The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse launched on Jan. 6, 2020. Long called for by motor carriers and law enforcement, the clearinghouse records violations uncovered by federal drug and alcohol tests, refusals to test, and the status of return-to-duty (RTD) testing. FMCSA requires motor carriers to check the clearinghouse during pre-employment of new drivers and annually for existing drivers.
The clearinghouse was intended to address two problems under prior safety regulations. One, drivers seeking a new position could omit mention of a previous job where they had failed a test. Two, motor carriers conducting the required three-year review of an applicant’s past employment often encountered unresponsive companies or they were simply out of business.
The clearinghouse appears to function as intended. From January to December of 2020, motor carriers reported 56,158 drug or alcohol violations involving 51,998 individual drivers. Some drivers had more than one violation. In developing the clearinghouse, FMCSA estimated there would be about 53,000 violations annually, so the results seem to be on track.
By law, the nearly 52,000 drivers were already prohibited from engaging in safety-sensitive activities, such as driving a commercial motor vehicle, until they successfully completed the RTD process. The clearinghouse prevents those drivers from potentially circumventing the system, protecting highway safety.
On the other hand, clearinghouse data also shows that many drivers may choose not to return to the trucking industry. As of the December report, 45,475 of the 51,998 drivers with at least one violation were still in the prohibited status, meaning they had not yet completed the RTD process. More particularly, some 34,769 of them had not even begun the RTD process.
While no motor carrier wishes to employ a potentially unsafe driver, any exodus from the limited pool of drivers is unsettling. As the COVID-19 pandemic abates and the economy stabilizes, perhaps some drivers will seek out a substance abuse professional to begin the return-to-duty process.
The clearinghouse report also confirms trucking industry concerns that drugs account for 82% of the total violations reported, and marijuana is the chief culprit. Of the 56,158 total violations, 54,949 were for drugs and only 1,201 for alcohol. Marijuana was found in 29,511 tests, followed by cocaine (7,940), methamphetamine (5,187), and amphetamine (4,953).
FMCSA officials do not know whether the prevalence of CBD oil and other widely-available “cannabidiol” products contributed to the high rate of drug test failures due to marijuana. Federal drug tests only look for marijuana and other Schedule 1 drugs, and do not look for CBD. Also, the federal government does not certify CBD label claims which may not reveal the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. A concentration of THC above 0.3% in any products, including CBD oil and similar products, means they are legally Schedule 1 drugs.
The FMCSA offers very useful guidance on the clearinghouse for carriers, drivers, and everyone involved in the drug and alcohol testing process. Hopefully, a year’s experience with the clearinghouse will underscore the need for a drug-free trucking industry.