Over 93 million Americans live where the recreational use of marijuana is legal; this includes 11 states and the District of Columbia. That number grows significantly when the legalization of medical marijuana in 34 states is added. It is little wonder, then, that the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) warned professional truck drivers are more likely to be sharing the roadway with car drivers operating under the influence of marijuana. At its 2019 annual conference in October, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), citing the increased liberalization of marijuana, called on all levels of government to keep our roads and drivers drug-free.

While safety experts grapple with society’s use of marijuana, at the federal level, steps are being taken to improve the drug testing of truck drivers. On January 6, 2020, the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse will begin compiling records of violations of drug and alcohol prohibitions, including positive drug or alcohol test results and test refusals (See a PrePass whitepaper for more about the clearinghouse).

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has required drug testing of truck drivers since 1991. The clearinghouse will ultimately hold five years of test results, allowing employers to screen existing drivers and driver applicants, no matter where they have lived, where they are licensed and where they have worked. In addition, beginning in 2023 all state driver licensing agencies will cross-check the clearinghouse prior to issuance, renewal, transfer or upgrades of a commercial driver’s license (CDL). They may voluntarily do so when the clearinghouse opens in January.

FMCSA additionally announced that the clearinghouse database will be available to Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) partner agencies – such as state highway patrols and other agencies – for use during investigations, roadside inspections and safety audits of motor carriers, and to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for its crash investigations. In other words, truck drivers who have failed or refused a drug test and have not successfully completed a return-to-duty program, and therefore cannot legally drive a truck, will have several sets of eyes watching for them.

The drug tests themselves are also changing. Federal drug testing has been conducted by urinalysis, using technical standards set out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an arm of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS). In late October, SAMHSA announced mandatory guidelines for federal drug testing programs using oral fluids. Oral fluids are less invasive and less subject to adulteration than a urine sample and can be readily collected at roadside. The SAMHSA oral fluids guidelines will test for the same drug panel as the urinalysis test, including marijuana. The U.S. Department of Transportation must first conduct a rulemaking before the oral fluids test is available to its agencies, such as FMCSA.

Moving more slowly at SAMHSA is hair testing for drugs. SAMHSA sent a report to Congress earlier this summer. It said that the reason for a nearly three-year delay in developing a proposed hair drug-testing rule was caused by such “unresolved scientific issues” as hair color and potential external contamination of hair that could adversely affect drug test outcomes. At such time as SAMHSA does issue hair testing guidelines, a DOT rulemaking will be needed before its adoption and before hair testing results would become part of the clearinghouse database.