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Is Drug Use Among Truck Drivers Increasing?

Huntsville Truck Injury AttorneysThe U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released detailed data on truck driver drug testing. The data shows drug violations among truckers increased in 2021. One truck driver website reported the information as follows:

Violations reported to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse were up 10.2% in 2021 compared to 2020, according to FMCSA’s December 2021 monthly report.

Several other news sources reported the results with alarm. Any increase in drug or alcohol use among commercial drivers is alarming. Impaired driving is a major cause of needless highway accidents, injuries and deaths. Yes, data showing a 10% jump in one year is alarming. But, I would read the results with caution. I’ll explain below why I don’t read too much into this current data.

The FMCSA data is pulled from its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse is a database containing information about commercial driver drug and alcohol violations. The FMSCA mandated reporting requirements so that violations would be recorded by the Clearinghouse. But, the Clearinghouse is very new. We don’t yet have long-term reporting to analyze.

The Clearinghouse will hopefully be a great resource to prevent impaired truck drivers from causing accidents. We needed a nationwide reporting system so that the few bad drivers could not slip through the cracks. But, they Clearinghouse system is new.

The FMCSA database only really became effective in 2020. So, we can only compare a limited amount of data. Plus, we’ve all faced pandemic issues. For the trucking industry, those issues greatly impacted performance and data. Because of the pandemic, last year was really the first real subset of data. I would like to know how much driver miles increased or decreased as we move beyond pandemic restrictions from 2020 to 2021. So, pandemic issues may explain the sudden increase. Another explanation is that we are just now seeing full reporting into the clearinghouse. Again, I’m not trying to minimize the issue. Yet, I think any comparison for just these limited years is not likely to yield significant conclusions.

Back in October, I wrote about the use of drug and alcohol data in licensing truckers. You can read my prior article at Will A New Safety Rule Reduce The Number Of Impaired Truck Drivers? A couple years ago, I also wrote an article discussing how the long hours and solitary nature of truck driving increase the risk of impairment.

Although the current clearinghouse data is still very limited, the FMCSA report is interesting. Here are 3 takeaways I have from the data.

Alabama Has A Higher Rate Of Impaired Truckers Than Many Other States

One issue in the recent report really stuck out — Alabama has a higher rate of drug-impaired drivers than most other states. The research data tracked truck drivers by the state where their commercial drivers license (CDL) was issued. Alabama was in the top 1/4 of all states based on the number of impaired truckers. That statistic is significant but it gets worse.

The states adjacent to Alabama (Tennessee, Florida and Georgia) were also in the top 1/4 of all states based on impaired drivers. Drivers licensed in Georgia or Florida will be traveling through Alabama on long east-west routes. Drivers licensed in Tennessee are likely to travel south through Alabama. We should definitely consider surrounding states since many of those drivers will frequently travel through Alabama. We should ask some serious questions about drug use among drivers on our Alabama highways. Why are four adjacent southern states all in the top 1/4 of states who license impaired drivers?

Marijuana Is BY FAR The Most Common Drug Of Abuse

According to the data, marijuana use is far more common than other drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine. I’m not surprised that marijuana use is much more common. But, the comparison was not even remotely close. Not close at all.

I’ve written several times about marijuana and its potential impact on various workers compensation accidents. You can read some of my past articles on that issue here on this blog. As more states liberalize marijuana laws, they also need to discuss the impact upon workplace accidents and transportation. Many states (including Alabama) bar workers compensation benefits when a worker’s injury is caused by his own impairment. Yet, it is difficult with testing to prove current impairment from marijuana. States must grapple with workplace and highway safety issues in light of the changing reality with marijuana. It’s important that states adjust safety laws to protect people in our workplaces and on our roadways.

Most Drug Use Is Detected Pre-Employment Rather Than Post-Accident

I am interested in more discussion related to when drug use is tested. Employers conduct pre-employment, post-accident, and other, drug tests. According to the report, most drug use appears to be detected by pre-employment testing as opposed to post-accident testing. Again, the numbers are not close.

If the system is detecting drivers with drug problems before they put people in danger on the highway, that is great. We need to identify potential drivers with drug issues before it’s too late. We need to identify impairment issues before someone gets hurt. That will save lives and prevent needless highway injuries.

The Clearinghouse data should be valuable over the long-term. Let’s get through any pandemic issues and evaluate data trends over several years. Hopefully, nationwide reporting standards will help identify driver issues with drugs so that serious highway injuries and deaths can be prevented.

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From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm handles serious personal injury cases across Alabama. Our cases include catastrophic injuries and deaths in commercial vehicle crashes. If you have questions about a personal injury, let us know. Our consultations are always free and confidential.

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