Sharing the road with tractor-trailers can be stressful, but we trust that commercial vehicle drivers do everything within their power to travel safely on Mississippi roads. A recent report indicates that some of that trust could be misplaced.
Drug use among truck drivers and operators is at its highest levels since the establishment of the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2019. Let’s take a closer look at current drug use trends in the trucking industry and what that could mean for the safety of Mississippi motorists.
FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Regulations
Like all motorists, commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers who operate large trucks are not permitted to do so while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Additional regulations govern those who hold a commercial vehicle driver’s license (CDL) as set forth by the FMCSA.
According to current regulations, truck drivers may not have any discernable level of drug in their system or a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04% or higher while driving. This is a lower threshold than the standard 0.08% BAC for those with a Class D license.
Consequences for Truckers Who Test Positive for Drugs
CDL drivers who are found to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, even while off duty, can be temporarily disqualified. Before being permitted to resume driving, truckers must complete a return-to-duty (RTD) process that includes:
- An evaluation by a substance abuse professional (SAP),
- Participation and successful completion of a prescribed treatment program,
- A negative drug and/or alcohol test, and
- A documented schedule for follow-up testing.
As of Jan. 2023, there were 166,296 CDL drivers in the RTD process.
FMCSA Drug Testing Requirements
All CDL drivers who operate commercial vehicles are subject to random Department of Transportation (DOT) drug and alcohol testing, including those who work full-time, part-time, intermittently, as backup, or internationally. Current regulations require that drivers be tested before being hired, randomly throughout the course of their employment, and after an accident involving:
- Serious bodily injury requiring medical treatment,
- Death of any involved party, or
- Disabling damage to any involved vehicle.
As a condition of their return to driving duties, drug and alcohol testing is also required for those who have refused to take a test in the past, as a refusal is generally treated as equivalent to a positive test result.
2022 Saw an Increase in Drug Use Within the Trucking Industry
According to data collected by the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, positive drug tests make up 82% of all violation reports it receives. In descending order, the top eight drugs identified in positive test results were:
Marijuana represents the largest share of drugs identified in CDL drivers’ test results. It is also the substance with the greatest increase in use, going from 29,511 positive results in 2020 to 40,916 positive results in 2022.
Total drug violations documented by the Clearinghouse has also increased drastically, from 53,514 violations in 2020 to 68,639 in 2022—an increase of approximately 28%.
What’s Behind the Increase in Trucker Drug Use?
A small percentage of the total increase in positive drug results reported to the Clearinghouse can be attributed to new registrations from employers, third-party organizations, and drivers. More participants does not wholly explain this increase, though, as the annual number of new registrations has been on the decline since 2020.
Some experts point to state-specific marijuana legalization as a driving factor in drug use by truckers. For example, the state of Mississippi legalized use of medical marijuana in 2022, although recreational use is still banned. However, federal laws and regulations supersede state laws regarding drug and alcohol use for CDL drivers, including truckers.
Truck drivers must adhere to the regulations set forth by the FMCSA and abstain from using marijuana medicinally or recreationally, even if they are based in or frequently travel to a state in which this substance has been made legal.
Depression and Loneliness
The nature of the job itself may be another factor in drug use among truck drivers. Long-haul driving is an inherently isolating experience, and some truckers turn to drugs and alcohol to address their feelings of loneliness, fatigue, and boredom.
To combat feelings of depression and loneliness that are common within the trucking industry, drivers should instead consider taking an active approach to their mental health. Truckers may be able to effectively address these and other mental health issues by speaking with a licensed therapist or traveling with a companion dog. Team truck driving, a process by which two drivers work as a team to transport freight in the same truck, can also be helpful.
Use of legally prescribed prescription medications is also common within the trucking industry. Drivers who struggle with feelings of sleepiness or fatigue may turn to Ritalin or Adderall, medications traditionally used to treat symptoms of ADHD. Others use drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine to stay awake on long drives.
However, just because a prescription medication has been prescribed legally does not mean that it is permissible for use by CDL drivers. Truckers found to be using Schedule I drugs or amphetamines (including Adderall) to stay awake will be disqualified from driving.
Safer approaches to reducing fatigue while on the road include:
- Drinking a beverage with caffeine
- Taking a 20-minute nap
- Taking regular breaks to stretch or perform light exercise
- Getting at least eight hours of sleep
Life After a Truck Accident
Truck drivers operating their vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more likely to cause accidents with passenger vehicles, and in many cases, those crashes are likely to be more severe.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck crash, you deserve to be fully and fairly compensated for your injuries. Let Pittman Roberts & Welsh, PLLC handle the legal side of your injury claim while you focus on your recovery.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.