FMCSA increases random drug testing rate to 50%

Federal regulators surprised the trucking industry the day after Christmas by announcing an increase in the minimum annual rate for random drug testing from 25% to 50% of the average number of a carrier’s drivers.

The increase, made public by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in a federal notice on Dec. 26, begins on Jan. 1 and is in place for the 2020 calendar year. It was based on the results of 2018 FMCSA survey data revealing that the positive testing rate for controlled substances increased to 1%.

The agency estimates that by doubling the minimum random testing rate, the trucking industry will have to pay an additional $50 million to $70 million per year in drug testing costs.

“This data was collected in early 2019, and to my knowledge there has been no indication from FMCSA about the increase in positive tests that led to the minimum random testing rate change,” Dave Osiecki, president and CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, told FreightWaves. “Not only is it a financial hit that no one was expecting, it’s disappointing to know that more drivers are testing positive for using drugs.”

Osiecki pointed out that there will be a slight productivity impact as well because the process of pulling the driver off the road and getting to a testing site takes up time that could be used for moving loads.

A decision by the FMCSA to increase or decrease the percentage rate for randomly testing drivers for controlled substances is based on the trucking industry’s overall positive random controlled substance test rate as reported to the FMCSA by the carriers.

“When the minimum annual percentage rate for random controlled substances testing is 25%, and the data received under the reporting requirements for any calendar year indicate that the reported positive rate is equal to or greater than 1%, the FMCSA administrator will increase the minimum annual percentage rate for random controlled substances to 50% for all driver positions,” according to the agency.

For 2016 and 2017, the estimated positive usage rate for drugs was estimated to be 0.7% and 0.8%, respectively, FMCSA noted.

The agency explained that for the 2018 survey, forms were sent to 4,480 randomly selected motor carriers, and 1,908 of those were completed and returned. This resulted in usable data from 1,552 carriers (comprising of 300,635 drivers) for random controlled substance testing.

FMCSA estimates 3.2 million commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders operate in interstate commerce and 1 million CDL holders operate in intrastate commerce. “With this population … approximately 2.1 million random controlled substances tests will need to be conducted in calendar year 2020,” FMCSA stated.

The agency confirmed that the minimum annual percentage rate for random alcohol testing will remain at 10%.