- We published a story about the federal government’s new law to drug test truck drivers.
- The law has mostly caught marijuana users. We argued that it won’t meaningfully boost safety on the road.
- Truck drivers shared in emails with Insider laying out what they think of the new rule.
A federal rule that went into effect in 2020 is taking commercial drivers off our highways if they test positive for illegal drugs.
While the idea to crack down on drivers taking dangerous substances is commendable, the majority of those who have lost their licenses thanks to the new law tested positive for marijuana — a drug that is legal for medical use in 37 states and recreationally legal in 18 states plus Washington D.C.
In an Insider piece earlier this month, I argued that this law is a misguided attempt at increasing safety on the road.
Tackling our nation’s crumbling infrastructure or bolstering training would be far more effective in saving lives. According to a Department of Transportation study, illegal drugs contributed to 2% of all accidents between an 18-wheeler and passenger car. Meanwhile, brake problems (a factor assigned in 29% of crashes); speeding (23%); unfamiliarity with roadways (22%); and roadway issues (20%) were far more common in such collisions.
In response to my piece, many in the trucking industry reached out with their thoughts about the new federal rule and marijuana use among drivers more broadly.
(Some preferred to only be quoted as their first name or initials to protect their identity. The messages have been edited for brevity and clarity. They are also the thoughts of these drivers, not myself, Insider, or the industry at large.)
Here’s what they said.
Some truck drivers say the rule is ‘antiquated’
Kevin Conway retired truck driver
I am a 30-year veteran over-the-road trucker — three months on, 10 days off.
As far back as 25 years, I knew of companies that had strict rules against having a single beer, even off-duty.
It’s the company boss’ choice on how they run their own company, but they should not have the power to tell anyone else how to run their lives. A surprisingly large number of truckers today don’t even drink alcohol. I don’t use marijuana, but some do. It is totally outdated the way they test for this, but trucking companies must protect themselves from lawsuits when a four-wheeler [4 or 18? is he talking about cars? RACHEL: YES HES TALKING ABOUT PASSENGER CARS CAUSING ACCIDENTS WITH SEMIS] causes a wreck.
Remember, most insurance companies will force an employer to fire ANY trucker that gets a third speeding ticket over the previous 12 months or one ticket 15 miles per hour over the speed limit.
Outcome? Base pay is going to keep inching up to $100,000 per year like it should. Better drivers will be more likely to stay. A driver shortage is a good thing for truckers. It makes employers think twice about treating people like they are a “dime a dozen.” Quick fixes will only add insult to injury. Evolution in the industry will fix itself.
Jayrold Pollock, truck driver
I have been driving commercial motor vehicles for 51 years now and we have bigger problems than someone who smokes a little once in a while! How about the lack of training in truck driving school, or the lack of experienced trainers?
If the mega-carriers were actually that concerned about safety, they wouldn’t let these sort of things go on and on as they do.
Walter S., retired truck driver, Indianapolis, Indiana
Having been in the industry since before drug testing (in 1993 it became mandatory), you probably know that this program simply allows big pharma its place alongside trucking [this line is confusing, is he saying big pharma is there or the testing is big pharma coming in? RACHEL: I BELIEVE HE MEANS BIG PHARMA GETS TO STICK AROUND WITH THESE NEW REGS BUT STUFF LIKE WEED IS KICKED OUT].
Guys on prescription meds are still rolling, alcohol is dominant, and the thing that might relax the drivers? Forget it. The industry is rooted in the mindset of the previous century, so alcohol and prescription drugs are accepted. Even inside the workplace, the jokes [made by truckers] put down weed while these drivers are popping blood pressure pills.
The industry is antiquated and will never be overhauled until this generation retires. We joked in college about weed never being legal because of the generation gap, and the mindset of the trucking industry is stuck in that timeframe. “Gimme my alcoholic drink, I will sleep it off and pop a couple of 5-Hour Energy in the morning (or whatever the doc prescribed).” What modern-day high school graduate wants to join that industry?
‘The reality is marijuana use is extremely dangerous’: Some support the rule
AW, truck driver, Kentucky
I am all for stringent drug testing of commercial drivers for marijuana. Why? “Far, far less harmful” is still harmful, and when the subject individual might be driving an 80,000-pound vehicle less than 10 feet from me and/or my family, I want that individual to be one who chooses not to use any kind of harmful substance.
I drive about 50,000 miles a year and at one time was licensed for Class A, hazmat, tanker, and doubles — and to date have not seen an instance on the road where the use of a “less harmful” drug would have been preferable to not using. If people want to use drugs, they should stay out of the commercial driving profession, and preferably be completely off of the road as a driver.
Scott Campbell, grocery wholesaler
The idea that marijuana does not affect driver capability is insane. Marijuana is a very dangerous drug. People do not understand just how insidious the effects are.
I ran the drug testing program for a grocery supplier. I had to study the effects drugs have on driver performance. Marijuana causes a marked decrease in driver responses to emergency situations. It is dangerous and NO driver should be allowed to use marijuana at any time when employed as a truck driver. It will cause the accident rate to increase enormously. I have been in the trucking business for almost 40 years. I have seen the result of marijuana, the reality is marijuana use is extremely dangerous.
Some aren’t able to get into the trucking industry: ‘I made a mistake. One mistake.’
Aronn, Chicago, IL, former truck driver
I am a former truck driver that can’t get back into it since I do smoke in a state that is legal for me to do that. I’ve never understood that a company would rather have me be an alcoholic than smoke a joint after work.
I’ve seen numerous times while driving at truck stops that a driver goes into the store and picks up a 12-pack for themselves and drink in their truck after their shift, but we all know they could possibly be drunk in the morning still.
Shawn, truck driver
I have driven a truck for over 35 years. I tested positive for THC last week and am going through the process. The company that fired me told me I could not expect any unemployment pay. I have a spotless record for safety — no DUI, no speeding, and no accidents.
I was referred to a drug rehab for treatment. Now my whole world is in the hands of someone I have never known. I was told that one treatment is anywhere from $95 an hour to $195 total [is this still per hour or for a bunch of session? bit confusing]. [RACHEL: GOOD TO NIX THIS WHOLE THING AS IM CONFUSED TOO.]
I made a mistake. One mistake. Now I’m hoping to get the required education that I can afford.
I have seen real bad things happen in my time, none of them from THC. I have seen drivers who don’t know how to adjust brakes shift a manual transmission that can not safely secure a load and a driver who fell asleep at the wheel twice — the second time he went into a ditch.
I’ve been a responsible driver, employee, and parent my life. The worst was telling my kids I lost my job and may have to borrow some money. I’m going to be homeless if I don’t get through the process quickly. I have a huge medical debt to pay. I don’t think it’s fair for one mistake I made to ruin my life.
I am loyal to the system, I vote, serve jury duty, and pay my taxes. None of which called for any kind of test. I’m not bitter at my company at all. I will go back to work for them anytime they want.
Those in the trucking industry are welcome to share their story with the author at [email protected].