FMCSA clearinghouse for commercial drivers could improve road safety

Semi truck, plane and ship

The driver of a big rig is facing several felonies after allegedly causing a fatal accident while on the job. KTLA5 reports that the Bay Area driver was driving on a major freeway when he crossed the yellow line and collided head-on with an oncoming sedan. The truck driver immediately fled the scene but a short time later his truck collided with a wall on the freeway, and law enforcement officers found him walking about one mile east of his abandoned truck. The driver of the sedan died at the scene of the crash. Officers charged the truck driver with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, felony hit and run, and felony DUI while operating a commercial vehicle.

Prevalent occurrence

Due to the nature of the trucking industry, this tragic accident could have easily occurred in Illinois. The National Highway Traffic Safety administration reports that in 2012, nearly 4,000 people were killed and another 104,000 were injured as the result of commercial truck accidents in the U.S. Of these accidents, two percent were attributed to commercial drivers with a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit of 0.08 g/dL. This deceptively small number accounts for 78 deaths and 2080 injuries that occur each year but are completely preventable.

Proposed clearinghouse

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has called for the creation of a clearinghouse for commercial vehicle drivers in response to these senseless deaths. The clearinghouse would be a resource for motor carriers to ensure that their current and potential drivers do not engage in the risky behaviors of drinking and using drugs while they are employed as a commercial driver. Despite the long existence of federal laws prohibiting drunk driving and using drugs while on the job, his clearinghouse would be the first comprehensive system that would allow employers the chance to completely and accurately screen their drivers to ensure safety compliance.

According to existing law, trucking companies must conduct random drug and alcohol testing on certain percentages of their CDL holders every year. Additional random roadside testing is performed by federal and state inspectors. All of these results, as well as the testing and review results of substance abuse professionals, private, third-party Department of Transportation labs, and medical review officers, would be available through the clearinghouse.

Hopeful Outcome

If the FMCSA successfully brings the clearinghouse into fruition, trucking companies will have the information they need in order to screen their drivers more completely before letting them out on the roads. This may help remove many unsafe drivers from their commercial positions until they prove they are no longer using drugs or alcohol.  The clearinghouse has the potential to prevent thousands of people from enduring the devastation of serious injury, and may save hundreds of lives in only a few short years.  If only a few lives are saved, the clearinghouse will have been a success.