The driver shortage many trucking companies has seen is facing an alarming gap in those hired to those needed, due to a tough federal drug-testing restriction that was imposed nationwide last year, placing added stress on supply chain issues facing the country
Over 72,000 drivers have been pulled from the roads since January of 2020 due to the implementation of new drug testing required by the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, according to the New York Post.
"That's a big number, considering that the American Trucking Association — which also blames the pandemic and a lack of younger drivers, among other factors — recently pegged the industry's overall driver shortfall at 80,000, up from 60,800 in 2018 and 50,700 in 2017," the outlet wrote.
"It's a staggering number of drivers we have lost" because of the new drug-testing rules, Jeremy Reymer, chief executive of recruiting agency DriverReach, told the New York Post.
the Clearinghouse is enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Employers see it as positive and necessary, but also a source of concern.
Employers are required to consult the list before hiring a driver to avoid putting dangerous drivers on the highway. The employers area are also required to submit data to the list when their employees fail a random drug test.
Before the Clearinghouse, "there were situations when drivers were testing positive and were job-hopping," said Steve Keppler, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting. "They wouldn't report their previous employer, so a carrier wouldn't pick up on the positive test. The Clearinghouse has stopped that from happening."
The new rules went into effect just three months before the pandemic snarled logistics companies across the country, which combined with a drivers shortage has caused prices for many items to rise.
"We do have a certain number of candidates that we'd like to hire but they can't pass our drug tests," said Chef's Warehouse CEO Chris Pappas. The New York Post said that his Bronx-based food distribution company is still short around 1,000 drivers.
The number of applicants Pappas has been forced to turn away because of a drug violation "is a big enough number that it hurts," he said, declining to be more specific.
Drivers have the opportunity to rehabilitate their record after landing on the list through a "return to duty" program, but so far the vast majority, around 54,495 violators, have not started the program and likely will not, experts say.
Executives have cited concerns regarding the disconnect in federal and state laws on marijuana's legality. While 18 states allow the use of marijuana for recreational use, it is still considered an illegal substitute buy the federal government.
The largest portion of Clearinghouse violations are for marijuana use, or 56 percent of violations. Amphetamine and methamphetamine violations account for 18 percent, while cocaine and various opioids account for 15 percent and 4 percent.
"There needs to be the ability to test for real-time impairment and not just recent or long-term past use of marijuana," Scott Duvall, director of safety and compliance for TransForce Group, said in an email.
With a growing number of drivers being deemed ineligible to drive due to drug violations, and a large number of retirements every year, the American Trucking Assocaition estimates that nearly one million new drivers will be needed over the next decade, or 110,000 per year, to meet freight demands.
"This is 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 make it in," Costello said.