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Carrier drug survey reveals need to “purge” 300,000 drivers

Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Data comparing pre-employment drug tests of truck driver applicants found evidence that thousands of habitual drug users are slipping through the federal drug screening system.

Compiled by the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (known as the Trucking Alliance), whose members include major truckload operators J.B. Hunt [NASDAQ: JBHT], U.S. Xpress [NYSE: USX] and Knight-Swift Transportation [NYSE: KNX], the “first of its kind” survey found that while 94 percent of the urinalysis and hair analysis of 151,662 applicants tested drug-free, thousands failed either or both tests.

Based on what the Trucking Alliance asserted is a “statistically valid sample” of 3.5 million commercial drivers, the survey projects with a 99 percent confidence level and less than 1 percent margin of error that 301,000 truck drivers currently on the road would fail or refuse a hair analysis.

“We have a huge drug abuse problem in the trucking industry, and should actually purge an estimated 300,000 commercial drivers to clean it up,” said Trucking Alliance Managing Director Lane Kidd in a statement. “No wonder truck accidents are on the rise.”

The results of the survey were recently submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as well as to the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Highway Subcommittee before its hearing today (June 12) on the state of the trucking industry.

“The T&I Subcommittee can intervene to mitigate this problem,” the Alliance stated in comments to the subcommittee. The group wants lawmakers to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to complete hair test guidelines, which were mandated under the FAST Act surface transportation legislation in 2015 but have yet to be rolled out.

“Until DOT recognizes a hair analysis, no employer will be allowed to submit hair test failures into the pending USDOT Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. This will make it virtually impossible for another employer to know if a person applying for a truck driver job has previously failed a drug test,” according to the Alliance.

Testifying at the June 12 subcommittee hearing, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear echoed the group’s concern. “[The hair-test guidelines] have been sitting at HHS for three years. DOT is ready to move forward on this. Get on HHS and get this thing done.”

The Alliance pointed out that DOT currently recognizes only urinalysis as a drug test method, allowing employers to require additional test methods as part of employer hiring practices. However, “a growing number of trucking company employers, including Trucking Alliance carriers, require a second drug test, a hair analysis, as part of their pre-employment truck driver hiring policies.”

Using urinalysis alone missed nine out of 10 illegal drug users, according to the Alliance survey. Cocaine was the most prevalent drug that tested positive, followed by opioids and marijuana. “Applicants who failed or refused the hair test were disqualified for employment at these companies, but likely obtained the same job elsewhere, at companies that administer only a urinalysis.”

Some trucking experts contend that, while needed, more rigid federal guidelines and enforcement of drug testing will make it more difficult to seat drivers.


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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.