Every rational person can agree that commercial trucks, weighing in at as much as 80,000 pounds and traveling at 70 mph, and a driver under the influence of drugs are not a winning formula. Unfortunately, the shifting attitudes, laws, and regulations affecting some drugs, especially cannabis-related products, can muddy the water when it comes to keeping these items separated. Too many drivers who receive medical permission to use marijuana are choosing to ignore the rules when it comes to those exemptions and driving.
Several industry associations and publications are drawing attention to this issue as it relates to the transportation industry in general, and commercial trucking specifically. A recent article in Transport Topics goes further in warning employers in the transportation industry that there is an increasing need to keep a handle on drug use and testing among their team members.
The article first reminds its readers of the potentially disastrous consequences of drug use by looking back to the Amtrak accident that injured 174 and killed 16. Several crew tested positive for marijuana and PCP and this was considered the significant contributing factor. It was this accident that made drug testing for all employees in safety-related occupations a federal mandate.
While that law is credited with enhancing drug law compliance in those safety-sensitive industries, it also provides decades of statistics that help track the level of non-compliance. Those numbers show the rate of positives from such testing in 2021 at the highest level since the turn of the century. The reporting of failed drug tests shows a rate 30 percent higher than at that point in time.
Moreover, the statistics point to several trends that should give employers pause:
- More individuals are showing positive for drug use in after-accident tests.
- The Drug Testing Index prepared by Quest Diagnostics shows a 20-year high in the positives for marijuana use, the highest ever recorded.
- Some of the largest reported increases in marijuana positives were in the transportation and warehousing segments.
In fact, the report notes that nearly 130,000 CDL-holding drivers are currently in the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database as failing urine tests.
This cause for concern by employers is emphasized further by recent studies that show, “legalization of the recreational use of marijuana was associated with a 6.5% increase in vehicle injury crash rates and a 2.3% increase in fatal crash rates.”
No Excuse for Not Testing
Some employers may share the cultural shift that views marijuana as a safe recreational or medical drug. Thus, they may leave that issue outside of pre-employment screening or other employment standards.
However, this can be both a dangerous and an expensive attitude. All post-accident screening that shows any form of drug use is available to attorneys seeking to place liability on employers. It has been a factor in a growing number of nuclear jury awards. This is, of course, secondary to the loss of life and crippling accidents that result.
An Ounce of Prevention
The testing firm quoted in the article, Quest Diagnostics, makes a strong case for employers to focus on reliable drug testing procedures, both as a screening procedure and during employment. They point out these benefits are in addition to complying with the DOT mandates in the trucking industry.
While these arguments are somewhat self-evident, they are worth reviewing. First, companies known for stringent pre-employment testing automatically filter out some of the most dubious employees. The contrapositive of this is also worth considering. Drug users will gravitate to those firms that are known in their network of users as lax or tolerant of such habits.
The second aspect of the role of screening is to reinforce the corporate culture of safety and non-acceptance of drug use. The use of regular and random testing serves as an ongoing protection against on-the-job drug usage.
With growing technology, such as hair follicle testing, the drug and alcohol tests available to employers are increasingly reliable. While drug testing may seem distasteful or even offensive to some, the growing prevalence of the social tolerance of drug use makes it even more of a necessity for employers.
No testing is as distasteful or offensive as the death of innocents and multi-million dollar business-crushing verdicts.
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