Last updated: May 3, 2021
There are over 3.5 million truck drivers on the road across the United States and the majority of them wouldn’t risk driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol—ever. Sadly, though, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse documented 45,991 drug violations as of November 1, 2020. Drivers refusing to take a drug test accounted for nearly 6,300 of them.
The report provides a breakdown of violations of each type of Department of Transportation (DOT) mandated drug test. Pre-employment refusals topped the list with 2,943 prospective employees refusing drug tests between January and October 2020. Random drug test refusals ranked a close second at 2,658.
The remaining categories were as follows:
- 283 Reasonable Suspicion refusals
- 222 Post Accident refusals
- 115 Follow-Up refusals
- 59 Return-to-Duty refusal
How did COVID affect the numbers?
The Department of Transportation (DOT) released revised drug testing guidelines last March. The ongoing pandemic is keeping them in effect through June 2021.
Employers who can’t locate a drug testing facility in their vicinity should document that fact. Then, reschedule drug testing as soon as it becomes available. The DOT also recommended that mandated employers search for a mobile drug testing company.
The FMCSA Clearinghouse reports released during March, April, and May showed an overall drop in numbers. Of course, those numbers indicate the initial effect COVID-19 had on the trucking industry.
In addition to the possibility of the limited availability of drug testing during the pandemic, it’s a known fact that drug use is on the rise. Overdose deaths are increasing nationwide due to the stress and uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic. Threats of further lockdowns, continued job loss, and isolation all trigger depression and anxiety. Many individuals use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism when faced with these situations.
It seems reasonable to assume that if a truck driver refuses to take a drug test, it’s unlikely that they would pass it.
Failure to comply
The DOT regulations state that employees who refuse a drug test for any reason are to be removed from service immediately.
Their employer may allow them a second opportunity to take a drug test, but DOT regulations stipulate that it must be an observed test. Failure to take the second test warrants immediate termination.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) opened its nationwide Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database for business in January 2020. DOT mandated employers report violations directly to the database where they remain on file until the driver is cleared to return to duty by their Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).
The year-end report isn’t out yet, but it’s estimated that approximately 53,000 drivers will have been removed from duty due to drug and alcohol violations during 2020. Only about 8,500 of them will complete the return-to-duty process.
If there was ever any doubt that the trucking industry is the backbone of our nation’s economy, the pandemic proved the point. Drivers ignored the fact that they were putting themselves at a higher risk of catching the virus. They pressed on—albeit a portion of them chose to do so with drugs or alcohol in their system.
That is unacceptable.
Drug impairment affects both motor and sensory skills causing slower response times and clouded judgment. It’s imperative that employers continue to drug test for safety’s sake. Even one impaired truck driver behind the wheel is too many.