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Pennsylvania softens post-collision drug and alcohol testing rules

Pennsylvania has eliminated its requirement that any accident that occurs with a commercial vehicle in the state requires a drug and alcohol test be administered to the driver.

The state legislature approved the changes a few months ago, according to Douglas Marcello of Marcello & Kivisto, a trucking-focused attorney based in Carlisle, Pa. It would end a regulation that put Pennsylvania alone among states with such a requirement which also put it at odds with rules administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Instead, the Keystone State dropped the requirement for testing on every incident and instead will adopt the federal policy known as “hearsed, nursed or towed.”

According to Marcello, that three-pronged test means that a drug test needs to be administered to a driver of a commercial vehicle if somebody is killed in an accident; if somebody is injured enough that they need medical treatment; or if the vehicle is damaged enough that it needs to be towed.

“Pennsylvania law said the police officer shall have the operator go and get blood testing done after an accident and they company had to pay for it,” Marcello said of the old law. But police resisted doing that, he said, because outside of the law there often was no probable cause — such as signs of intoxication — to administer a test. And their concern was that even if the test was administered, “and if they got a positive result, they weren’t sure what they were going to do with it because what is the basis for obtaining the test result?”

Marcello said that “90 percent of the time,” the police officers who did follow the letter of the law and administered the test were local police, many of them relative rookies. State police officers and veteran local officers often didn’t bother if there was no sign that, for example, a fender bender was nothing more than that: a minor accident that did not suggest that the driver was under the influence of a foreign subject.

Since Pennsylvania was an outlier with the law, Marcello said his trucking company clients would often be further stunned at the fact that the drug test — to be paid for by the commercial vehicle owner — was to be paid for by them.  

As far as the time frame necessary to implement the rules that would replace the now-eliminated amendment, Marcello said he believed it would be easy. All the state needs to do “is adopt a regulation that says ‘we adopt the federal regulations,'” he said. Since most of the drivers in the state already are interstate drivers, they are acquainted with “hearsed, nursed, towed” regulations. It might only be intrastate drivers who will be encountering those rules for the first time.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.