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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - May 20, 2009)

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By Mr. PRYOR (for himself, Ms. Snowe, Mr. Nelson, of Nebraska, and Mr. Wicker):

S. 1113. A bill to amend title 49, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish and maintain a national clearinghouse for records related to alcohol and controlled substances testing of commercial motor vehicle operators, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation with Senators Snowe, Nelson of Nebraska, and Wicker. The legislation that we are introducing today is aptly named The Safe Roads Act of 2009, as it will go a long way toward improving the safety of our Nation's roads by closing loopholes that have allowed commercial truck and bus drivers to use and abuse drugs and continue to drive without receiving required treatment necessary to return to duty. The bill is designed to save lives by preventing unnecessary deaths on our Nation's roads.

Nearly every day Americans can open their newspapers to learn about a death caused by drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, these drivers are behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler or a commercial bus, which due to their size and weight bring a destructive force on any road. On May 8th of this year, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported about a commercial bus driver involved in an accident on Interstate 40 near Forrest City, AR, in 2007 that resulted in four fatalities. The driver was reportedly under the influence of amphetamines, one of the substances tested for under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, FMCSA, testing regulations. The driver of this commercial vehicle has been sentenced to jail and four lives were lost as a result of the accident.

Some other similar accidents involving truck drivers that have occurred in recent years include: in October 2008, Kane County, IL, a truck driver rear-ended a passenger vehicle killing a woman. The truck driver was indicted for reckless homicide and driving under the influence of narcotics.

In January 2008, in Franklin County, AL, a truck driver was arrested for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol after crossing the center line and killing a woman in a head-on accident.

In July 2007, in Little Rock, AR, a truck driver killed a family of five in a crash. The driver admitted smoking crack cocaine a few hours before the crash.

In May 2007, Centre County, PA, a truck driver ran over a car killing a woman. The driver faces charges including homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of suspected methamphetamines.

While drug abuse among the at least 3.4 million truck drivers in the industry is estimated by FMCSA to only represent 2 to 5 percent of the entire truck driving workforce, that still represents roughly 68,000 truck drivers that have a drug or alcohol abuse problem. That is a high and unacceptable risk that needs to be addressed in a serious fashion. Our goal is to prevent accidents of this nature, and I would like to briefly explain how we intend to do so.

Our bill will establish within the FMCSA a national drug and alcohol database and clearinghouse listing positive alcohol and drug test results or test refusals by commercial truck and bus drivers. The bill will expand current drug and alcohol testing regulations to require Medical Review Officers, MROs, and other FMCSA-approved agents conducting already-required testing to report positive test results and test refusals to the FMCSA drug and alcohol clearinghouse. Employers seeking new employees would then be required to not only follow the laws already in place for testing prospective employees, but they would also be required to examine the prospective employees' record in the FMCSA clearinghouse to determine if the prospective employee has recently failed or refused to take a drug and alcohol test. If the prospective employee has a positive test result or test refusal in the clearinghouse, an employer would not be allowed to hire the prospective employee unless it can be proven that he or she has not violated
the requirements of the testing program, or that he or she has fully completed a return-to-duty program as required by the testing program.

There are major loopholes that exist today in the current drug and alcohol testing regime. Drivers have a tendency to ``job-hop'' after failing drug and alcohol tests, moving from one company to another without reporting past drug and alcohol test failures. Some States have since closed this loophole by establishing clearinghouses similar to our proposal, but not all States have these laws, and they do not do anything to prevent drivers with past drug and alcohol test failures from moving State-to-State to seek and gain employment. Our legislation would go to considerable lengths in closing both of these well-known and well-reported loopholes. Our bill would also provide extensive privacy protection for individuals whose data is collected at the clearinghouse or accessed from the clearinghouse. The bill would provide individuals with the means to challenge records in the clearinghouse and rights of actions against those who misuse information contained in the clearinghouse or accessed from the clearinghouse.

The Government Accountability Office, GAO, and the FMCSA have acknowledged these loopholes. Both have published reports describing a national clearinghouse as a feasible, cost-effective measure to address this problem and improve highway safety. In addition, a clearinghouse is something that Congress has examined since implementing drug and alcohol testing requirements in 1995. In 1999, Congress required the FMCSA to evaluate the viability of a national clearinghouse database for positive test results and test refusals, and in 2004 the results of their study supported a need for such a system and revealed the safety benefits that would come from it. As recently as last year, the GAO released a report to Congress titled `Motor Carrier Safety: Improvements to Drug Testing Programs Could Better Identify Illegal Drug Users and Keep Them off the Road' that recommended the establishment of a national database and clearinghouse of drivers who have tested positive or refused to test. There is a clear need to close these well-known loopholes, and I believe our bill goes a long way in that direction.

It is my hope that Congress will support this legislation and move forward quickly to enact this legislation. I believe it is an imperative step to enhance drug and alcohol testing requirements and improve pre-employment background reviews to reduce the number of accidents and needless deaths resulting from drivers that are under the influence of these types of substances.

I want to thank Senators SNOWE, NELSON of Nebraska, and WICKER for their hard work, leadership and support on this very important safety issue, and I urge the rest of my colleagues to support its swift passage.

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