The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has warned federal regulators that disruptions affecting drug and alcohol testing pose significant challenges for truck drivers, leaving many of them unable to legally drive.
In a letter (pdf) sent to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Oct. 13, OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer said that disruptions affecting FMCSA’s testing system are causing “significant challenges and frustration” for truck drivers.
In order to remain compliant with federal drug and alcohol rules, all truck drivers are required to submit to random testing.
However, multiple issues such as a shortage of available testing clinics, a lack of qualified testing staff, and a lack of equipment; driven by the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, are leaving many truckers unable to drive.
“When a driver is notified that they will be tested, they must immediately report to a testing site,” Spencer wrote in his letter. “If a driver encounters issues at the collection site that prevent the facility from completing the test, such as a lack of testing equipment or qualified staff, they cannot simply leave the site. Even if a facility is unable to complete the required test, the driver cannot immediately leave. This is because leaving the site could constitute a refusal, which has the same consequences as a positive test.”
When a facility cannot complete a test, drivers must remain on the site and inform their employer of the issue and attempt to find another facility to conduct the test. Spencer said those drivers who cannot complete the test due to various reasons lose their ability to drive.
“These situations create challenges and frustrations for drivers, the testing sites, employers, and the consortiums that facilitate testing,” Spencer said.
The OOIDA President said his association has increasingly experienced difficulties finding facilities to schedule and complete necessary tests for its members, many of whom have reported facilities lacking appropriate equipment such as drug testing specimen cups, due to a shortage of plastics.
“In other instances, facilities don’t have qualified personnel to administer the test. From what we have heard from testing facilities, these disruptions are due to the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Spencer said.
The OOIDA President called on the FMCSA to issue guidance or “provide temporary relief” to ensure truck drivers are able to drive and are not prevented from doing so due to supply chain issues limiting drug and alcohol testing capabilities.
He noted that FMCSA has already issued relief for other testing challenges. In June 2020, the administration issued a three-month drug-testing waiver to help motor carriers bring back their furloughed truck and bus drivers.
In July, it issued a discretion determination notice (pdf) that allowed the agency to exercise discretion when enforcing certain requirements for the rates and frequency of drug and alcohol testing.
Spencer also asked that the FMCSA clarify what options are available to drivers who encounter problems accessing testing at facilities and are unable to complete a test.
“Furthermore, FMCSA should ensure that all DOT staff responsible for administering the drug and alcohol testing program are aware of these issues and can recognize them when they are reported. At a minimum, FMCSA must alleviate potential confusion that drivers may face by improving communication about these complications,” Spencer added.
Industries across the United States are facing acute bottlenecks in supply chains, such as material and worker shortages as well as the skyrocketing prices of materials, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, further exasperating inflation levels.
In August, Bloomberg reported that some companies were turning abroad to countries such as South Africa, Mexico, and Canada, to hire drivers.
In a meeting with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, and Meera Joshi, deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the trucking industry asked the U.S. Labor Department to lower the minimum age for interstate drivers from 21 to 18 and give the trucking industry a pass around some immigration certification processes to expedite the hiring of foreign drivers.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced that Walmart, FedEx, and UPS will expand their efforts to help with the ongoing supply chain bottlenecks and shortages caused by the pandemic, ahead of the holiday season.
Biden said that the federal government will be “working with stakeholders across the supply chain for a 90-day sprint to the end of the year to troubleshoot and alleviate many of the bottlenecks we can quickly address.”