Will Commercial Driver's License Clearinghouse Reduce CA Truck Crashes?

On behalf of Nick Casper at Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook

A clearinghouse containing records of drug and alcohol violations for all commercial driver’s license holders may help prevent impaired driving accidents.

Truck accidents involving driver intoxication are a greater threat than many people in Walnut Creek realize. According to one Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study, 20 percent of truck accidents involve alcohol, prescription drugs or illicit drugs. Sadly, this issue may be becoming worse. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that alcohol-impaired truckers contributed to 18 percent more fatal accidents in 2013 than in 2012.

To prevent needless impairment-related injuries and deaths, the FMCSA has proposed creating a national clearinghouse. This clearinghouse would contain information on alcohol and drug violations for all commercial driver's license holders. Trucking companies could use this resource to avoid employing drivers with violations, thereby reducing the risk of impaired driving accidents.

Creating a comprehensive database

The clearinghouse would allow employers to easily discover drug or alcohol policy violations. The clearinghouse would contain records of all drug or alcohol tests a driver failed or refused to take. The clearinghouse would also indicate whether truckers with violations had regained eligibility to drive by completing substance abuse programs. Currently, there is no comprehensive database that contains this information for every driver.

Along with creating the clearinghouse, the FMCSA would establish rules for truckers, trucking companies, medical sources and testing laboratories. These parties would be required to take the following actions:

· Trucking companies would have to search the clearinghouse before hiring new drivers. Companies would also be required to perform annual searches on all current drivers.

· Drivers would have to grant consent to employers before a clearinghouse search could be performed. People who withheld consent would not be eligible to work as drivers.

· Third-party substance testing labs would have to submit information about failed tests, refused tests and completion of substance abuse programs. FMCSA-regulated parties, including trucking companies, Substance Abuse Professionals and Medical Review Officers, would be required to do the same.

The FMCSA first proposed creating the clearinghouse in February 2014. The expected publication date of the final clearinghouse rule is currently December 2015, according to The Commercial Carrier Journal. However, the final rule will not be effective until 18 months after it is officially published.

Legal recourse in truck accidents

Until this rule becomes effective, truck accidents involving drivers who are under the influence may affect many people. According to California Highway Patrol data, in 2012, truck crashes caused over 5,000 injuries and 235 fatalities in the state. Given the FMCSA finding that one-fifth of truck accidents involve impairment, substance use may have contributed to 1,000 of these injuries and 47 deaths. Impaired truck drivers could take a similarly devastating toll this year.

Anyone who has been hurt in an accident caused by a truck driver's reckless choices should consider consulting with an attorney. An attorney may be able to provide advice on an accident victim's rights and the available legal options.

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