The U.S. is heavily dependent on large vehicles like trucks and buses for commercial transport. On any given day, on any interstate highway across the country, high numbers of tractor-trailer trucks are traveling on the same roads as passenger vehicles and at high rates of speed. Of course, these immense, heavy vehicles are especially treacherous when involved in accidents with smaller vehicles like cars, minivans and SUVs, to say nothing of the dangers they pose to motorcycles and pedestrians. Because of the risk of serious injury and death in commercial vehicle collisions, the federal government pays serious attention to its responsibility to keep U.S. roads safe from drunk, drugged, negligent and otherwise unsafe truck and bus drivers.
The FMCSA Role
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s primary mission is safety enforcement of commercial traffic. As part of this effort, the FMCSA issues commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs) and enforces strict Department of Transposition (DOT) regulations requiring commercial trucking and busing companies – as well as governmental agencies and nonprofits that use drivers with CDLs – to test drivers for drug and alcohol use.
The Annual Sweep
One of the ways the FMCSA fulfills its responsibility is through an annual drug and alcohol strike force sweep, which happened this year. Almost 200 federal investigators combed through motor-carrier safety records looking for violations of alcohol and drug testing and reporting laws. This year’s sweep resulted in the removal of 287 potentially unsafe commercial drivers from duty and enforcement actions against over 120 trucking or busing companies shown to have insufficient testing and reporting programs. Those individuals and companies found in violation of the law face potential fines and driving prohibitions. The task force specifically targeted drivers who “jump from carrier to carrier” in an attempt to avoid alcohol and drug testing programs with their various employers.
Testing Is Heavily Regulated
The urine, saliva and breath testing procedures and standards are carefully laid out within the federal regulations. There are specific requirements for laboratories and personnel who provide the testing as well as for the technology, testing equipment and recordkeeping processes used. If an employee fails an alcohol or drug test, the regulations set out specific assessment, evaluation, education and treatment program requirements. Additionally, a careful return-to-duty process with ongoing, further testing must be followed before an employee can return to “safety-sensitive functions.”
Laws concerning alcohol use among commercial drivers differ from those affecting non-commercial drivers. While the legal limit for regular drivers is a blood-alcohol content of 0.08, for commercial drivers it is 0.04, half of what the legal limit is for the general public. Additionally, drivers operating under a CDL license may not perform safety-sensitive functions within four hours of drinking any amount of alcohol. Employers of commercial drivers are required to randomly test roughly 10 percent of their drivers for alcohol use on an annual basis. Commercial drivers are also required to submit to alcohol testing after crashes that may have been their fault, after any fatal accident in which they were involved and when employers have “reasonable suspicion” of “alcohol misuse.”
Commercial driver drug testing regulations are similar in many ways to the alcohol provisions. However, random testing by employers for drugs must be performed on 50 percent of the drivers over the course of each year, five times the rate of the alcohol testing requirement. Urine samples are tested for phencyclidine or PCPs, cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines and opiates like heroin. Commercial drivers cannot ever use prohibited drugs, whether on or off duty. In addition, commercial drivers may not take certain prescribed drugs that can affect safety like barbiturates or morphine. This article just scratches the surface of the extensive safety regulations of commercial drivers and carriers by the U.S. and state governments. Anyone unfortunate enough to be in an accident with a large truck or bus should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to learn about the options for legal recovery. Your attorney can investigate whether the driver, or his or her employer, was in violation of alcohol or drug laws, or of other safety laws, as such violations can be important in your personal injury lawsuit.