The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration “FMCSA” is currently reviewing public comments on a proposed implementation of a nationwide clearinghouse to track drug and alcohol offenses among commercial driver’s license holders.
John Esparza, president and CEO of the Texas Trucking Association, says the federal program is modeled after the system operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety for several years now. This program has been very successful in the state. DPS tracks drug and alcohol offenses among CDL holders, but only those within Texas. No other state tracks truck drivers or CDL holders in this manner.
Due to this, it causes a number of loop holes for companies. If a truck driver wanted to bypass this, they could. It leaves the door open for out-of-state drivers with past offenses, past rap-sheets to move to Texas looking for work and employers in the Lone Star State potentially never finding out about those offenses.
“More and more truckers from out of state and out of the country are coming to Texas thanks to the Eagle Ford Shale boom,” Esparza stated. “What I see is a lot of frustration with companies, up until this point, that feel like the playing field hasn’t been leveled.”
Big companies in the state of Texas can bypass such laws also. Texas trucking companies are not required to check the DPS database when hiring, although many who run background checks through third party companies queries using the same information data. It shows that we need something nationwide. There’s too many accidents and safety issues without drugs and alcohol in the equation. When drugs and alcohol are mixed in, it’s ten times worse.
“You let a driver go and then he turns up, or she, six months later bringing fuel onto your yard from another company,” said Esparza. “You realize there’s a bigger problem out there.”
Steve Blake, vice president and safety director of R. Wyatt Companies and a veteran of the trucking industry, believes the federal clearinghouse would close a gap. He cited another example of the shortcomings a lack of national tracking tool creates.
“A driver that works for you, or a trucking company, is seeking employment at a prospective employer,” Blake said. “They fail a pre-employment drug test, they don’t hire that driver, that driver comes back to you, continues to drive and you don’t know that you have a driver that has just failed a drug test.”
Companies would be required to run potential employees through the federal clearinghouse and check each hired driver annually. It would implement a system that would work and immediately make the trucking industry safer. Trucking companies would be charged a little more than $13 per driver per year as part of the program. The money spent is well worth it, it is a change that is needed.
The FMCSA estimates the clearinghouse would help reduce traffic crashes resulting in $187 million in benefits. That is a large amount of money. Not only is money going to be saved, lives are going to be saved and that makes it worth the effort.
Blake sees the proposal as a benefit for companies, CDL holders and everyone else on the road.“And you have to look at it like that – that it’s a checks and balances in our industry, to make sure that we have drivers that are drug and alcohol free,” Blake said.