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Truck driver drug testing system flawed according to GAO report

In my trucking trial law practice as an attorney in Atlanta, I see too many trucking accidents where drug use — including prescription medications — is a contributing factor. Recently the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on truckers’ drug tests that explains why and how.

The GAO report describes a defective oversight system that lets truckers fail a drug test but easily move on to driving for another company. Fewer than half of the roughly 85,000 truck drivers who test positive in random drug tests each year are believed to complete the required treatment and follow-up testing to return to their jobs, according to a news report by Gregg Jones of the Dallas Morning News.

The report noted that some trucking companies don’t bother to conduct the required pre-employment and random drug tests and have limited incentives to do so. Since only about 2 percent of all trucking companies undergo checks each year by state agencies and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there is little incentive to comply.

Truckers who choose to do so can beat the testing system by using false IDs and chemicals to alter their urine for drug tests. If caught, they can move on to other trucking companies, which the GAO described as “job-hopping.”

When those tactics wear out, they can “state-hop.” The states agencies generally don’t communicate well with each other. Therefore, one of the report’s recommendations is creation of a national database of truckers who fail drug tests.

Drug use could be significantly higher among truck drivers than what the random test data indicates because not all companies actually test, urinalysis can be unreliable, and results can be altered. For example, at 10 of 24 sites investigators who posed as truckers appearing for drug tests were not required to empty their pant pockets, although that is a requirement designed to prevent a driver from substituting clean urine samples or using drug-concealing agents.

Ken Shigley in Atlanta served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is a seminar speaker for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice, and is on the National Advisory Board and serves as a seminar speaker for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America. A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he is also a Master of the Lamar Inn of Court at Emory Law School, and Secretary of the State Bar of Georgia. He handles tractor trailer accident cases in all regions of Georgia, from Rome to Hinesville, and from Toccoa to Tifton.