Examples of Job Hopping by Commercial Drivers After Failing Drug Tests

GAO-08-829R: Published: Jun 30, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2008.

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Gregory D. Kutz
(202) 512-9505


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Millions of American drivers hold commercial driver's licenses (CDL), allowing them to operate a variety of commercial vehicles, such as school buses, cargo vans, and tractor trailers. While most commercial drivers do not test positive for drugs and alcohol, Department of Transportation (DOT) data show that each year from 1994 through 2005, from 1.3 percent to 2.8 percent of truck drivers tested positive for the presence of illegal drugs under random testing. However, as our recent investigation shows, the current DOT drug testing process can easily be defeated with products, such as synthetic urine, that are widely available for sale. To help prevent accidents resulting from commercial drivers who use drugs and alcohol, federal law requires commercial drivers to be tested for drug and alcohol use. Specifically, the testing is required as part of the preemployment screening process, on a random basis while employed, and following an accident involving a fatality. Commercial drivers who fail a drug test, refuse to test, or otherwise violate the drug testing regulations are required to complete a return-to-duty process before returning to the road. The return-to-duty process is guided by a substance abuse professional and must include education or treatment, return-to-duty testing, and follow-up testing. However, among the commercial drivers who test positive for illegal drugs, an unknown number continue to drive without completing the required return-to-duty process. Those who do not go through the return-to-duty process and continue to drive are called job-hoppers. A job-hopper tests positive for one carrier; is fired, quits, or is not hired; and subsequently tests negative on a preemployment test for another carrier. DOT regulations require that employers--with the applicants' consent--request the applicants' drug testing records from previous employers. Because they avoid the return-to-duty process and can choose to not disclose their prior failed drug tests, these commercial drivers could continue to drive and use drugs. In addition to abstaining from drug use for a short period in order to pass the second test, a wide variety of available commercial products can mask drug use and may allow commercial drivers to pass drug tests even as they continue to use illegal drugs. Because of the significant danger of commercial drivers circumventing the return-to-duty requirements and driving shortly after a failed drug test, you asked us to identify illustrative cases of job-hopping commercial drivers based on data that you provided to us from a third-party administrator. Specifically, you asked us, to the extent possible, to determine (1) the current employment status for selected employees who passed the drug test after recently failing the test; (2) whether the failed test was known to the current employer prior to, or after, hiring the individual; and (3) whether the prior positive test result was disclosed on the application for current employment.

Of the 37 drivers for which we received employer responses, our investigations found that 19 of them were subsequently hired even though the employer stated that a positive drug test would have disqualified them. As part of their employment, these 19 drivers drove commercial vehicles, including trucks carrying hazardous materials for periods of 1 month to over 1 year. In fact, several drivers were currently on the road driving commercial vehicles at the time we contacted the employer. When we informed employers about the positive tests, the companies quickly terminated the commercial drivers. For the other 18 cases, the driver did not drive commercial vehicles for the employer for several reasons, including because a previous employer disclosed the positive drug test or the driver did not complete the orientation process. In addition, as part of our investigation, we were able to interview 12 of these 37 commercial drivers to determine their current employment status and the circumstances surrounding their drug tests. In these discussions, we found that none of these 12 drivers, after being notified of failing their drug test, had undergone an evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) before applying for a new job. In fact, only 7 of these commercial drivers indicated they were aware that such an evaluation was required.

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