Several major trucking companies have come together to ask the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to change the rules for how truck drivers are drug tested. According to Trucks.com, companies want a better and more reliable method of testing so they can more easily identify truckers who could have a substance abuse problem that could cause them to drive while impaired and potentially lead to a truck accident. Instead of using urine testing, as they currently do, they want to switch to hair testing.
It is more important than ever for trucking companies to be able to determine if someone is on a controlled substance before hiring that person and entrusting them with a truck that could weigh up to 80,000 pounds.
Although drug use has always been a problem within the trucking industry, the opioid epidemic nationwide is only likely to exacerbate serious safety issues.
Trucking Companies Need Reliable, Accurate Drug Testing
There are many reasons why it is vital that trucking companies are able to accurately test truck drivers to verify substance use. Safety is obviously of paramount concern. If a trucker tests positive for having drugs or alcohol in their system, the trucking company can stop employing that person so they won't have the chance to drive while impaired.
Another major incentive for trucking companies to conduct comprehensive drug testing is the possibility of a lawsuit. Trucks.com described one case in which a truck driver was impaired when he caused a collision that severely injured a former sheriff's deputy and the deputy's brother. The victims are seeking to recover $350 million in punitive damages.
The driver had a criminal record with multiple past drug arrests as well as convictions for DUI. The reason he was hired in spite of his record is that the agency tasked with screening his application failed to conduct a criminal background check. The driver's record with the company included four preventable collisions, but he was not fired until the aforementioned crash involving the former sheriff's deputy and his brother.
A trucking company could potentially be liable for damages to victims in cases like this one, both because of the company's negligent hiring practices, and because the trucker was acting as an employer's agent while performing work duties.
The risk of liability to a trucking company is significant since reportedly a lot of truckers use drugs or drink before driving. Reuters reported on the problems of truck driver impairment in 2013, finding that as many as 20 percent of truckers admitted to smoking pot and 12.5 percent of drivers tested for alcohol. This troubling report on drug use among truck drivers came before the opioid epidemic really started to become a crisis, as it has in recent years.
There were a record number of overdoses in 2014, the most recent year for which Health and Human Services has data available, and around 60 percent of all fatalities due to drug overdoses came from opioids. If the increased prevalence of opioid abuse includes an uptick in the number of truckers using opioids, this can make crash risks even greater. Truck accident victims should consult with a lawyer who can explain and protect their rights and help to hold truckers and trucking companies accountable.