New Report Shows Data on Positive Truck Driver Drug Tests

In 2023, there were fewer truck driver drug screenings, but also a higher number of drivers who refused to take the test.
Truck driver

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released a report sharing new data on U.S. truck drivers. The report consists of a year-end compilation of data from 2023, as well as data specifically from December 2023, published by the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. This includes other data regarding “queries conducted, violations reported, and drivers in the return-to-duty (RTD) process.”

The report shows that there has been an increased number of truck drivers with positive drug tests in 2023, as well as a high number of drivers who refused to be screened. The number of registered truck drivers has dropped every year since 2020, landing at the current number of 858,000 in 2023. Trucker drug violations rose between 2022 and 2023, with 67,775 recorded in 2022, followed by 68,229 in 2023. However, the number of trucker drug tests decreased, with 57,597 in 2022 and 54,464 in 2023. 

The FMCSA wrote that there were fewer trucker screenings overall because they refused to be tested. “We’ve observed that even though the number of positive drug tests dropped for the first time in relation to the previous calendar year, the number of overall drug violations reported to the Clearinghouse continued to increase.”

“The overall rise in drug violations in 2023, even though there are fewer positive tests, is attributed to a nearly 40% increase in reported drug test refusals—9,214 in 2022 versus 12,804 in 2023,” the report stated. “Drug test refusals include employer reported refusals like failing to show up for a random test, or leaving a test collection facility after a test has begun but before it’s complete.”

A more complete breakdown shows that in 2020, there were 44,243 positive drug tests (with 7,092 refusals). This was followed by 48,407 positive drug tests in 2021 (with 7,941 refusals), 57,597 positive drug tests in 2022 (with 9,214 refusals), and finally 54,464 positive drug tests in 2023 (with 12,804 refusals).

Alcohol drug tests are also conducted for truck drivers, although the rate of positive alcohol tests pales in comparison to positive drug tests. In 2020, 697 truck drivers tested positive for alcohol (with 257 refusals), followed by 859 positive tests in 2021 (with 305 refusals), 904 positive alcohol tests in 2022 (with 330 refusals), and finally 1,036 positive alcohol tests in 2023 (with 315 refusals).

Overall, drug tests had decreased over time for all major substances. This includes cannabis (40,916 positive tests in 2022 versus 37,657 in 2023), cocaine (10,953 in 2022 versus 10,326 in 2023), methamphetamine (5,569 in 2022 versus 4,515 in 2023), and amphetamine (5,349 in 2022 versus 4,222 in 2023).

The news outlet Transport Topics discussed the newest data from the report. The article points out that the one thing that hasn’t changed is that drivers who previously tested positive for one of the aforementioned drugs, a majority of them did not return to driving. “Of the 226,598 CDL/CLP [commercial driver’s license/commercial learner’s permit] drivers who tested positive for at least one drug since the Clearinghouse opened in January 2020, 158,330 remain in ‘prohibited driving status,’” Transport Topics wrote. “A total of 68,268 drivers with at least one violation are currently in ‘not-prohibited status,’ and 15,699 drivers have successfully completed follow-up testing.”

American Trucking Associations (ATA) senior vice president of regulatory affairs and safety policy, Dan Horvath, explained that the Clearinghouse system is the leading cause of a decrease in positive drug tests for truckers. “While there could be a few unknown variables that are impacting the decline, I’m cautiously optimistic that the decline in the number of positives is simply because the Clearinghouse is working,” Horvath told Transport Topics. “We are now more than four years into having an active Clearinghouse system, and I’m hopeful that the message is out there that illegal drug use will be detected.”

Horvath also added that this data shows the increase in education for truckers, and knowledge about the consequences of receiving a positive drug test. “Motor carriers have increased the education they provide to drivers to ensure they are aware of the consequences of testing positive. Now, we must ensure that oral fluid testing labs are approved so that carriers can begin using that testing method if they choose,” Horvath said. “ATA has also reiterated the need to correct and finalize the long-overdue hair testing guidelines that have been in Office of Management and Budget review for over a year now.”

American Transportation Research Institute senior vice president, Dan Murray, also provided a comment about the drug test changes seen in 2023 data. “2023 was a really bad year for the trucking industry.” We were technically in a recession,” said Murray. “So I think the number of people entering the industry was considerably smaller than the previous years.”

Murray believes that truckers are leaving the industry before they get drug tested, knowing what will happen. “So I think some people are proactively thinking ‘Well, before I get caught, I’m outta here,’” Murray explained. Additionally, he thinks that another portion of drivers don’t want to risk their jobs. “They say, ‘It’s not worth it to push my luck. If I use, I’m going to get tested. If I get tested I’m going to lose my job. So it’s time to clean up my act.’”

1 comment
    The article quotes the ATA senior vice president of regulatory affairs and safety policy as saying:
    “…Now, we must ensure that oral fluid testing labs are approved so that carriers can begin using that testing method if they choose,…”
    So can I assume that we’re talking about urine testing here?
    The type of testing (Blood, Urine, Saliva or Hair) has a MASSIVE influence on the interpretation of the ‘results’ of that test; regardless of the understanding of the actual true meaning of those ‘results’ by both the person being tested and the employer or tester.

    The facts about all drug testing are very poorly understood by law enforcement, the ‘media’ and the general public i.e. the people being tested:

    A positive URINE TEST for any drug never shows that a person is intoxicated/impaired at the time of that test or that they were ever in fact intoxicated/impaired by that drug eg. poppyseed and hempseed consumption can produce a TRUE positive urine drug test result for morphine and THC respectively despite an insufficient amount of drug being consumed to induce impairment . Numerous drugs, e.g. methamphetamine and THC, can give a ‘positive’ urine test for days and even weeks after their consumption, despite the fact the person is absolutely no longer impaired in any way.

    A positive BLOOD TEST for any drug only demonstrates that it is present in the persons blood at the time of the test, but whether there was a sufficient amount of drug to cause impairment at that time is a VERY grey legal area.

    A positive SALIVA TEST for any drug never shows that a person is intoxicated/impaired at the time of that test or that they were ever in fact intoxicated/impaired by that drug. The claim that a positive saliva test indicates very recent usage is highly dubious (read scientifically & legally BS), since (just as with urine testing) the test only shows the presence of a drug but not its concentration and (just as with urine testing) the tests are able to detect extraordinarily small amounts of drugs i.e. a single poppyseed or hempseed in the mouth can cause a TRUE positive result with saliva testing. So too, a single drop of CBD oil containing a trace of THC will give a TRUE positive saliva test result. Methamphetamine actually concentrates in the saliva from the blood (where it is present for many days after usage) and so can give a TRUE positive test result many days after its consumption and long after the person is no longer impaired.

    A positive HAIR TEST for any drug never shows that a person is intoxicated/impaired at the time of that test or that they were ever in fact intoxicated/impaired by that drug. But worse still, hair drug tests have been demonstrated in published peer-reviewed scientific studies to be able to be contaminated from external sources e.g. smoke or vapor. Thus a person giving a TRUE positive hair test for a drug may never have consumed that drug in any form or amount, but in fact was unknowingly exposed to it months earlier.

    In truth ONLY blood testing can be argued to be a reliable POSSIBLE indicator that a person is impaired at the time of the test and it’s the most invasive test of the bunch, and is never used in workplace testing. Blood tests do not however take into account a persons individual dose response to a drug (which hugely varies) including their tolerance to that drug at the time of the test.

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