May 23, 2008: Legislation to create a national database of drug and alcohol tests results from commercial truck drivers will be drafted by the House Transportation Committee, lawmakers said May 21.
Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member John L. Mica (R-Fla.) told reporters that they will work together to create a bill that addresses shortcomings in the trucking industry's drug and alcohol testing arena.
The lawmakers said the bill is being prompted by a Government Accountability Office report, released May 21, that calls for various improvements to the drug testing programs to better identify drug users in the trucking industry.
The report, Motor Carrier Safety: Improvements to Drug Testing Programs Could Better Identify Illegal Drug Users and Keep Them Off the Road, discusses concerns that some drivers may not be tested, some may be tested but avoid detection, and some may test positive but continue to drive commercially.
Federal law requires that commercial drivers submit urine specimens for drug testing; however, many drivers are not being tested because of the Transportation Department's limited oversight resources for all carriers and limited enforcement options for safety audits of new carriers. Government reviews of the testing cover about 2 percent of the industry.
The GAO report found that many collection sites are not following protocols, and that drivers are using products to subvert tests. For instance, GAO investigators, posing as commercial truck drivers needing drug tests, found that employees at 10 of 24 collection sites did not ask the investigator to empty his pants pockets, as they are required to do, to ensure he was not carrying adulterants or substitutes.
The report said factors contributing to drivers testing positive yet continuing to drive include drivers not divulging past drug test history and carriers' failure to conduct thorough background checks on a driver's past drug testing history.
Proposals Under Consideration
Although the legislation has not yet been drafted, Oberstar said it would establish a national clearinghouse of positive, refused, and adulterated drug and alcohol test results, and require employers to query the database as part of the hiring process.
He said the bill would increase oversight of collection facilities to ensure they comply with DOT regulations for testing of safety-sensitive transportation employees.
Furthermore, he said, the bill would strengthen enforcement over motor carriers without a drug testing program.
Oberstar said about 5,000 people died in 2007 in commercial truck accidents, but did not offer a specific number of accidents related directly to alcohol or drug use.
"The number is substantial, but one is too much," Oberstar said.
Mica said the lawmakers would work in a bipartisan manner, but he would not commit to being a co-sponsor. "I haven't seen a bill yet," Mica said.
Mica said he was drafting a letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters asking her to take necessary steps to address the findings in the GAO report and to "close down those [collection] places not going through protocols."
The GAO report appears on the agency's Web site at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/teamstersforademocraticunion/pages/6423/attachments/original/1434138847/d08600.pdf?1434138847.
By Derrick Cain