ATA proposes law for national drug testing clearinghouse

The American Trucking Associations on Wednesday, Aug. 1, urged Congress to authorize and fund a centralized clearinghouse for positive drug and alcohol testing results of commercial motor vehicle drivers to ensure that motor carrier employers are aware of previous positive test results during the hiring process.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., ATA President Bill Graves said such a clearinghouse would improve the industry’s ability to keep alcohol and drug abusers off the road and improve safety on the nation’s roadways.

The federal government required drug and alcohol testing of commercial truck drivers in 1995. As measured by a percentage of positive test results, drug abuse in the trucking industry is less than half of that found in the general work force, ATA says. But with between 2 percent and 2.5 percent of the truck driver population testing positive, that’s perhaps 68,000 drivers with some type of substance abuse problem, Graves noted. This number is unacceptable to ATA and the trucking industry, he said.

A centralized clearinghouse would eliminate a significant loophole in the current drug and alcohol testing regulations, Graves said. Currently, employers must maintain records of positive tests for three years and provide the information to future prospective employers upon request. But if a driver who tested positive at that employer applies for a job at another carrier and leaves that employer off its job application, the prospective employer may not be aware of the positive drug test. If all results were reported to a central database, however, this blind spot would be eliminated.

“It’s something we think is just good common sense,” Graves said at the news conference.

ATA has lobbied for a national clearinghouse of positive test results since the 1990s. In 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported to Congress on the merits of reporting positive test results to states. Currently, five states have instituted a drug and alcohol clearinghouse; for example, a positive drug test must be entered onto the driver’s employment driving record in Oregon.

“ATA and its members believe that state-based reporting efforts are a good first step, but the optimal solution is a national clearinghouse,” Graves said. “The trucking industry is a national industry. State-by-state action will result in a patchwork quilt of differing reporting requirements by different people, with different commercial driver licensing actions or outcomes for truck drivers depending upon which state issued their license. A national solution is the optimal approach to addressing this issue.”

Draft model legislation now is being circulated to the appropriate committees in the House and Senate, said Graves. Under the proposed legislations, drivers would have the right to view information on them that resides in the database and would have an opportunity to appeal that data.

FMCSA is looking at the issue from both a long- and short-term perspective, said David Osiecki, ATA vice president of safety, security and operations. “I would be surprised if this didn’t show up in the highway bill package they’ll be offering two years from now,” he added. In the shorter term, FMCSA has a vested interest in “trying to identify those drivers that are getting through the loophole today, so they can deal with them today,” he said.

The 2004 FMCSA report’s executive summary states that implementation would help enhance safety by making it easier for employers to identify drivers’ past drug-test results. Likewise, it would address numerous FMCSA safety concerns, all stemming from the employer-based nature of the current screening regimen combined with the lack of an easily accessed source of historical screening tests. Those concerns include:

  • The failure of some owner-operators to remove themselves from safety-sensitive functions after a positive test;
  • Lack of response by drivers’ previous employers to test-history queries from prospective employers; and
  • Failure to report by employers not wanting to lose a valued employee.
  • A study released last year by FMCSA estimated that drug and alcohol use factored in thousands of large truck accidents annually. Prescription drug use was present in the most crashes, 37,000, followed by traveling too fast at 33,000. Over-the-counter drug use was present in 25,000 crashes, illegal drug use in 3,000 and alcohol use in 1,000, according to the federal study of crashes between April 2001 and December 2003.

    Federal law requires pre-employment drug testing of drivers, as well as random checks and testing after most serious accidents. FMCSA spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney said the agency supports the concept of making it as easy as possible for employers to identify drivers who test positive for drugs.

    Osiecki noted that the clearinghouse could dovetail with FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative to improve its oversight of motor carriers and drivers through more efficient use of data and technology. A national clearinghouse on drug and alcohol test results could be part of a broader effort – which ATA supports – to gather, analyze and use much more information on the safety performance of specific drivers. Ultimately, ATA would like to see a central clearinghouse for a range of driver-performance data and disclosures that prospective employers would want to consider.

    For now, ATA is pushing just the drug testing clearinghouse. “Politics is the art of what’s possible,” Graves said at the news conference. “We’ll take what we can get with this proposal and work on what’s possible at a later date.”