In my trucking litigation law practice based in Atlanta, I see plenty of instances where drug use — including prescription medications — appears to be a contributing factor in trucking accidents. Now the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on truckers’ drug tests that helps explain how and why.

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio is quoted in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, warning people driving on the Memorial Day holiday weekend "check your rearview mirror early and often because the driver of that aproaching 18-wheeler may have failed one or more drug tests."

The GAO report describing a flawed oversight system that allows truckers to fail a drug test and yet move on to driving for another company. Fewer than half of the estimated 85,000 truck drivers who test positive in random drug tests each year are believed to complete the required treatment and follow-up testing to return to their jobs, according to a news report by Gregg Jones of the Dallas Morning News.

The GAO report found that some trucking companies don’t bother to conduct the required pre-employment and random drug tests and have limited incentives to do so. According to the report, only about 2 percent of all trucking companies undergo checks each year by state agencies and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates interstate traffic.

In addition, truckers who choose to do so can beat the testing system by using false IDs and chemicals to alter their urine for drug tests. If caught, they easily move on to other trucking companies, which the GAO described as "job-hopping."  

If they fail both at beating the test and job-hopping, they can  "state-hop," since the states don’t talk to each other. Among the report’s recommendations is the creation of a national database of truckers who fail drug tests.

The report concluded that drug use could be significantly higher among truck drivers than what the random test data indicates because not all companies actually test, urinalysis can be unreliable and results can be altered. For example, GAO investigators who posed as truckers appearing for drug tests weren’t required to empty their pant pockets at 10 of 24 sites. The requirement is designed to prevent a driver from using drug-concealing agents or substituting clean urine samples.

In 2006, 4,995 people were killed nationwide and 106,000 injured in crashes involving large trucks, the report noted. Statewide, about 500 people are killed each year in crashes involving large trucks. Although mechanical problems, speeding and driver fatigue are the most frequent factors in fatal accidents involving big rigs, studies have also found that drugs or alcohol substantially increase the risk of accidents. The trucking industry blames passenger cars for causing the majority of accidents.

The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases arising from motor carrier accidents statewide in Georgia.  Recently elected Secretary of the State Bar of Georgia, Ken Shigley has been designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and former chair of both the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, bus wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.