As more states legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana, commercial fleet operators across the country are stepping up their training on reasonable suspicion to manage the risk of drivers operating vehicles under the influence of marijuana. drugs, according to experts.
Thirty-six states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana in one form or another. However, it remains illegal at the federal level and subject to the testing requirements of the United States Department of Transportation for commercial driver’s license holders.
Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse – which began collecting data on positive drug tests from CDL license holders as of January 6, 2020 – shows that out of 80,000 tests for The blood alcohol and drug levels failed since then, more than half were due to positive results for marijuana metabolites.
“Right now, with the shortage of drivers … every time a driver tests positive for a substance it’s a huge blow,” said John Simms, senior risk advisor based in Inverness, in the Illinois, at HNI Truck Group, an Acrisure LLC Company.
The clearinghouse requires CDL drivers and their employers to report positive blood alcohol and drug tests and requires employers to use the clearinghouse to identify whether drivers being considered for hire have had a drug or alcohol related offense in the past three years.
“It’s the cognitive functioning of the driver that concerns us the most,” said Ryan Pietzsch, technical consultant for the Mechanicsburg, Pa. Driver safety program at the National Safety Council. “When you talk about utility vehicles, CDL drivers, these vehicles weigh over 26,000 pounds. They are major destroyers.
While the majority of failed drug tests for drug addiction are pre-employment tests, most failed blood alcohol tests are random, followed by testing due to reasonable suspicion of intoxication, the data shows. of the 2020 clearinghouse.
There have also been “dramatic increases” in the number of incidents in which a driver is under the influence of both marijuana and alcohol, said Clair Stroer, program manager in impaired driving practice. at the NSC.
Many fleets are “really stepping up their training on reasonable suspicion for supervisors,” said Darren Beard, Kansas City, Missouri-based senior loss control consultant at Lockton Cos. LLC.
As CDL regulations require fleet supervisors to receive 120 minutes of training on symptoms of alcohol or controlled substance use, more and more companies are stepping up efforts to enable supervisors to ‘Identify potential signs of impairment both in person and over the phone, he said. .
“It’s really to manage risk; it’s not so much about whether they smoked marijuana three weeks ago, ”Mr. Beard said, adding that companies“ are focusing on the impaired aspect to protect not only their liability, but also the automotive public ”.
Store supervisors can play a key role in identifying deficiencies. “When drivers aren’t driving, this is where they hang out,” Mr. Simms said. Management should “have weekly conversations about the drug and alcohol environment that exists in the world” and “make a point of having one-to-one conversations (with drivers)”.
Fleet employers are also increasing their education about marijuana and making sure drivers understand that CBD, which is not regulated, may contain THC which could result in a positive drug test, he said. declared.
“CBD products are often the culprits (behind positive marijuana tests) because the majority of drivers think it’s okay to take these drugs,” said Chris Eastly, Pittsburgh vice president and senior consultant in risks at Hub International Ltd. He encourages companies to do more than just distribute DOT’s mandatory drug and alcohol education information and hold “emergency conversations” to make sure drivers understand the policies.
And while some might speculate that states with more liberal marijuana laws would see higher levels of drivers testing positive for drugs, this is not the case, according to the clearinghouse. Texas has the highest number of CDL drivers with positive drug tests, followed by California, Florida, Georgia and Illinois.
Although Texas has a large population, it also has “probably one of the most restrictive marijuana programs,” Beard said. “I don’t necessarily think you can draw a conclusion from the data at this point, (but) when you look at the people of Colorado” who are 18th in positive drug tests and where recreational marijuana is legal “it is far from proportion. ”
The concern is different for fleets that do not require drivers to have a CDL and therefore are not subject to drug testing regulations under federal law. Identifying marijuana use is even more important to these businesses because of its scale, Mr. Beard said.
“Many of our unregulated fleet employers are faced with tough decisions about either eliminating marijuana from their drug-free testing program or completely eliminating drug testing just to get candidates through the door.” , did he declare.
Truck fleet operators, facing a particularly tight labor market, are looking for ways to retain skilled drivers who may have failed a drug test, experts say.
“Finding qualified drivers is number 1 – it’s always been and continues to be a struggle today,” said Darren Beard, senior loss control consultant based in Kansas City, Missouri at Lockton Cos. LLC. According to the American Trucking Association, the turnover rate of drivers for major carriers was on average 90% in 2020.
In an effort to retain good drivers who may have failed a drug test, some fleets are creating self-admission policies to allow drivers to recognize their problems and seek help through channels. appropriate without negative implications, Beard said.
“Not all employers necessarily had this in their program before, but at this point, with such a shortage of CDL drivers, people are taking a look,” he said.
Some companies are considering strengthening their employee assistance programs or providing access to drug addiction professionals to retain good drivers with positive test results, said Nina French, president of solutions for employers and forces. order from Hound Labs Inc., a biotechnology company based in Oakland, Calif., which has developed technology to detect marijuana impairment.
While most fleets will generally “hand the driver some referral information” while terminating their employment if they test positive for drugs or alcohol, the scarcity of drivers may prompt them to consider alternatives, a said Chris Eastly, Pittsburgh-based vice president and senior risk consultant at Hub International Ltd.
“Maybe (the fleet management company) had better readjust and keep someone on the payroll and behind the wheel,” he said.