Positive drug tests account for 81% of violations reported.
January 2020 saw the launch of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol CDL Clearinghouse that requires all commercial drivers to register. According to a recent report issued by the FMCSA, more than 64,000 drug and alcohol violations were recorded since the database went live to track drivers’ compliance history and prevent them from job-hopping in the event of a failed test.
The driver category covered by the Clearinghouse includes commercial truck drivers as well as owner-operators, school bus drivers, construction equipment operators, limousines and more. To date 1,807,159 drivers and over 200,000 employers have registered with the system. Employers are now required to report all drug and alcohol violations to the Clearinghouse. In addition, employers are mandated to query the Clearinghouse for prospective employees’ drug and alcohol violations before permitting employees to operate a commercial vehicle on public roads. Besides pre-employment checks, employers are obligated to make annual checks with the database to ensure that none of their employees have any recent drug or alcohol violations. Failure to conduct this check results in a potential fine of up to $2,500 per offense if the non-compliance surfaces in a compliance review or safety audit. Clearly with the Clearinghouse system, both employers and employees/operators of the equipment have strong incentives to abide by the rules.
Cannabis & Cocaine Top the Charts
The Clearinghouse February 2021 monthly report, recorded 64,705 violations from the total body of registered drivers. 63,292 of these violations were registered as drug related, with cannabis the number one category with just over 50% of the cases. The second highest category with 9,047 cases was cocaine, a truly alarming amount.
- 81% of the violations reported were drug related, with over 52,000 total positive tests reported
- Of the positive tests, 51% were pre-employment tests, and 36% random tests
- 53% Marijuana, 14% cocaine, 9% methamphetamines and 9% amphetamines were the top substances in positive drug tests
- 83% of alcohol violations were for positive tests (concentration of 0.04 or higher), 24% refusals
- 55% of alcohol violations occurred during random tests, followed by 26% reasonable suspicion tests
There are two different costs derived from these numbers that need to be recognised. First is the cost of a human tragedy that results from accidents caused by operating transport machinery while impaired. The needless and preventable loss of life or significant injury has a financial and emotional cost to families and society as a whole.
The second cost is monetary and is quantified for both the employer and the employee. For employers, the lost productivity resulting from workers being removed from driving duties is the most common cost of violations of the drug and alcohol policy. Additional costs for higher insurance premiums or settlement payments must also be considered. Employees who make up the 64,705 violations face personally devastating consequences including lost or reduced wages, and difficulty in securing future employment since their violation will be available to future employers. Once relieved of their duties, employees under violation must complete a Return to Duty process that is time consuming and expensive.
Education Key to Lowering Violations and Return to Duty
In addition to the drug and alcohol violations themselves, select milestones of a driver’s return-to-duty (RTD) process are recorded in the Clearinghouse. If a driver has a drug and alcohol violation recorded against him or her in the Clearinghouse, that driver must be removed from safety-sensitive functions until they have completed the RTD process.
The Clearinghouse is making it more difficult for prohibited drivers to avoid the required RTD process as prospective employers are aware of violations instantly through the pre-employment query. Industry leaders are hopeful that with continued education about drug and alcohol testing programs and consequences for noncompliance, the number of violations decreases and the number of drivers completing the RTD process increases. Education is the best starting point to help employees avoid violations of drug and alcohol policy. A training solution that is easy to use, provides meaningful learning and is backed with refresher courses is an operator’s best defence against increased costs and reduced productivity and wages.