In a major win for traffic and highway safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced new rules in late 2016. These rules change the way drug and alcohol test results for commercial drivers are reported. It is hoped that the revised rules will lead to fewer intoxicated commercial truck drivers on the road and safer roads for everybody.
CDL Drivers Are Regularly Tested for Drugs and Alcohol
Anyone who holds a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), such as a semi-truck or bus driver, is subject to mandatory drug and alcohol testing as a condition of holding his license. Substances tested for include alcohol, marijuana, opiates such as heroin or other painkillers, amphetamines (crystal meth and other stimulant drugs), and phencyclidine (PCP, or “angel dust.”)
Regulations specify certain times when a CDL driver is required to be tested for drugs or alcohol.
- Prior to employment, a driver must pass a drug screening before being allowed to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).
- Random testing is required throughout the year, as well; employers are responsible for random testing of all drivers, including employees with CDLs who may occasionally drive.
- When an employee is suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, an employer may immediately demand a test, if there is reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated or using intoxicating substances.
- After most kinds of accidents, the employer is required to test the driver.
If a driver fails or refuses to submit to a test, he or she is immediately suspended from “safety-sensitive” duties, including driving commercial trucks or vehicles. He or she must then complete an approved course with a Department of Transportation-qualified substance abuse counselor, and pass another drug and alcohol screening before being allowed to return to duty. Finally, repeat testing for at least six months (and up to four years) is required even after a driver who has refused or failed a test has completed the approved substance abuse course.
How the Law Has Changed: A Driver Clearinghouse
CMV drivers and personnel are screened for drugs and alcohol quite often by the law, and this has been partially effective at keeping dangerous drivers off the road. However, there has been no central data source that an employer can search to see if a driver has been in trouble for substance abuse issues. In the past, it’s been easy for a driver who has failed a test to conceal past failed drug or alcohol tests from a potential employer.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new rules, announced in December 2016, create a central clearinghouse. This database, to be implemented by 2020, will be something that employers can query to see if a potential employee is under restriction due to alcohol or substance abuse. Further, employers, drug and alcohol abuse counselors and professionals, medical review officers, and other administrators will be required to file a report in the database when any driver has either failed or refused an exam, or are in the midst of counseling to return to work after such an incident. This information will stay in the database for either five years or until the driver has completed the approved counseling course.
In addition to requiring certain parties to report to the clearinghouse, employers will also be required to search the database at least annually to check on current employees. The rules also provide some clarity, placing more responsibility on the employer to stop drivers from operating CMVs when the employer has “actual knowledge” of prohibited drug or alcohol use.
Why This Matters to You
This is a big change for the industry, and a welcome one. The FMCSA reports that in the year 2014 alone, there were almost 4,000 fatal truck or bus accidents; while this is a 5 percent decrease from the year prior, the overall number of injury accidents has increased by a staggering 15,000. With DUI still a leading cause of commercial motor vehicle accidents, this move by the FMCA to keep those with substance abuse problems from driving large, dangerous commercial trucks and other vehicles until they seek help. The result? Safer roads for you and your family.
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