New information in the latest Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Report could accelerate calls for federal approval of other testing methods, such as hair and oral fluid testing, according to one safety and compliance expert.

The June 2020 Monthly Summary Report, the second such report issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) since the clearinghouse went into effect in January, showed an uptick in queries in June. That’s a change in direction, as those numbers dropped in March, April and May, presumably because of the economic slowdown and freight recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dave Osiecki, President of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting

Dave Osiecki, President of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting

“The report allows us to pretty clearly see a COVID-related dip in pre-employment queries, indicating driver hiring slowed in March to May 2020 due to the pandemic,” said Dave Osiecki, president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting. “June brought good news for the industry, though, with a 28-percent increase in the number of pre-employment queries. Great to see that hiring snapped back.”

Driver Drug Violations June

Even without a pandemic, U.S. trucking was looking at a tough time this year. When the year began, the industry was coming off a challenging 2019, when overcapacity and weak pricing forced at least 795 trucking companies to close. It’s important to note that a great many small carriers close every year. That’s because a disproportionate number of them are lightly funded, one-person operations. Still, closings last year were inordinately high, according to industry studies, Truck Driver Drug Violations Rose In JuneThe number of violations reported to the clearinghouse also increased in June, with 4,587 drug violations and 107 alcohol violations. As in the previous month, marijuana by far outpaced other substances identified in positive drug tests, with 12,867 positives. The next highest was cocaine at 3,868, with positives for amphetamine and methamphetamine around 2,500 each.

The June report featured a new breakdown of the number of refusals and violations associated with each type of test (e.g., pre-employment, random, post-accident, etc.), Osiecki said.

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“What stuck with me was that 13 percent of pre-employment drug testing violations were refusals,” he said. “Considering that, in the pre-employment context, a refusal can really only occur after the driver has been handed a urine collection cup, this number may be a good proxy for how often drivers attempt to defeat the urinalysis. This number, if it remains high, could accelerate calls for DOT approval of other testing methods like hair and oral fluid testing.”

Database, queried over 1.1 million times

David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), noted that the database, queried over 1.1 million times since January, has provided motor carriers with the drug testing history of drivers operating in our industry.

“We look forward to the time when carriers who employ hair testing, either as an alternative to or in conjunction with urine-based tests, can input or access the results of these tests to the clearinghouse in order to provide an even greater account of any particular driver’s violation history.”

According to Osiecki, if the number of reported violations continues at the current rate, about 53,000 drivers will be disqualified in 2020, mainly as a result of drug testing violations.

“Using the return-to-duty percentages in the June report, this means that around 8,500 of these drivers will make it through the RTD process this year and drive again. That leaves about 44,500 drivers exiting the industry this year. Is the industry safer and better as a result? The answer seems pretty clear to me.”

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