In search of a new tool to weed out problem truckers, a Pennsylvania trucking association is pushing for a statewide database that would compile employer records on drivers’ drug test results.
Traffic violations and criminal convictions can be found on drivers’ public records, but trucking companies say they often have no way to track whether drivers had any positive drug or alcohol tests at their previous jobs.
Officials with the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, an industry group that represents trucking companies, argue that while most truck drivers have good histories, it can be hard for companies to keep track of the ones who consistently have blemishes on their records.
“The more our companies have the ability to check on the background of the drivers, the better it is going to be all around,” said Don Siekerman, the association’s safety director.
Siekerman said a statewide database also could include information such as whether a driver has his latest required medical certification.
A handful of other states, including Washington, Oregon, North Carolina and Texas, have databases of positive drug tests by commercial drivers, according to Dave Osiecki, vice president for safety, security and operations with the American Trucking Associations.
Others, including Virginia, have discussed the idea, and a trucking association in Idaho also recently asked the national group about it. “This is an issue that is clearly starting to ripen almost as we speak,” Osiecki said.
Siekerman said his interest in the database stems partly from a recent study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
When the reason for a crash between a car and a large truck was connected to the truck, the study found, 89 percent of the time the critical reason had to do with the truck driver, such as inattentiveness, fatigue, distraction or speeding. The study found that 44 percent of the time the truck was the reason, while the car was the reason for the crash 56 percent of the time.
The study did not address how often illegal drug use played a role in the crashes.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation does not compile data on drivers’ drug and alcohol tests. State officials have had preliminary discussions of the idea, but some say privacy concerns could present a major roadblock.
“I know it’s something that employers want. Whether we get there or not is another question,” said Paul Parsells, executive director of the House Transportation Committee for the Democratic caucus. “There is a real sensitivity to privacy in Pennsylvania.”
Another legislative aide said the state wouldn’t want to push through a proposal unless it had widespread support.
“The problem is, I don’t know that all the employers are in lockstep on it,” said Eric Bugaile, executive director of the House Transportation Committee for the Republican caucus. “There’s a hesitancy in passing something that isn’t what everybody wants.”
Osiecki said his group supports the idea of states compiling such databases, but added that the optimal situation is for the federal government to do it — something his group has unsuccessfully backed for several years. Osiecki acknowledged some union opposition, but said he thinks those concerns could be resolved in the name of safety.
A Teamsters official did not immediately comment.
Federal law requires pre-employment testing of drivers, as well as random testing and testing after most serious accidents.
“We don’t want those folks to be driving trucks,” Osiecki said of drivers with numerous positive tests. “There are some dirty drivers behind the wheel right now because of loopholes.”
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