Drug and alcohol testing resulting in driver shortage

Mar 11, 2022

According to Chris Harvey, a top Wells Fargo analyst, federal cannabis criminalization and resulting drug testing mandates in the U.S. have served as the main cause for rising costs and worker shortages in the transportation sector.

Harvey serves as head of an equity strategy at Wells Fargo Securities and had addressed this issue during a conference call earlier in February. In addition, he discussed the challenges associated with cannabis testing in the trucking industry.

“If you’ve listened to one conference call or a thousand conference calls, what have you heard? Logistics, transportation costs, trucker costs all going higher and that’s going to continue to occur,” said Harvey. “And the reason being is very simple. And some of you know this and some, this may be new. It’s really about drug testing. We’ve legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all but some. And what you have as a trucker is you have a federal mandate for drug testing.”

While U.S. Federal transportation law stipulates that safety sensitive jobs such as trucking require drug testing policies, advocates and opponents of cannabis legalization have argued that THC metabolites can be detectable by tests weeks after cannabis had been consumed.

Due to the mandate for truckers, “we’re excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry,” Harvey said. “And so, it’s going to make a very tight market even worse.”

According to a report released by The New York Post, more than 72,000 truck drivers were taken off the roads since January 2020 due to positive THC tests.

Furthermore, a leading U.S. trucking trade group, American Trucking Associations (ATA), has reported that the current shortage includes 80,000 drivers and could reach 160,000 by the end of this decade.

“If it’s a choice between an empty truck and having a drug-impaired driver, we’ll take an empty truck,” said Dan Horvath, VP of safety policy for ATA, in his interview with FleetOwner.

However, Horvath also added that he fully supports the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

“We are absolutely a champion of the [clearinghouse]. We advocated for it before its inception,” he said.

“A few times here recently, because we’ve cited clearinghouse numbers, it was taken in the context of we don’t support it. That’s not the case—at all. We continue to support it.”

The ongoing movement to legalize cannabis in more states in addition to the current 18 has been concerning trucking companies, “State legalization is an issue. Nothing has changed from the [U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)] perspective. It’s still a prohibited substance. Just because you live in a state where marijuana is legal doesn’t mean you’re exempt from the DOT testing regimen,” said Horvath.