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OMCS Set To Deny Drug/Alcohol Testing Exemption Request

December 20, 1999

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The Office of Motor Carrier Safety says it will likely deny a private carrier’s request to be exempted from random alcohol and drug testing rules.

PacifiCorp Electric Operations employs some 1,600 CDL drivers operating service trucks out of facilities in six states. Random drug tests are done at the 50% rate, and about 1% of the PacifiCorp drivers test positive. Random alcohol tests are done at the 10% rate, with a 0.8% positive rate.
In its petition, the company estimated that each random test can take up to two hours of supervisory time and three to four hours of driver time. PacifiCorp argued that random testing costs the company about $150,000 a year, not counting lost productivity. That’s money, it said, that could be used for other traffic safety programs.
Under expanded authority granted by Congress in 1998, OMCS can grant exemptions if it believes doing so would improve -- or at least wouldn’t hurt -- current safety performance. OMCS said PacifiCorp failed to adequately show how that requirement would be met.
Although the company’s positive rates are low, the fact that it does have positive test results indicates that “some of its drivers weren’t deterred from using controlled substances and misusing alcohol,” OMCS said. With an annual average of 1,600 drivers, the company must conduct at least 800 random drug tests and 160 random alcohol tests each calendar year. A 1% positive rate for drugs therefore means that eight drivers were found to have violated federal controlled substance rules. A 0.8% positive rate for alcohol means that two drivers were found to have violated alcohol-related rules.

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Even if ending random testing had no effect, OMCS argued, projections based on the company’s current positive rates means that at least 80 of its drivers would operate CMVs on the public highways in the next decade with controlled substances and another 20 with substantial amounts of alcohol in their systems.
If PacifiCorp were exempted from random testing, its drivers would still be subject to post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing, but OMCS said it doesn’t consider either of those to be effective deterrents. “In the case of post-accident testing, the damage has already been done,” it pointed out. “For reasonable suspicion testing, indicators that the driver may have a problem have already become apparent to a trained observer.”
As for PacificCorp’s claim that money spent on random testing could be used for other safety programs, “it gave no specific examples of safety programs that would have been conducted,” OMCS said. “The agency does not intend to accept such claims at face value.”
In accordance with federal law regarding exemptions, OMCS is asking for public comment regarding the request before it issues a final decision. The deadline is January 19, 2000. The notice was published in the December 20, 1999 Federal Register which can be accessed on the Internet at www.nara.gov/fedreg. Submitted comments can be accessed at http://dms.dot.gov under docket number OMCS-99-6354.

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