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The New Year Brings Regulatory Change

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The trucking industry got a New Years’ present. As of January 1, 2016, only 25 percent of commercial drivers will have to be called for random drug tests every year, as opposed to 50 percent. That means there will be a significant reduction in expense and regulatory burdens for motor carriers as well as a relief for drivers themselves. However, if some carriers choose to continue testing at a rate higher than 25 percent, they are welcome to maintain that practice.

There is no change in actual drug policy. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is only changing the rate of annual random controlled substances testing percentage because the industry as a whole has maintained a drug policy violation rate (as shown by the number of positive tests) of less than 1.0 percent for three consecutive years. According to federal regulations, the agency could have made the shift last year, but chose not to, citing a need for additional information. If the violation rate comes back up to 1.0 percent or higher, FMCSA will raise the number of random drug tests back up to 50 percent of commercial driver positions.

Essentially, the industry is being given more freedom to govern its own drug policy compliance, provided it continues to do a good job. If some carriers do not maintain compliance, then every carrier will experience the consequences by having to endure more drug tests. Perhaps for this reason, individual carriers are at liberty to test more often than regulations require.

The shift comes as many question whether we’re about to see a spike in positive tests, given that many drivers now live in states where marijuana is legal at least under some recreational and medical circumstances. Because Federal law still lists marijuana as a controlled substance, and because the trucking industry is regulated at the federal level, commercial drivers are still prohibited from using marijuana, no matter what state law says.

It is worth noting that drug tests do not actually determine whether a driver is impaired at the time of testing, the way in which tests for alcohol prove. Instead, drug tests show whether the driver has used any of a list of substances within the previous days or even weeks. Alcohol is relatively easy to test for because both blood alcohol content and degree of muscular incoordination correlate well with the degree of mental impairment. No such correlation has been established for other drugs. As a result, regulators use testing to establish whether a driver has a lifestyle that includes prohibited substances, even if they never drive impaired.

To learn how random drug testing can benefit fleet management and boost productivity, click here


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