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Viewpoint: Clearinghouse queries come due

The industry faces the potential of losing over 56,000 drivers from its workforce

In late December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reminded employers that they must conduct an annual query of the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse for all of their commercial driver’s license-holding employees on a rolling 12-month basis. With the bulk of these annual queries coming due in December, the FMCSA’s outreach was a timely reminder that carriers needed to prioritize conducting these queries before the end of the year.

In the latest report on Clearinghouse data issued by FMCSA, positive drug tests continue to represent the vast majority of violations reported, compared with actual knowledge violations or drug test refusal, and all alcohol violations. While the number of drug violations was slightly less than what was reported in the prior year, marijuana violations topped the list again in 2021. There were over three times more violations for marijuana use than the next highest substance, which was cocaine.

Even more alarming is the number of drivers who remain in prohibited status, unable to resume duties in a safety-sensitive function. Of the 95,876 drivers with at least one violation in the Clearinghouse, 75,337 of those are in prohibited status, with a whopping 56,543 drivers not having even started the return-to-duty (RTD) process. It is a fair assumption that most of those who have not begun the RTD process will likely leave the driving profession altogether rather than travel down the road of completing the prescribed treatment program and fulfilling all the requirements to be granted non-prohibited status.

While the national conversation over marijuana legalization continues, even within the halls of Congress, trucking must be prepared for ongoing challenges and potential disruptions to efficient operations due to drivers being disqualified over a positive drug test.

Unfortunately, the industry cannot afford to lose any of its workforce of professional truck drivers, let alone over 50,000 workers when the current driver shortage is estimated to be around 80,000 and growing. In this era of increasing marijuana legalization, potential confusion for drivers over the zero-tolerance stance of their job will only continue to grow. Carriers and the industry at large must be proactive in communicating the fact that controlled substances, including marijuana, are still illegal for professional truck drivers in their safety-sensitive roles.

Estimates predict that 1 million new drivers will need to be recruited over the next decade to replace drivers leaving the job and to sustain industry growth. These new drivers will be coming into the industry unfamiliar with nearly all aspects of the driving profession, including the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse and the corresponding federal requirements for drug testing. Ensuring that these drivers who are entering the industry are properly educated on the full ramifications of a positive drug test will be of the utmost importance to ensure they do not leave the industry and further exacerbate the driver shortage.

While the national conversation over marijuana legalization continues, even within the halls of Congress, trucking must be prepared for ongoing challenges and potential disruptions to efficient operations due to drivers being disqualified over a positive drug test. In order to mitigate the impact of drivers refusing to proceed with the RTD process, we must collectively employ successful strategies to retain these drivers and identify ways to keep them engaged, recognizing the importance of safety in the role and maintaining their interest in a truck driving job moving forward.