By Dave Osiecki & Sean Garney of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC & Regulatory Consultants to DriverReach – July 15th, 2020
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is providing more than just a great way to help keep disqualified, substance-abusing drivers off the roads. It’s also providing a trove of new data offering unique insights to many aspects of the trucking industry such as hiring trends, the effectiveness of testing and some perspective on future driver availability.
Hiring Trends – Since January 6, 2020, all motor carriers who wish to hire a CDL holder to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) over 26,000 lbs. must first conduct a pre-employment full query to ensure the driver doesn’t have any disqualifying drug or alcohol violations. Data on how many of these queries are conducted provides a window into the pace of hiring. In this month’s FMCSA Clearinghouse summary report, we can very clearly see the expected COVID-related dip in pre-employment queries, indicating driver hiring slowed in March-May 2020 as a result of the pandemic. June brought good news with a 28% increase in the number of pre-employment inquiries. Sadly, since many states are responding to significant increases in COVID-19 cases by shuttering segments of their economies. We may see the impact in next month’s data.
Testing Effectiveness – The purpose of drug and alcohol testing is to prevent drivers from operating a CMV while impaired. That includes stemming the flow of lifestyle drug users into the industry and discovering drug users that may already be behind the wheel. Here too, data from the Clearinghouse can be used to make some important observations about testing effectiveness. To date, 53% of all controlled substance violations are pre-employment tests, far more than the next most effective category, random testing, accounting for 34% of positive controlled substance tests.
Driver Availability – One of the most vexing questions surrounding drug testing is what happens to drivers who test positive. Some trucking companies employ a zero-tolerance policy while others provide second or even third chances to drivers provided they complete the required return-to-duty RTD) process. Either way, the driver must decide between finding a new career or completing a process which involves evaluation by a specialist, some type of counseling and a regimen of follow-up testing. As views on marijuana use shift in our country, especially in states where marijuana is legal, drivers may also wrestle with a philosophical question about whether their chosen career violates their sensibilities and if it’s worth it to return.
To date, 23% of disqualified drivers have entered the RTD process. Of those, approximately 70% have either been determined eligible for RTD testing or are again eligible to operate a CMV. While acknowledging that around 75% of disqualified drivers may never return to a career as a truck driver may be a difficult pill to swallow, the numbers aren’t as bad as they seem. If the trend continues (COVID notwithstanding), approximately 53,000 drivers will be disqualified in 2020 as a result of drug testing violations. Around 8,500 of these drivers will make it through the RTD process and be requalified. That leaves 44,500 exiting the industry. The question then becomes, can the industry replace these drivers, and are we safer and better for losing them? Hopefully, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is providing benefits beyond the obvious safety improvement. The insightful data it is providing offers industry stakeholders an unexpected glimpse into data trends that will pay additional dividends over time.
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