Fatal Road Crashes Involving Pot Double in WA

Marijuana fatalities double

A Significant Increase in Marijuana-Related Fatal Crashes

The AAA released a study showing fatal collisions involving a driver who recently used marijuana have doubled since its legalization in Washington state.

“The significant increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana is alarming,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Perhaps more alarming is that the trend of marijuana related crashes is still on the increase. We don’t know where it will eventually flatten out or how legalized pot in one state can lead to negative consequences in other states where the drug is banned.

A previous study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine, reported two years ago by the research digest ScienceNews showed a similar increase in fatal collisions. Researchers indicated the results show “a need for better education and prevention programs to curb impaired driving.”

Marijuana, Cannabis, Hashish, Etc. Are Banned Substances for Drivers

While states may choose to allow the cultivation, possession, and transportation of marijuana, no state allows the use of marijuana (or its derivatives) while driving a vehicle.

About 1/3 of states have adopted the per se standard for the use of any drugs. The U.S. Department of Transportation established the per se standard for illegal drug use for commercial drivers. That means any evidence of recent illegal drug use is considered a violation of the law.

Per se means that any detectable amount of a controlled substance, other than a medicine prescribed by a physician for that driver in a driver’s body fluids, constitutes per se evidence of a “drugged driving” violation. Stop Drugged Driving

So called “medical marijuana” is available by a “card,” not a prescription, so it cannot be considered a prescribed mediation.

Commercial Drivers Are Subject to U.S. DOT Administrative Rules

All commercial drivers are banned from the use, possession or transport of drugs and alcohol while in a commercial motor vehicle.

Drivers with CDL licenses are subject to drug and alcohol testing. Furthermore, drivers can be subject to Disqualification under § 391.15 for driving a commercial motor vehicle under the influence of a 21 CFR 1308.11 Schedule I identified controlled substance. The federal government lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act

A driver who has been disqualified is not able to drive a commercial motor vehicle for one to three years. If the use of drugs or alcohol were involved in a bad crash, the courts can even impose a lifetime ban.

THC, the active component of marijuana stays in a person’s system for 4-8 weeks.

CDL drivers should be informed that under random testing, they can be called for a random test at any time — even on days off.

A driver may be directed to take a drug test even when at home in an off-duty status.  Once notified to report for random testing, drivers must immediately report to the testing location. Delaying your arrival may be considered a refusal (see 49 CFR 40.191), which is equivalent to testing positive. FMCSA

Can drivers use marijuana and drive— even if it is “legal” for recreational or “medical” use?

Due to safety issues, the answer is no — drivers may not. There can be severe consequences for themselves and their company, if they do . . .

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Rising Use of Synthetic Cannabinoids by Truckers

OK women's softball team bus

Zombie Trucker

The truck driver seemed seemed shocked and dazed after traveling 950 feet across a medium, striking a bus carrying the North Central Texas College women’s softball team, then traveling hundreds of feet down an embankment and into some trees.

Rescuers found 53-year-old Russell Staley about 45 minutes later, still in the cab. He says he only remembered running off of the road. First responders said the truck driver seemed like he was in a zombie-like state.

Photograph by Oklahoma Highway Patrol

Photograph: Oklahoma Highway Patrol

The Evidence Mounts

Police later found a pipe on the floorboard in side the truck, with the burnt residue of 5-fluoro-AMB, a synthetic cannabinoid — known on the street as “spice.”

More troubling, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report on the Sept. 26 2014 crash concluding not only was it highly likely the truck driver was incapacitated, but that he had a history of synthetic cannabinoid use.

Other findings of the NTSB include:

  • Motors Carriers were in compliance
  • §40.85 does not include synthetic cannabinoids
  • Synthetic drugs are widely available
  • Research on synthetic drug use is needed
  • Plans to detect and deter synthetic drug use is needed

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are mind-altering chemicals that mimic the effect of THC – one of the ingredients in cannabis. THC is the part of cannabis that results in a ‘high’ for the user. These chemicals are sprayed on a mixture of herbs and sold under brand names such as “Kronic”, “Spice”, and “K2”. Such products were developed to be a legal alternative to cannabis, however many synthetic cannabinoids substances are now banned.

The first synthetic cannabis appeared in 2004, sold under the brand name Spice in Europe. Since 2006 K2 and Spice have been marketed for use as incense in the U.S., but smoked for its effects.

K2 or Spice can be anywhere from 4 times to over 100 times more potent than regular marijuana (THC). While often smoked, it can be mixed with food or drink.  K2 and Spice are sold for about $30 to $40 per a three-gram bag (equal to about 3 sugar packets),

Despite being considered illegal Schedule I substances, synthetic cannabinoids products are widely available. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States — or any accepted safety for use under medical supervision. New variations of synthetic marijuana are coming out in liquid form. Synthetic drugs are labeled as “not for human consumption” to avoid FDA regulation and mislead authorities.


