Supply chain blocked by 72,000 truckers who failed drug tests
A severe truck driver shortage that is wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy is worsening – and it’s fueled in part by severe federal drug testing restrictions that were imposed nationwide last year industry officials told The Post.
More than 72,000 truck drivers have been taken off U.S. roads since January 2020 because they failed drug tests that are now required by the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, a registry established 22 months ago to increase safety on US highways, according to government data. .
That’s a large number, given that the American Trucking Association – which also blames the pandemic and the shortage of young drivers, among other factors – recently pegged the industry’s overall driver deficit at 80,000, down from 60. 800 in 2018 and 50,700 in 2017.
“It’s an impressive number of drivers that we have lost” to the new drug testing rules, Jeremy Reymer, general manager of industry recruiter DriverReach, told The Post.
Employers see the Clearinghouse, which is enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as positive and necessary, but also a cause for concern. It’s a list that employers are required to review before hiring a driver to avoid putting dangerous drivers on the freeway. They are also required to provide data to the list when their employees fail a random drug test.
Before the Clearinghouse, “there were situations where drivers tested positive and jumped out of jobs,” said Steve Keppler, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting. “They wouldn’t report their previous employer, so a carrier wouldn’t come up with a positive test. The Clearinghouse prevented that from happening.
Meanwhile, however, the resulting driver shortages have further crippled the country’s supply chains. The tough new registry rules came into effect just three months before COVID-19 began hitting logistics companies across the United States, and helped raise prices on everything from toys to lumber going through the grocery store.
“We have a number of applicants that we would like to hire, but they cannot pass our drug tests, ”Chef’s Warehouse CEO Chris Pappas told The Post. His Bronx-based business, which distributes food to upscale restaurants across the country, is still short of around 1,000 drivers.
The number of job seekers Pappas was forced to turn down due to a drug offense “is a number high enough to hurt,” he said, declining to be more specific .
The number of drivers who do not try to rehabilitate their file is also worrying. Drivers on the registry may be removed from the list if they complete a “return to work” program, but so far the vast majority – or 54,495 offenders – have not started the program – and do not. probably won’t, experts say.
Some executives are also concerned about the disconnect between federal and state laws regarding marijuana, which is legal in 18 states for recreational use but considered an illegal substance by the U.S. government.
According to federal data, the highest number of Clearinghouse violations by far, 56%, are for marijuana use. (Amphetamine and methamphetamine violations account for 18%, while cocaine and various opioids account for 15% and 4%, respectively.) Some argue that because marijuana can stay in the body for up to 30 days, testing does not not accurately reflect whether a person is being driven under the influence.
“There has to be the ability to test for impairment in real time and not just recent or long-term marijuana use,” Scott Duvall, director of safety and compliance for TransForce Group, which operates schools of truck driving and hire drivers. , said in an email.
Another employer who asked not to be identified estimates that it rejects up to 15 percent of its truck driver job applicants because of drug offenses. In addition, the number of positive drug tests rose 13% in August from a year ago, according to an analysis of government data by Transportation topics.
“There is now a large percentage of the workforce that is no longer eligible to be a driver,” the source said.
The problem is becoming more urgent every day, according to officials. At the current rate, the ATA estimates that nearly one million new drivers will be needed over the next decade – or 110,000 per year – to overcome turnover rates and meet freight demands. Yet the trucking industry loses more retired or rotating drivers each year than it gains, said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist.
“It’s a warning to the entire supply chain that if nothing changes, one day consumers could go to the grocery store and instead of seeing seven varieties of apples, there are only three. because a shipment didn’t arrive, ”Costello said.
Despite a high salary – drivers earn six-figure $ 70,000 and login bonuses of up to $ 15,000 – many others have chosen to quit long-haul jobs that can keep them on the road for. weeks at a time. These long-haul fleets are bleeding workers in e-commerce van delivery services like Amazon, which “is booming. [and] hurt recruiting ”because it offers more local jobs, according to Costello.
“We welcome people in their 30s who choose driving as their second or third career choice,” added Lindsey Trent, principal at Ryder Systems, who co-founded NextGen Trucking, which partners with high schools and has been launched in July. “There are a lot of kids out of college and we need to identify them and introduce them to our industry.”
Chris Rose drove a truck across the country for 18 months, but said it was “emotionally difficult” work and he quit after the birth of his son.
“It’s 11 hours a day of driving and it’s repetitive,” the 29-year-old Arkansas native told The Post, adding that the driver’s cabin “is a small space and it leads to homesickness. and a little depression “.
Now Rose is moving through his home state transporting simulators to high schools where he promotes truck driving as a career – using video game technology – on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce of the State. His job is to tout the high wages on long journeys and encourage young adults to hit the road.
“I tell kids you have to do this while you’re young before you settle down and put money in the bank for a nest egg,” Rose said.