It takes special training to be able to drive one of those big rig semi trucks that cruise along the interstates alongside us here in Indiana and Illinois, and these commercial truck drivers need a special kind of driver’s license in order to operate one of those big, heavy trucks. Similarly, commercial bus drivers are a special group, with specialized skills and in need of a Commercial Driver’s License.
These are professional drivers working in the trucking industry to move goods and cargo from one part of the country to another; or they are driving heavy commercial buses filled with passengers in a job with its own kinds of distractions and challenges. We all rely on these professionals to do their jobs smoothly and well.
Pressures on Truck Drivers Create Temptations to Use Drugs or Alcohol
However, truck drivers particularly are faced with professional pressures just like others who work against deadlines. Big rigs and semis are moving down the road next to you with an expectation that they will arrive at their destination at a set time on a specific day. The faster that those tractor trailers move, the quicker deliveries are made — and the sooner those truck drivers can get back behind the wheel to do it all over again. That’s how the drivers make their money: being dependable with delivery deadlines.
That pressure can be intense. Truck drivers face the temptation of taking drugs to keep them awake and on the road. Truck drivers also face the temptation to drink alcohol and take other kinds of controlled substances to fight against stress and anxiety.
Which is not legal and which makes those commercial trucks even more dangerous on the road with you and me, assuming that the truck driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Drivers of these big machines are extremely dangerous out on the road. The risk of fatal accidents and truck crashes increases exponentially as drivers in sedans, cars, minivans, motorcycles, pickups, and other passenger vehicles ride alongside these big trucks and commercial buses with drivers who are operating under the influence of chemicals in their system.
How bad is it?
According to an investigation by FMCSA, almost 25% of commercial truck drivers were driving their trucks while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This included truck drivers who were driving trucks carrying hazardous materials as well as bus drivers who were transporting human passengers.
Twenty-five percent means 1 out of every 4 big rig semis on the roads today is being handled by a driver who’s got a blood level above the legal minimums for controlled substances.
That’s scary, isn’t it?
FMCSA Testing of Truck Drivers and Bus Drivers
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), testing for drivers of tractor-trailers and buses as well as other employees in safety sensitive positions, is going to stay at the current federal testing rate of 50% in 2015.
This is because of the industry information that FMCSA has gathered, which in addition to the above statistics also reveals that reasonable suspicion positive test rates have been rising, skyrocketing 500% in a three-year period:
- up 5.6 percent in 2010
- up 15.7 percent in 2011
- up 37.2 percent in 2012.
The Department of Transportation reports that there was an increase in positive drug test results from 95,427 positives in 2011 to 97,332 positives in 2012.
The FMCSA will test for drugs and alcohol in random testing of drivers for over 2000 carriers in the United States.
Federal Law Mandates Drug and Alcohol Testing of Commercial Truck Drivers and Bus Drivers
The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act is a longstanding federal law that mandates all agencies within the Department of Transportation to test for drugs and alcohol of all “safety-sensitive transportation employees.” FMCSA oversees the testing and implements the law’s drug and alcohol testing rules and regulations for those who drive commercial trucks and buses that require a commercial driver’s license (CDL). See, 49 CFR Part 382.
What Are These Tests Checking?
DOT drug tests are legally required to test for alcohol (0.02 and greater) as well as for five classes of drugs (illegal amounts defined in 49 CFR Part 40, Subpart F):
- Opiates – opium and codeine derivatives
- Amphetamines and methamphetamines
- Phencyclidine – PCP.