Under the influence

Linda Longton, Editor

On June 5, Donald J. Kerkau, 46, of St. Louis, Mich., was driving a tractor-trailer along I-94 when he hit a state trooper who had pulled a motorist to the shoulder, according to the St. Cloud [Minn.] Times. The officer suffered a broken right thighbone. Kerkau, who tested positive for marijuana and cocaine, pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular injury and to driving under the influence.

Fortunately for four-wheelers and truckers alike, cases like Kerkau’s are rare. While the informal Internet search that turned up the Kerkau incident found numerous instances of accidents involving four-wheelers who were cited for drug or alcohol use, Kerkau was the only trucker.

Statistics bear this out: Random drug tests performed on truckers between 1994 and 2005 found only 1.3 percent to 2.8 percent tested positive for illegal drugs, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Studying drivers involved in fatal crashes, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found in 2005 that only 1 percent of truckers had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams per deciliter or higher, compared to 22 percent for passenger car drivers.

Nevertheless, truckers who care about their own safety and that of other motorists would agree that even one case of drug or alcohol use by someone piloting an 80,000-pound rig is one too many. That’s why findings from a congressional subcommittee investigation that showed how easy it is for truckers to cheat on drug tests are so disturbing.

Undercover investigators from Congress’ Government Accountability Office used bogus driver’s licenses to gain access to 24 drug test collection sites, 100 percent of those approached – showing that drug users can get someone with fake ID to take the tests for them. Seventy-five percent of sites also failed to restrict access to items that could be used to change the specimen.

Investigators also found that drug masking agents – which are easy to get and, surprisingly, legal – could easily be brought to the collection sites. Websites such as www.passthetest.com offer everything from synthetic urine substitute for $29.95 to an 8-day Total Body Detox system for heavy drug users for $159.95.

What’s to be done? Testifying at the Nov. 1 congressional hearing prompted by the GAO’s report, the American Trucking Associations joined others in urging that such products be outlawed. ATA also repeated its years-long argument for a centralized clearinghouse for positive drug and alcohol testing results so motor carriers have that information during the hiring process.

Anyone who drives a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol undermines the safety of our roadways. Truckers who do so not only risk their own lives and those of other motorists, they also sully the reputation of the vast majority of professional truckers who make it their business to drive with a clear head and quick reflexes.