marijuana use Photo: Thinkstock

Report reveals flaws in DOT’s drug and alcohol testing program

According to the report, drug use among transportation workers has significantly increased since 2006.

A report released on Feb. 8 shows there are “significant gaps” in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) drug and alcohol testing program. Ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) released a Democratic staff report that highlights the risks to the nation’s transportation system from drug and alcohol abuse.

The report is the result of a six-month review, which evaluated patterns of increased drug usage in the United States, in particular opioids, and across each mode of transportation. It includes 10 findings and 15 recommendations to DOT and Congress to improve transportation safety. 

“In August 2017, in response to several major transportation accidents involving the use of licit or illicit drugs, I directed committee Democratic staff to evaluate the DOT’s drug and alcohol testing program and implementation of federal regulations across each of the modes of transportation to determine whether DOT’s program is effective or in need of improvement,” DeFazio explained. “Staff found that while DOT is effectively carrying out drug and alcohol requirements, there are significant gaps that should be addressed to mitigate risk and improve transportation safety. I urge the department to consider the findings and recommendation made in the report, to ensure the safety of our roads, rails, pipelines, navigable waters, and skies.”

The report’s key findings include:

  • Drug misuse and abuse among transportation workers are on the rise. Since 2000, the NTSB has investigated 381 fatal accidents involving drugs or alcohol.
  • Information regarding drug and alcohol positive rates among transportation workers is not readily available to the public.
  • DOT drug and alcohol regulations do not cover all employees performing safety-sensitive functions, such as employees of foreign aircraft repair stations.
  • DOT drug testing is currently limited to certain categories of drugs, but there are many drugs for which DOT does not require testing.
  • The legalization of marijuana in a number of states means more focus needs to be placed on the potential transportation safety impacts of marijuana use as it becomes more prevalent in the United States.
  • Post-accident testing limits DOT’s ability to obtain more accurate and complete data on individual accidents; determine the true causes of human factor accidents to help guide future regulatory efforts; and permit DOT to determine with greater precision the causes of accidents.
  • Some entities are exempt from reporting drug and alcohol violations to DOT, limiting DOT’s ability to thoroughly evaluate drug and alcohol use among transportation workers.
  • HHS needs to develop scientifically-based standards for alternate testing methods, such as hair and oral fluid testing.
  • Gaps exist in training and resources provided to employers and employees. For example, only one carrier reported providing recurrent training for rank-and-file workers.

The report includes 15 key recommendations, including that DOT should revise its regulations to ensure alcohol and controlled substances testing programs encompass all employees and agents performing safety-sensitive functions, and addressing any gaps that currently exist in employees and agents who are tested. The report also recommends that DOT should provide, at a minimum, drug and alcohol positive rates for each of the modes of transportation annually in an easily accessible format.

The report was sent to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, and United States Coast Guard Commandant Zukunft.

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