Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn
The Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse) – an online database that gives employers and government agencies real-time access to information about holders of commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and commercial learner’s permits (CLPs) who are covered by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Testing Program – “might be too successful, at least where the nationwide truck driver shortage is concerned,” according to an article on the FleetOwner website.
The FleetOwner article explained when CDL/CLP holders test positive for a banned substance and the result is recorded in the Clearinghouse, CDL/CLP holders must cease “safety-sensitive” tasks like operating a commercial vehicle until they go through and clear the return-to-duty (RTD) process. Since the Clearinghouse took effect on January 6, 2020, 106,037 drug violations and 2,416 alcohol violations have been reported among CDL/CLP holders including people who refused drug and alcohol testing and thus disqualified themselves from driving.
Marijuana was the most popular drug among CDL/CLP holders after January 2020 with 58,904 positive results, according to the FleetOwner article. The other drugs included: cocaine; methamphetamine; amphetamines; the opioids oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone; morphine; codeine (commonly used in prescription cough syrup but widely abused); 6-acetylmorphone (a metabolite of heroin); phencyclidine (known as PCP or angel dust); MDMA (ecstasy or “Molly”); and the psychedelic drug MDA (“Sally”).
However, while the American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimated the trucker shortage is currently 80,000 drivers and could reach 160,000 drivers by 2030, the positives of the Clearinghouse outweigh the drivers disqualified. “If it’s a choice between an empty truck and having a drug-impaired driver, we’ll take an empty truck,” Dan Horvath, VP of safety policy for the ATA, told FleetOwner in an interview. “We are absolutely a champion of the [clearinghouse]. We advocated for it before its inception.”
In addition, Horvath pointed out that the federal Clearinghouse is not intended to end the careers of drivers but to instead “get them on the path to sobriety – at least when they are behind the wheel of a truck (a typical Class 8 weighs at least 33,000 lb. empty and even more loaded) hurtling down the highway,” according to the FleetOwner article. The federal Clearinghouse does have “an impact on the driver shortage, [but excluded drivers] can maybe come back to help us,” he conceded.
So while the trucking industry almost “unequivocally” loves the FMCSA Clearinghouse, the numbers show that drug and alcohol testing has an impact on the nationwide truck driver shortage. “[T]he answer is the driver shortage can’t be solved easily or quickly, but the contribution to safety of the system of drug and alcohol testing can’t be denied, either,” was the general opinion of the people FleetOwner interviewed for the article titled “Drug and alcohol testing and the driver shortage” published on February 21, 2022.
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