Legal cannabis, legal pot, legal weed, herbal highs, herbal incense, herbal potpourri, K2, fake weed, synthetic pot, noids, synth, and fweed

Short-term Effects

  • loss of control
  • lack of pain response
  • increased agitation
  • panic attacks
  • pale skin
  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • profuse sweating
  • uncontrolled/spastic body movements
  • elevated blood pressure
  • elevated heart rate and palpitations
  • threatening behavior and aggression
  • terrible headaches
  • inability to speak
  • psychotic episodes

The effects of synthetic drugs may range from a few hours up to more than eight hours. Death from violent behavior or suicide have resulted from Spice abuse.

Users can also become addicted to Spice.

Other Signs of Spice Abuse

K2/Spice has a pungent odor similar to marijuana.

Spice and other synthetic drugs do not show up on drug screens, unless used within two hours prior to the drug test.

There may be changes in the user’s mood, productivity or hygiene.

DOT Considerations

Drivers are prohibited from engaging in a safety-sensitive function when the driver uses “any controlled substance” (except under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner). 49 CFR 382.213(a)

CMV drivers specifically may not use Schedule I drugs and be qualified to drive CMVs.

Company policy should prohibit possession or use of synthetic cannabinoids or synthetic marijuana.

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One “Dead Give Away of a Pothead”


A Different Kind of High . . .

According to the Pew Research Center, in the last decade, attitudes toward marijuana use have changed. Fewer people see smoking marijuana as morally wrong and the Millennial generation is the most supportive of marijuana legalization.

Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the agency which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), show illicit drug use in the United States has been increasing and marijuana use has increased since 2007. SAMHSA’s data indicate that more than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana.

It is a major violation of federal regulations to drive a truck or bus under the influence of controlled substances or alcohol. Employers are required to conduct mandatory pre-employment screenings and random drug and alcohol testing of CDL drivers.

Title 49 CFR Part 40 regulates drug and alcohol testing for all Commercial Driver License (CDL) holders in safety-sensitive positions.  A safety sensitive position is a job or position where the person holding this position has the responsibility for his/her own safety or other people’s safety. If the job functions and duties are such that a failure to properly perform the functions or job duties would put the employee or others in risk of physical injury, it is considered a safety sensitive position. Every year organizations and companies must randomly test at least 50 percent of their CDL drivers for drugs, and 10 percent of their CDL drivers for alcohol. Owner-operators and motor carriers who have only one CDL driver must join a drug testing consortium. (See: Am I Covered?)

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act mandates a drug and alcohol clearinghouse for all national commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders. The clearinghouse will collect driver information on failed drug and alcohol tests.

CDL driver supervisors are required to have Drug and Alcohol Reasonable Suspicion training, if the organization or company operates vehicles that require a CDL on the public roads, under 49 CFR 382.603 Training for supervisors.

A Dead Give Away

Here’s a sign of marijuana use in a truck— used by safety staff in top transportation companies and by law enforcement nationwide— called a “dead give away” of a marijuana user.

Top Tip: Check for little burn holes in the truck seat.  These are not from the “cherry” falling off the end of a cigarette, but from pot seeds that burn through the paper or pop out of a pipe.

Another secondary sign of smoking marijuana in a company vehicle (sometimes more easy to obliterate or disguise) can be “black stains” from ash, burnt pot, or resin on the seat.

An Ounce of Prevention . . .

Have a drug and alcohol policy with crystal clear explanations of what behavior will not be tolerated and what consequences will follow from drug or alcohol use at work.

Consider enrolling staff not covered by 49 CFR Part 40 in a Drug Free Workforce Program.

Never put a CDL driver to work without having the results of their pre-employment drug screen.

Owner-operators and motor carriers who have only one CDL driver are DOT regulated and are required to do DOT drug and alcohol testing per 49 CFR Part 40.

Thank you for reading this.

J Taratuta

John Taratuta is an independent Risk Engineer. (989) 474-9599

Just The FAQs

Just the facts . . .

Just the Facts . . .

The U.S. DOT is very concerned about bridge strikes (topping a trailer, van box or load) and use (or  improper use) of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). At least these topics are the first things listed under “Carrier & Vehicle Safety” on the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) FAQs page.

“The Agency views bridge strikes as a serious safety hazard resulting in injury and loss of life, damage to infrastructure, interruption of commerce, and delays in travel times.”

Their solution: drivers need to increase awareness of route selection by paying attention to signs and using only proper GPS systems, designed for trucks and buses. And by the way, The DOT reminds us that the maximum penalty for failing to comply with a posted route restriction, such as a sign along a roadway, is $11,000 for a company and/or $2,750 for a driver, and, of course, a bad CSA score.

But they are doing their part, too:

  • The FMCSA will work with its State and local partners to ensure they understand their enforcement authority against motor carriers and drivers that fail to abide by roadway signs.

They have a GPS brochure for drivers (opens in .pdf file).

The DOT admits it does not know if topping a trailer or load on a bridge or overpass due to improper GPS is really a problem.

FMCSA’s information systems do not have crash statistics associated with the use of electronic navigation systems. However, even one truck or bus striking an overpass is one too many . . .

