The latest data from a national clearinghouse of commercial driver drug tests shows that violations increased 18% from 2021 to 2022. Marijuana violations were up 31%—more than any other drug.

Large trucks account for around 4% of all registered vehicles but account for 9% of all fatal crashes. Truck accidents kill around 100 New Yorkers and injure thousands every year.

Reported Violations Doubled Year-Over-Year

The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, launched in 2020 and administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), lists all commercial drivers with a failed drug or alcohol test.

Total violations reported to the clearinghouse in 2022 rose 18% from 2021 to 2022, the latest statistics show. The rate of increase nearly doubled the 9.2% increase from 2020 to 2021.

Marijuana violations saw the largest annual rise, with 40,916 in 2022, compared to 31,085 in 2021. However, except for hydrocodone and heroin, positive drug tests were up across the board. Overall, there were 68,639 positive drug tests among commercial drivers in 2022, versus 55,223 in 2021.

The higher number of positive tests is due in part to more drivers entering the database, safety experts say. Positive tests reflect both drivers in the preemployment screening process and employed drivers tested randomly.

Major industry groups, including the American Trucking Association, pushed for the creation of the database. The clearinghouse is meant to prevent drivers who violated drug or alcohol rules from jumping from job to job, thus improving road safety and decreasing truck company accident liability.

Drivers who follow a return-to-duty process can remove their name from the clearinghouse. From January 2020 to April 2022, around 124,000 commercial truck drivers were removed from duty due to a failed test. Approximately 31,000 are back on the road after being cleared to drive again. The number of rehabilitated drivers rejoining the trucking workforce has steadily risen from 12.5% at the end of 2020 to 27.6% in 2022.

Positive Drug Tests Could Be Undercounted

The clearinghouse closed a loophole that previously allowed drivers fired for a failed drug test to lie about it and get hired by a different trucking company. But there could be a flaw in the system, which currently relies on urine tests and does not allow hair tests.

A study from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) found that hair testing is more effective at detecting harder drugs than urine testing. Nearly 59,000 additional drivers would have failed preemployment drug screenings since 2020 if hair tests were used, according to the researchers.

This amount includes 16.2% more cocaine users and 14.34% more opioid users than found in federal database urine tests. FreightWaves reports that, based on the assessment, more truckers are using cocaine than marijuana.

The federal government is “seriously underreporting the actual use of harder drugs by truck drivers, such as cocaine and illegal opioids,” said UCA professor Doug Voss.

The Trucking Alliance, a trucking industry group that commissioned the UCA study, has asked the FMCSA to report the results of hair testing to the clearinghouse.

Research has found that drivers using cocaine can be aggressive and reckless behind the wheel, while opioids can cause drowsiness, reduced attention, and impaired thinking. Studies have also shown that marijuana negatively affects drivers.

Medical cannabis is legal in 37 states and recreational cannabis is legal in 21 states, including New York. However, federal law preempts state law regarding medical and recreational marijuana use.

An NHTSA study published last year shows that 54 percent of roadway users seriously injured or killed in traffic accidents had alcohol or drugs in their bloodstreams. THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, was the most common drug detected in accident victims.

Nationwide, 107,000 large trucks were involved in injury crashes and nearly 5,000 were involved in fatal crashes in 2020. In New York, there are roughly 3,000 – 4,000 large truck injury crashes per year and 80 – 90 fatal large truck crashes.

Large truck accident injuries and fatalities overwhelmingly occur to the occupants of other vehicles. FMCA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) found that large trucks were assigned the critical reason in 55% of crashes. The critical reason was assigned to truck drivers in 87% of cases. About 20% of accidents involved a truck driver under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or over-the-counter drugs.

FMCSA is gathering data for a follow-up study to the LTCCS. Federal rules require drivers to be tested for drugs and alcohol after every fatal accident and after bodily injury accidents when the driver has been issued a citation. Hair tests are not required.

Talk to a Truck Accident Lawyer at The Sanders Law Firm

Truck accidents are more likely than car accidents to result in “serious injuries,” as defined in New York State No-Fault insurance laws.

If you were hit by a large commercial truck, you may be able to sue the driver and trucking company for your injuries. Large trucks must carry at least $750,000 in liability insurance, and some carry up to $5 million.

Schedule a free case review today: call 855-SANDERS or contact us.