The Obama administration is poised to issue regulations that target truck drivers who have failed drug or alcohol tests.
The new rule from the Department of Transportation would establish a federal database of commercial truck and bus drivers who have failed or refused to take the tests. The database would be available to trucking companies so that they can perform background checks before hiring prospective employees.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the division of the Transportation Department that crafted the regulation, is expected to move forward with the proposed rule in the coming months. Before it goes into effect, it will be open for public comment.
"Establishing the Commercial Driver's License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a high priority for FMCSA and we are preparing to publish the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the near future," a spokeswoman for the FMCSA said.
Truck drivers are already required to submit to random alcohol and drug tests, but the records haven’t been kept in a central database.
Under the law, drivers cannot take drugs or drink alcohol within four hours of the time they begin driving. Drivers whose blood alcohol level tests at .04 or above are required to go into a treatment program before they are allowed to drive again, while drivers who test between .02 and .04 cannot operate a truck for at least 24 hours.
"If a driver tests positive, he's not prohibited from operating forever," said Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at American Trucking Associations (ATA).
The association has pushed for the rule for more than a decade as a way to streamline the background check process for drivers. Abbot said the database would help companies crack down on fraud.
Trucking companies are required by law to looking into prospective employees' driving history by calling past employers. But without a federal database, drivers who have failed drug or alcohol tests in the past can cover that up by leaving gaps in their resumes and not telling the new company about all of the places where they used to work, Abbott said.
The new rule would require employers to report all failed drug and alcohol tests so that future employers can access the information when hiring drivers. Prospective employees would have to give permission for the new company to search the database for them before they could be hired.
According to the ATA, companies test about 50 percent of drivers each year for drugs and 10 percent for alcohol. Abbott said the vast majority of drivers pass the tests.