat on a drug test.
The Clearinghouse saw around 1.6 million drivers registered in 2020, along with 197,000 industry employers, 67,000 of which are self-identified as owner-operators.
“According to our interpretation of Motor Carrier Management Information System data, there are 5,174,170 truck drivers under the authority of FMCSA,” explained Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association spokeswoman, Nortia Taylor. “Fifty-six thousand drivers represents 1.1% of the available driver pool.”
Employers must check the database annually to see if any employees or potential employees have had any drug violations. In 2020, Clearinghouse saw 2.7 million limited queries, 1.4 million pre-employment queries, and 136,806 full queries.
“It’s important to note that having a drug or alcohol testing violation is not an automatic end to a driver’s career,” Horvath said. “While there is a significant number of drivers who have not yet completed the return-to-duty testing process, that number continues to grow.”
Horvath hopes that boosted transparency in regards to this program will help more drivers be able to return to work more easily, or, better yet, avoid any reason for violation.
“With continued education about the drug and alcohol testing program, and consequences for noncompliance, we hope to see violations decrease and the number of drivers who have completed the return-to-duty process increase.”