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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Unfit Commercial Drivers On Nation’s Roads

New Study Reveals Truck Drivers Taking Illegal Drugs Ignore Federal Regulations

Congressional investigators say tractor-trailer and bus drivers who tested positive for illegal drugs are ignoring federal regulations by returning to work without the required treatment, in some cases transporting hazardous materials for many months.

Recently, The Associated Press obtained the Government Accountability Office survey, which details the problems involving unfit commercial drivers who can operate trucks weighing 40 tons or more. According to the GAO, 19 out of 37 commercial drivers kept quiet about their previous positive drug test in the last two years were hired elsewhere less than a month later.

Tractor-trailer or bus drivers who tested positive for cocaine, amphetamines or marijuana, passed a new pre-employment drug test either by quickly going clean or masking drug use by using products such as synthetic urine. The GAO said they then operated commercial vehicles for periods ranging from one month to over a year.

Transportation Department regulations necessitate that prospective employers request drug-testing records from previous employers, with the commercial driver's consent. But some drivers who tested positive do not go through treatment and do not disclose test results. If it does not vigorously investigate, the new company might unaware of drug use.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. is leading the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in looking at ways to remove unfit commercial drivers from the nation's highways. To make it easier for employers to conduct checks, one proposal would create a clearinghouse for commercial truck drivers’ drug test results.

Oberstar said that the House committee "was instrumental in creating drug and alcohol testing rules in the late 1980s, and we will not stand idly by while drug-using drivers make a mockery of them. GAO's findings just prove that we must move forward aggressively to ensure the safety of the traveling public, and this committee will introduce legislation in that pursuit."

The GAO cited the following cases:
- In May 2007 a Tennessee truck driver tested positive for cocaine. A new employer rehired him after passing a new test eight days later. Before testing positive, the driver was charged with possession of a controlled substance. For several months afterward he drove trucks containing cargo and hazardous material.
- In October 2007 an Oklahoma truck driver tested positive for marijuana and nine days later passed a new test with another company. The driver told investigators he "took appropriate measures to clean his system before applying at the second employer." According to the new employer, they were unaware of the prior drug test during the hiring and let him drive for a couple of months, but that he was now no longer working for the company.

The latest review comes after a GAO safety study disclosed by the AP earlier this month discovered hundreds of thousands of drivers who hold commercial licenses for full federal disability payments. According to that report, the Veterans Affairs Department, Labor Department or Social Security Administration determined that 563,000 commercial drivers were eligible for benefits over health issues, with alarming examples that raised doubts about the safety of the nation's highways.

House lawmakers recently scolded federal regulators for neglecting to implement recommendations made in 2001 that are aimed at keeping medically unfit commercial truck and bus drivers off the roads.

In the latest GAO study, investigators examined at data from a third-party administrator for commercial drivers who had tested positive for illegal drugs with one employer and then negative for another employer. The GAO then discovered cases over the past two years where drivers had tested negative less than a month after a positive result.

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