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November 30, 2015 2:15 AM, EST

NTSB Seeks Industry’s Help to Stem Synthetic Drug Use

2014 crash wreckage/Bloomberg News
This story appears in the Nov. 30 print edition of Transport Topics.

The National Transportation Safety Board last week asked government agencies and commercial vehicle associations to help stem the potential use of synthetic drugs.

“Motor carriers need to know about this emerging class of drugs and they need better tools to detect driver impairment,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said.

The announcement followed an investigation into a September 2014 accident in which four people died on a bus that collided with a tractor-trailer. After the crash, a drug pipe was found, and the driver allegedly had used a synthetic alternative to marijuana. The trucker has been charged with four counts of manslaughter.

NTSB asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to “determine the prevalence of commercial motor vehicle driver use of impairing substances, particularly synthetic cannabinoids, and develop a plan to reduce the use of such substances.”

FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne said his agency “will fully cooperate with NTSB in fulfilling this recommendation.”

NHTSA spokeswoman Kathryn Henry said that her agency “is aware of the NTSB recommendations and will consider all available information in responding to these issues.”

American Trucking Associations and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance were asked to inform their members about the dangers of driver use of synthetic drugs and to try to prevent such use.

“ATA supports NTSB’s recommendations to FMCSA to determine the prevalence of impairing-substances use and to work with stakeholders, like the ATA, to develop a plan to aid motor carriers in addressing the use of these impairing substances,” ATA research analyst Abigail Potter said.

“How we can effectively test for drug impairment roadside is one of our biggest priorities,” CVSA acting Executive Director Collin Mooney said.

Greg Fulton is president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association in one of two states that voted to legalize marijuana in 2012 and opened its first retail outlets selling the substance in 2014.

“Some will point to the fact that it has generated about $70 million in additional tax dollars annually from an industry that was operating underground, [but] being that this is a totally cash business . . . it’s believed that actual sales are far greater than reported and a level of tax evasion is occurring,” Fulton said. “Legalization is [also] exacerbating an already tough labor market for industries like ours that require individuals to be drug- and alcohol-free.”

Of course, CMCA concurs with NTSB’s recommendations for trucking.

“We concur with the recommendation of educating drivers on synthetic drugs,” Fulton said. “We also believe that there needs to be some concerted effort to educate truck drivers of the lingering effect of marijuana in your system. Generally within 24 hours, alcohol has been cleared from one’s system. Marijuana can reside for a substantial period of time in one’s system.”

Washington is the other state where marijuana was legalized in 2012.

“Obviously, it’s too early for Washington to know the full impacts,” said Larry Pursley, Washington Trucking Associations’ executive vice president. “[However], our State Patrol [has reported] to the traffic safety commission an uptick among the general public in DUI offenses involving marijuana use.