May 26, 2014 2:45 AM, EDT

Industry Urges FMCSA to Close Loopholes In Drug, Alcohol Clearinghouse Proposal

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the May 26 print edition of Transport Topics.

A proposed federal rule that would establish a national database of truck drivers who fail their drug and alcohol tests contains a number of “loopholes,” several motor carriers, trade associations and safety interest groups said in written comments on the proposal.

Foremost among those loopholes is a provision that restricts employers from listing the names of drivers who admit to, or are observed, abusing drugs or alcohol.

Several comments also objected to the use of commercial driver license numbers as identifiers in the database, which they said could simply allow drivers to find another job with a carrier that’s not required to have drivers obtain CDLs. Drivers should instead be identified by Social Security numbers, commenters said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s clearinghouse proposal was announced in February, and the comment period ran through May 21.

While the vast majority of the more than 150 comments strongly supported the clearinghouse concept, many had suggestions on ways to improve it.

One of those suggestions came from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“Drivers who are observed engaging in misuse, or who admit to misuse [of drugs or alcohol] will be able to escape the consequences of their actions and continue operating” without their names listed, CVSA wrote. “Instead, FMCSA should require reporting of these violations to the clearinghouse, so that subsequent employers can more certainly learn of them.”

CVSA is a group of state and local law enforcement agencies that inspects trucks and buses for safety.

American Trucking Associations said FMCSA’s explanation that providing objective documentation of such direct observations would be difficult was “unpersuasive.”

“Employer observations of drug-alcohol misuse and employee admissions of misuse must be captured by the clearinghouse,” ATA said. “The clearinghouse must be a ‘one-stop shop’ for all drug and alcohol violations and test results.”

The Colorado Motor Carriers Association was among several commenters who requested that the agency clarify who would be permitted to access the clearinghouse.

“Third-party background screening companies must have access to the clearinghouse,” the association wrote. “Many employers rely exclusively on third parties to conduct applicant background screening for them.”

Drivers said they support the rule overall, but one, Tessa Rawlette of Fredericksburg, Virginia, had privacy concerns.

“As a driver, I am very concerned about the security of this database,” Rawlette wrote. “In my opinion, you have too many parties authorized to input data. Please limit the data input to just the carrier or the carrier’s third-party administrator.”

Motor carriers Schneider and C.R. England Inc. suggested that carriers be permitted to include the names of drivers who fail hair tests, not just urine tests.

Both carriers use hair tests, which they said are far more effective in detecting drug use.

“We have tested over 40,000 individuals who have provided both samples at the same time,” Schneider said. “As a result of those tests, we have seen a positive rate for the urine analysis of 0.30%, while our positive rate for hair testing has been 3.63%.”

J.B. Hunt Transport Services said the agency should not limit the names on the clearinghouse to only those who drive trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds — Classes 7 and 8 vehicles.

“It is inevitable that many drivers who fail a test and who can’t ‘job hop’ due to the clearinghouse will downgrade to an operator’s license and migrate to carriers not required to conduct testing or check for past test failures,” Hunt wrote.

The Truckload Carriers Association objected to a requirement that carriers inquire with previous employers whether a prospective driver had violated the alcohol and controlled substances prohibitions within the previous three years.

“TCA believes that with the use of technology and the development of this repository, any inquiry with previous employers should be considered unnecessary, inefficient and costly,” TCA wrote. “The same information derived from previous employers will be delivered faster and more accurately from the clearinghouse.”