The DOT’s FMCSA FAQs page looks like this:


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E-Signature Releases – What is DOT Acceptable?

circle check

What are the requirements for acceptability of e-signatures on drug & alcohol or safe driving records? We receive these from time to time and it is impossible to know if the “confirm” button or the check mark was really generated by the applicant (your previous employee) or a 3rd party TPA / CRA. I’ve researched the FMCSA regulation and asked for FMCSA guidance, but there is no clear direction on what is acceptable.

Step 1 – Make sure you have the proper release forms.

Blanket releases are unacceptable.

Written consent (a Part 40.25 release) must be:
employer-specific; and
time-period specific.

The consent cannot be part of another DOT requirement such as: a motor vehicle check, credit history, or criminal background check.

The consent needs to be an original signed form for each identified DOT regulated employer needing to provide testing information.

If a carrier uses a service agent to obtain the information on their behalf, the service agent must also be identified on the release form — along with the employer identifying information.

Service agents maintaining testing information for DOT regulated employers
cannot disclose employee test information to other parties unless the employee
provides a specific written consent to do so (Part 40.331).

Step Two
Once you are confident that you have the proper forms, carefully examine the forms for the above information. Any e-docs have to be the functional equivalent of the paper docs they replace.

49 CFR Part 390.31 Copies of records or documents, governs electronic documents and signatures. (See guidance section).

While Third-party administrator / Consumer Reporting Agency (TPA/CRA) type agencies might be regulated, it doesn’t mean they necessarily adhere to DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing regulations. Fraudulently obtained releases (hiding or misrepresenting facts to get the signature) are invalid.


TPA – Third-party administrator

CRA – Consumer Reporting Agency

FMCSA – Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (an agency of the United States Department of Transportation or US DOT)

Drug Testing Delays . . . What to do?



Drug Testing Procedures

A driver was selected for a Random DOT Drug Test. What should I do, if I called to notify a CDL driver everyday for a week with no response?

The Regulations in 49 CFR Part 382.307(l) say:

Each employer shall require that
each driver who is notified of selection
for random alcohol and/or controlled
substances testing proceeds to the test
site immediately; provided, however,
that if the driver is performing a safety-sensitive
function, other than driving
a commercial motor vehicle, at the
time of notification, the employer
shall instead ensure that the driver
ceases to perform the safety-sensitive
function and proceeds to the testing
site as soon as possible.

A safety-sensitive* function, other than driving — means, for example, inspecting or servicing the vehicle. When the safety-sensitive function is complete, the drug testing process needs to be conducted without any delays.

If a driver has been selected, the employer shall require that driver to submit to testing at their first available time in the terminal or other appropriate location. After an employee is notified, he or she must immediately proceed to the collection site, without delay.

Perhaps meet with your supervisor and/or dispatch to see how, working together, you can make this happen.

* 49 C.F.R. § 382.107 defines “safety-sensitive” to mean any on-duty functions in 49 C.F.R. § 395.2, including: (1) all time at a shipper or carrier, etc., waiting to be dispatched; (2) all time inspecting equipment; (3) all driving time; (4) all time in or on a commercial motor vehicle, except resting time; (5) all time loading or unloading; and (6) all time repairing, obtaining assistance, or remaining in attendance upon a disabled vehicle.

If rehiring a driver who failed a drug test . . . ?

If rehiring a driver who failed drug test in 2011, then completed his SAP program and aftercare (I have two letters from the SAP confirming this), other than the release for prior testing history, need I obtain anything else? Or have to do anything going forward? I have not ever rehired anyone who has went through a SAP program.

A CDL driver is disqualified to drive any commercial motor vehicle (over 10,001 pounds GVWR or requiring a CDL to drive), or preform any safety-sensitive functions (loading, inspecting, etc.), until he or she re-qualifies by attending a program set up by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).

The SAP has to require at least six follow-up tests.
The driver must also be in a random testing program.
Random tests do not count as follow-up-tests.
An employer cannot exceed the SAP’s recommendations.

The regulations say in § 40.297:

Does anyone have the authority to change a SAP’s initial evaluation?

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no one (e.g., an employer, employee, a managed-care provider, any service agent) may change in any way the SAP’s evaluation or recommendations for assistance. For example, a third party is not permitted to make more or less stringent a SAP’s recommendation by changing the SAP’s evaluation or seeking another SAP’s evaluation.

Bottom Line: Follow the SAP’s return-to-duty report exactly. One employer had a driver who was suppose to do a follow-up test within the first 30-days but the driver missed the test by two days because of a delay on the trip. The employer was later fined by FMCSA.

Federal DOT Auditors look at any positive tests or refusal to undergo drug or alcohol testing for the previous five years when they conduct any investigation, so make sure you always follow the SAP’s requirements and federal regulations for any positive tests or refusal to test, as the DOT will carefully examine these records.

What if rehiring the driver from another company?

The testing schedule set by the SAP will carry over with the employee. Even if he or she were to go work with another company, the SAP’s requirements follow the driver.

A driver who has failed a drug or alcohol test needs an SAP evaluation and release. Before performing any safety-sensitive functions, the driver must undergo a return-to-duty drug test, and then at least six more follow-up tests, as specified in the SAP’s evaluation.