By John Gallagher of FreightWaves,
The latest data from the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse reveals that drug use among commercial drivers may be at its highest level since the federal repository was set up in 2019 — but more are being cleared to drive again as well.
Total drug violations reported into the clearinghouse in 2022, including positive tests and refusals to take a drug test, increased 18% to 69,668 compared with last year’s 59,011, according to the most recent statistics released this week by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That rate almost doubled the 9.2% annual increase in drug violations reported in 2021.
Much of the increase can be attributed to violations related to marijuana, the substance identified most in positive tests. Marijuana violations increased 31.6% in 2022 compared with 2021, to 40,916. That compares to a 5.3% increase between 2020 and 2021.
In fact, positive drug tests reported into the clearinghouse in 2022 increased in 12 of 14 substances tracked by the database, with only hydrocodone and heroin showing decreases.
Some of the increase in total violations can be attributed to the fact that completed registrations from drivers, employers and third-party organizations have been added each year since the clearinghouse began accepting registrations in September 2019. However, the number of registrations added annually has steadily declined since 2020 as the database gradually fills with all FMCSA-regulated registrants.
Regarding marijuana specifically, there has been speculation that increasingly liberal state marijuana laws could also be a factor — even though federal law preempts state law regarding the use of both medicinal and recreational marijuana by commercial drivers.
“While the numbers are a little jarring, it is clear the clearinghouse is working as intended,” P. Sean Garney, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, which specializes in truck safety, regulations and compliance, told FreightWaves.
Garney pointed to data in the report showing that there were double the number of positive tests for preemployment screening versus positive tests taken randomly from drivers last year.
“It’s far more common for a driver to test positive in a preemployment environment, and before the clearinghouse, carriers had no way to know if a driver they were considering was prohibited from operating a [commercial motor vehicle] based on that test,” Garney said. “[This data] shows me the system works.”
In addition, the data shows that more drivers are getting rehabilitated and reentering the trucking workforce, he said. At the end of 2020, only 12.5% of drivers who had tested positive had been cleared to drive again. In 2021 that number increased to 22.7%, and it increased again in 2022 to 27.6%.
Garney also noted that starting on Jan. 6 — after three full years of clearinghouse operation — motor carriers were no longer required to query a driver’s previous employer to request drug and alcohol testing histories, because they are now able to go back three years within the clearinghouse.
“Some carriers have been nervous that eliminating the previous employer inquiry might cause them to miss important information about a driver’s drug testing history,” he said.
However, with more than 3 million drivers and over 443,000 employers registered, “the clearinghouse is operating at full tilt and as intended, making it a great source of truth for this information. This should make wary carriers feel better about streamlining their procedures by using the clearinghouse.”