Magazine article Risk Management

Pass or Fail: Managing a Drug and Alcohol Testing Program

Magazine article Risk Management

Pass or Fail: Managing a Drug and Alcohol Testing Program

Article excerpt

The potential use of drugs or alcohol on the job is an especially large concern for fleet managers responsible for commercial drivers. The problems that can be caused by impaired drivers range from business interruptions resulting from faulty deliveries to lawsuits filed in the wake of accidents. These exposures are shared by businesses of all sizes in almost every industry. In fact, virtually every business that uses vehicles in the course of its operations has an interest in reducing the frequency and severity of these hazards.

One hazard-reduction tool mandated by the U.S. federal government is random drug and alcohol screening of commercial drivers. As part of an effort to reduce the number of drivers operating under the influence, the testing mandate also imposes a number of regulatory requirements and potential compliance liabilities.

The normal problems associated with moving goods are compounded by the fact that one or two of every 10 Americans use drugs on the job, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For companies involved in the transportation industry, the consequences can be horrendous. Few roadway hazards can inflict as much damage as a 40-ton truck careening out of control. At a velocity of 55 miles per hour, a truck travels 60 feet in three-fourths of a second - about the time it takes an alert driver to perceive a hazard. Under the best of circumstances, a fully loaded truck in daylight on a dry road cannot stop in less than 300 feet. Nighttime driving, rain (which doubles the stopping distance), gravel on roadways and brakes that are out-of-adjustment all represent conditions that can contribute to accidents. These dangers are exacerbated by impaired drivers, who take longer to react to potential hazards and are often unable to respond properly.

Recent California Highway Patrol statistics cite drugs as the leading cause of about 10 percent of fatal crashes by trucks, compared to about 25 percent of vehicles overall. And a Stanford University study confirms that even occasional marijuana use can impair eye-hand coordination up to 24 hours after ingestion.

The U.S. federal government began calling for mandatory drug and alcohol testing when two drug-impaired Conrail employees were identified as the cause of a 1987 train collision in Maryland that killed 16 people and injured 175. Testing was first instituted within the trucking, aviation, transit, rail and gas pipeline industries at an annual cost estimated by the U.S. Department of Transportation of approximately $200 million.

The legislative call for testing resulted in the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, which requires at least four types of alcohol and controlled-substance tests for all drivers who hold a commercial license. The act, which preempts a number of inconsistent state and local statutes, is intended to establish procedural requirements that assure the privacy and accuracy of test results, rehabilitate drivers found in violation and describe sanctions for compliance failures.

Since January 1, 1996, all employers with commercially licensed drivers on the payroll - temporary, part-time and fulltime - will be required to, over the course of the year, randomly select and test half of their drivers for drug use. Alcohol tests are required for 25 percent of a company's drivers. In addition to cargo transportation operations, drug and alcohol tests of commercial drivers must also be performed by churches and civic groups, school districts and federal, state and local governments.

Mandatory drug and alcohol testing is about to be expanded to Canadian employers sending drivers into the United States. Canadian companies with 50 or more drivers will be subject to the testing requirements as of July 1, 1996. The testing mandate will kick in for smaller employers a year later.

Required Actions

The regulations require alcohol and drug tests to be conducted under a variety of situations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.