The offenses of Jerry Reed’s “Snowman” in Smokey and the Bandit are nothing compared to the way these guys drive.
The GAO’s report focuses on two areas:
1) the factors that contribute to the challenges of drug testing drivers, and
2) possibilities for addressing these challenges.
(for highlights of the report, click here)
Unscrupulous drivers and carriers know that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is overburdened. According to the GAO study, FMCSA reviews “touch about two percent of the industry.” The known limited resources promote a lack of adherence to federal regulations among some companies, particularly ones with six or fewer drivers. Led by profits, drivers want to stay on the road longer (despite 11 hour rules) and to do so, many take drugs. Without constant supervision by the FMCSA, these drivers skirt the law and endanger ordinary citizens.
An investigation by Lisa Myers for MSNBC highlights some of the main flaws of the current system, including job hopping. The scariest part of the MSNBC report includes monitored CB radio conversations at truck stops where truckers are buying and selling crack and cocaine.
The Dallas Morning News has been following the trucking industry since 2006, after its seven-month investigation written about in the series Road Hazards. According to a recent article in the DMN, the GAO report confirms its findings. The DMN adds:
"In 2006, 4,995 people were killed nationwide and 106,000 injured in crashes involving large trucks, the report noted. Statewide, about 500 people are killed each year in crashes involving large trucks.
Although mechanical problems, speeding and driver fatigue are the most frequent factors in fatal accidents involving big rigs, studies have also found that drugs or alcohol substantially increase the risk of accidents. The trucking industry blames passenger cars for causing the majority of accidents."
While Texas is one of seven states that has a database of drivers who have failed drug tests, it is also known for low reporting from carriers. Only drivers who have Texas CDLs are reported. The DMN article states that just over 13,000 entries are in the database.
Two states, North Carolina and Washington, are ahead of the game: following a positive drug test, a driver’s CDL is disqualified. Texas – and the FMCSA – could learn from their methods. The GAO recommends similar actions on a national level and that such a suspension only be lifted after a driver has completed the return-to-duty process. These suspensions would be regulated by medical review officers, rather than carriers, to ensure full compliance. Along with a national database of drug testing offenders, this would address job-hopper and state-hopper problems as well as owner-operator concerns.
Congressional action is necessary to see these changes enacted. They are long overdue. I hope that these recommendations of the GAO are not taken lightly, so that in the future each of us will be safer on the road.