Drug and alcohol use continues to be an issue for many of the nation’s truckers.
In fact, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), violation reports to its Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse jumped more than 10% in 2021 compared to the prior year.
What is the FMCSA Clearinghouse?
The FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse began operation in January 2020 and was designed to prevent job-hopping among commercial drivers due to a positive drug or alcohol test. Any company employing a CDL holder subject to the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing rules is required to report violations to the Clearinghouse.
Those employers must also query the database annually to ensure a CDL holder doesn’t have any outstanding drug or alcohol violations.
58,215 Truckers Tested Positive for Drugs in 2021, 1,422 for Alcohol
A total of 58,215 drug violations were reported to the FMSCA Clearinghouse last year, compared to 52,810 in 2020. Most of the 2021 reports – 49,013 – involved positive drug tests, and 8,152 were test refusals. The remaining 1,050 were actual knowledge violations reported by employers.
Cannabis use accounted for the most significant number of drug test failures, with 31,085 positive marijuana tests in 2021 – 5.3% more than was reported in 2020. Cocaine was the second-highest, with 8,765 positive tests – a 10.4% increase over the previous year. Methamphetamine had the third-most positive tests, with 5,082 violations, a 2% decrease from 2020.
The only other drug that registered an increase in positive tests was methylenedioxyam-phetamine or MDA, which increased from 30 positive tests in 2020 to 33 in 2022.
Alcohol violations also increased, jumping 26.7% from 1,122 in 2020 to 1,422 in 2021. Overall drug and alcohol violations combined increased 10.6% to 113,569.
FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Regulations
A motorist is considered legally intoxicated with a BAC of .08 or higher in most states. However, because accidents involving 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, and other large commercial vehicles result in more severe and fatal injuries, these drivers are considered legally intoxicated with a BAC of .04 or higher.
FMCSA regulations expressly prohibit truckers from using any of the following while on duty:
- Any Schedule 1 Substance as defined by 21 CFR 1308.11.
- An amphetamine or any formulation thereof (such as “pep pills” or “bennies”).
- Narcotic drugs or their derivatives.
- Any other substance, to a degree which renders the driver incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
For the most part, these rules forbid truckers from even possessing a banned substance while on duty unless prescribed by a physician who has told the driver that it will not affect their ability to safely operate their vehicle.
Truckers must also submit to pre-employment drug testing and random testing for five specific substances, including marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP. Employers are also required to conduct random testing on 10% of their employees annually, as well as post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing.
A trucker who has tested positive or refused a test must complete the FMCSA-mandated return-to-duty process with a qualified substance abuse professional and test negative for illicit substances (under direct supervision) before returning to work. Once they return to duty, these drivers must be retested under direct supervision within the following 12-month period. They may also be required to submit to additional follow-up testing under direct supervision for up to four years.
What Should You Do If You Suspect a Trucker is Driving Under the Influence?
It’s reasonable to suspect that a truck driver exhibiting any of the following behaviors is under the influence of drugs or alcohol:
- Swerving: This is one of the most common signs that a trucker is impaired, as their inability to focus on the road will prevent the driver from traveling in a straight line.
- Hugging the Center Line: A driver who’s aware they’re impaired may try to avoid swerving by overcompensating and hugging the center line.
- Excessive Breaking and Slow Acceleration: Slowing down is another way many impaired drivers will overcompensate, either by braking early and often or by taking their time in reaching the speed limit.
- Constant Tailgating: Impaired drivers, including a trucker under the influence, will often closely follow the vehicle ahead of them. If an 18-wheeler or other big rig rides your bumper — even as you speed up, slow down, or change lanes – they could be impaired.
- Serious Traffic Violations: An impaired trucker may lack the focus to comply with even the most basic traffic laws. If you notice a semi-truck or 18-wheeler without its headlights on, signaling left when turning right, driving the wrong way down a one-way road or highway ramp, driving under the minimum speed limit, or stopping at an intersection when they have the right of way, the driver may well be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
When a trucker or any other motorist drives recklessly and exhibits behaviors that pose a danger to others on local roads, it’s best to pull over and call 911 to report their conduct to local authorities. If a commercial driver is behaving in an unsafe manner on an interstate highway, or you have concerns about the transportation of hazardous materials and substances, you can also report your concerns to the FMCSA by:
- Calling the Department of Transportation’s Complaint Hotline at 1-888-DOT-SAFT.
- Filing an online complaint with the FMCSA’s National Consumer Complaint Database website.
Regardless of how you notify authorities, your report should include as much information as possible:
- A description of the truck, including the size, color, and the location of any graphics on the cab or trailer.
- Any identifying information for a trucking company, including its name and logo.
- Visible license plate number and/or DOT numbers on the truck or trailer
- A description of the driver, if possible
- The location where you observed reckless driving or other misconduct.
- The date and time of your observation
- A description of unsafe behavior.
But always remember to put your own safety first. Don’t speed up, tailgate, or take any other risks to obtain this information. Otherwise, you might cause a crash yourself.
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