Even under Clearinghouse, truck drivers can fail a drug test yet remain behind the wheel
The U.S. DOT’s new database of drivers who have failed or refused a drug test is meant to restrict the ability of drivers who didn’t pass a drug test from holding or gaining employment as a truck driver. But new numbers released Friday by DOT reveal that thousands of drivers could have failed a drug test already this year yet could remain employed and potentially remain behind the wheel for months.
“There are situations where things could fall through the cracks,” said Tom Fulmer, vice president of National Drug Screening, a national provider of DOT drug tests.
DOT said Friday that more than 8,000 records have been added to its CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse since Jan. 6, the date that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s rule took effect. That means, as of Friday, more than 8,000 CDL holders have failed or refused a drug test (or committed an alcohol violation) as part of a pre-employment screening, random drug test or post-accident test in the last seven weeks.
Those who have failed a random drug test or a post-accident test have likely been sidelined but drivers who failed a pre-employment screening could still be employed and still be driving.
“It’s not impossible,” said Kathryn Russo, an advisor for drug testing law at the law firm Jackson Lewis P.C. She added that it’s unclear “how many of those 8,000 that would apply to.”
For example, if a driver who holds a driving job, then applies to drive for another fleet and is turned away for failing a pre-employment drug test, he or she could still retain employment without their current fleet knowing. Such drivers could remain employed and driving until their fleet runs the required annual query of the Clearinghouse.
Just six weeks in, it’s likely many fleets haven’t run their annual query. There’s no mechanism for notifying fleets when one of their drivers fail a drug test during a pre-employment test at another carrier, other than the annual query.
By law, drivers are required to notify their fleet if they fail a drug test.
“If that doesn’t happen, the only way their employer would learn of it would be through a query [to the Clearinghouse]”, said Kathy Close, a compliance expert at J.J. Keller. Like Russo, she says it’s unknown how many of the 8,000 reported entries are current drivers who failed a pre-employment screening or who failed a random drug test.
FMCSA told CCJ in a statement that any driver who fails a drug test and has not completed the required return-to-duty procedures is disqualified from driving. But, says Close, “it’s up to the employer to learn of it,” if a driver doesn’t notify their fleet they’ve failed a drug test elsewhere.
The best practice for fleets to ensure their drivers haven’t failed a drug test and remain employed? Run a query of their drivers in the Clearinghouse.
Queries cost $1.25 per query per driver. If carriers run their entire fleet monthly, that’s $15 a year per driver.
“That’s a small investment,” said Fulmer, to know if one of your drivers has failed a drug test.
Both Fulmer and Close advised that carriers update their drug testing policy forms to ensure that drivers know that they can query the database regularly, rather than once annually.