Drug and Alcohol Use by Todays Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators
By: Jake Elovirta, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance – Director of Compliance and Enforcement Programs
In the recent July and August 2022 Newsletters Darrin Grondel, Vice President, Government Relations and Traffic Safety for Responsibility.Org and Sheriff Brad Cole of the Christian County, MO Sheriff’s Office and National Sheriffs’ Association Traffic Safety Committee Vice Chair, respectively talked about the national prevailing concerns related to increased drug use and .08 BAC by regular motorist. Both articles highlight how important the topic is and how we as public safety professionals need to be ever so vigilant. However, let us discuss the same issues but now focusing on an important subset of the motoring public that sometimes flies under the radar for general law enforcement and the public until something really tragic occurs. Let us talk about commercial motor vehicles and their drivers.
While the standard for passenger vehicle operators is .08 BAC an operator of a commercial motor vehicle is held to a much higher standard and are considered to be under the influence of alcohol at .04 BAC (49 CFR § 382.201 Alcohol concentration). Additionally, under the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMCSA) regulations, a commercial operator may not use alcohol within four hours of going on duty or operating a commercial vehicle. Drivers cannot possess alcohol in the cab, and any driver who appears to have consumed alcohol in the past four hours must be placed out of service for 24 hours. Nor should a driver be on duty and possess, be under the influence of, or use drugs or substances ( 49 CFR § 392.4 Drugs and other substances).
The use of drugs and alcohol by profession drivers while operating a commercial motor vehicle (49 CFR § 382.107 Definitions ) like a 80,000 lbs. tractor trailer, a motor coach or even small businesses like your local landscaper it is taken quite seriously by the FMCSA and state jurisdiction responsible for motor carrier safety. To actively address the issue of drug and alcohol use by commercial motor vehicle operators FMCSA has created the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse (DACH) to better monitor commercial motor vehicle drivers. The DACH is a secure online database that gives employers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLAs), and State law enforcement personnel real-time information about commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders’ drug and alcohol program violations. DACH contains records of violations of drug and alcohol prohibitions in 49 CFR § 382 Subpart B — Prohibitions, including positive drug or alcohol test results and test refusals. When a driver completes the return-to-duty process and follow-up testing plan, this information is also recorded in the Clearinghouse.
Registration for the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse) began for identified user in September 2019. Commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders, employers, consortia/third-party administrators, medical review officers, and substance abuse professionals all are required to register within the Clearinghouse. As of June 1, 2022, there were nearly three million drivers (CDL/CLP holders) registered with DACH. However, that number does not include owner operators in that count as they are considered a sub-set of Employers. Since January 6, 2020, when FMCSA started recording positive test results for drugs and alcohol, drugs have represented 82% of the total violations reported. I am sure that it is no surprise to the readers that the Marijuana Metabolite (Delta 9-THCA) is the number one drug substance detected. Rounding out the top five are Cocaine Metabolite (BZE), Methamphetamine (MET/MAMP), Amphetamine (AMP) and Oxymorphone (OXYM). In 2021 there were 59,008 tests which resulted in violations reported for drugs and alcohol.
If a commercial motor vehicle operator (CDL/CLP holder) has a drug and alcohol program violation recorded in DACH, that subject must be removed from safety-sensitive functions, including operating a commercial motor vehicle, until the return-to-duty process is completed. Certain steps in the driver’s return-to-duty process are recorded in DACH. As of June 1, 2022, there were 129,829 CDL/CLP holders in the return-to-duty process. For 33,259 CDL/CLP holders they were able to complete the return-to-duty process successfully which means they were no longer in a prohibited status from performing safety-sensitive functions after meeting the return-to-duty requirements. Unfortunately, that means there still are 96,570 CDL/CLP holders still in a prohibited status of which 72,808 have failed to even start the necessary processes for changing their return-to-duty status. (Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse – Monthly Summary Reports)
So why is the data reported by the DACH so important for public safety? In the United States there is approximately 13,000 commercial motor vehicle officer and inspectors who conduct commercial vehicle safety inspections under FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program or as its better-known acronym MCSAP. In FMCSA’s Fiscal Year 2021 there were 2,844,846 MCSAP Roadside inspections conducted. Of those MCSAP Roadside Inspections 552,938 were categorized as Traffic Enforcement inspections resulting in 5,464 drug and alcohol violations detected (FMCSA Roadside Inspections). This means MCSAP officers are only able to detect a small amount of all drug and alcohol violations at roadside versus what was collected and reported to the DACH. The majority of the time MCSAP officers deal with commercial motor vehicles and their operators the time but cannot be expected be available to stop all impaired CDL/CLP holder all the time.
This is where the assistance of all public safety professionals is so vitally important. Many patrol officers, deputies and troopers when asked about stopping a commercial motor vehicle and their operators for a traffic violation or suspected impairment will express a level of uneasiness, trepidation or intimidation about stopping a commercial motor vehicle. For those officers it can be the vehicles size, the jargon used and/or the unfamiliarity with the state/federal regulations surrounding commercial motor vehicle operations. While understandable I will often times encourage those officers to look at a commercial motor vehicle like a car but on “steroids.” The same commercial motor vehicle driver needs to have a valid license, registration and insurance. If you stopped the CDL/CLP holder for speeding or an unsafe lane change, write that operator the ticket or citation for the observed violation. The same goes for the operator suspected of being impaired treat them like just like a regular motorist. I am not aware of any jurisdictions that will fault you for acting or requiring action outside of the officers’ training and/or authority. You will find that motor carriers and their respective safety officers want to know if their drivers are committing a traffic offense especially When it comes to using drugs or alcohol. You can be part of the solution and your assistance helps make our roads safer for all users.
About the author: Jake joined CVSA in January 2021 with 32 years of law enforcement experience. He spent much of his law enforcement career focused on highway safety initiatives. Prior to joining CVSA, Jake served as director of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles’ Enforcement and Safety Division, retiring at the rank of colonel in 2020. In addition, he was a CVSA Level I certified inspector during his time as an officer. Jake held several CVSA leadership positions, including Region 1 president and vice president, and Information Systems Committee chairperson. Jake is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the International Association of Chiefs of Police Leadership in Police Organizations course.