From January 6, 2020, to June 2023, more than 190,000 drivers have been found to have a least one violation of DOT’s Drug and Alcohol Testing regulations, and over 135,000 of these drivers remain in prohibited status in FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Of the 203,406 positive drug tests reported to the clearinghouse, 117,568 — 57.8% — were for marijuana. With each passing day, more states are getting into the marijuana legalization game, with 23 states, two territories, and Washington, D.C. now allowing recreational use, while 37 states and two territories permit its use for medical purposes. The positivity rate for post-accident urine drug tests in the general U.S. workforce for employees was 7.3%, which has increased yearly for the last ten years. While the federally mandated safety-sensitive workforce positive rate is still less than one percent, we have recently experienced a 14% year-over-year increase (0.86% in 2021 versus 0.98% in 2022), an alarming fact. Additionally, according to researchers from Columbia University in New York, about 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. Given this information, where does this put us in our attempts to improve highway safety?
Marijuana use significantly impacts safety and has been proven to slow reaction time, impact memory, and impair judgment and skills essential to the driving task. This much we know. We don’t know how much judgment is made more difficult due to the lack of a reliable, standardized way to test impairment in the field. The growing acceptance of cannabis has led to a rise in states relaxing their rules, a patchwork of regulations, and varied impairment standards. This has resulted in much uncertainty and confusion and conflicts with the no-tolerance rules by which the trucking industry must live. Additionally, DOT now permits oral fluids testing and hair testing approval is likely not too far behind – the end result of which will expand the window of detection and realize more positive test results.
The prohibition in the trucking industry has led many to conclude that the increase in marijuana legalization and positive drug tests in CDL drivers has impacted the shortage of drivers in the industry. It also has some people arguing that loosening restrictions on marijuana use would make the industry more attractive and widen the labor pool of drivers.
In STC’s experience, successful trucking companies hold safety as a core value. It’s not a fad, flavor-of-the-month, or a “priority” (priorities change; values don’t). As an industry, while we are working to keep our highways and workplaces safe, we are also constantly trying to improve our public image by expressing how important the industry is to our economy and way of life. We want to recruit good and responsible people into our business and remove the bad actors. If we truly believe this, we will stand tall on this issue and take all steps we can to remove impaired drivers from our roadways and be proud about it. Highway safety depends on us to lead the way.