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Drug-test cheating by drivers could renew calls for hair testing

FMCSA clearinghouse data reveals 13% refusal rate for test violations

Positive drug tests on pace for over 50,000 in 2020. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

New federal data reveals that drivers may be attempting to cheat urinalysis tests for drugs at a relatively high rate — and that could lead to a renewed push for motor carrier hair-testing requirements, according to a trucking regulations expert.

The latest monthly statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse show that 13% of drug-testing violations collected by the clearinghouse during the first half of the year were classified as “refusals” during pre-employment screening.

“Considering that a refusal, in the pre-employment context, can really only occur after the driver has been handed a urine collection cup, this number may be a good proxy for how often drivers attempt to defeat the urinalysis,” David Osiecki, president and CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, told FreightWaves. “This number, if it remains high, could accelerate calls for [U.S. Department of Transportation] approval of other testing methods like hair and oral fluid testing. It’s hard to cheat saliva and hair tests.”

The data also shows a refusal rate of 16% during random drug tests of current employees and a refusal rate of 14% for all violations. The rates are slightly less than comparative data generated by an industry survey conducted by FMCSA in 2018, which showed a drug test refusal rate during pre-employment screening of 18%.

However, “I’ve never viewed that survey as great data, in part because a good portion of the industry doesn’t end up responding to it,” Osiecki said, versus a much more complete picture of the industry now being provided by the clearinghouse.

Long-awaited guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on using hair tests to detect drugs in the workplace were sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last year and are still pending. Osiecki previously pointed out that even after OMB approval, an actual rollout of regulations as they apply to motor carriers could take years.

FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen confirmed earlier this month that his agency is considering whether the clearinghouse should include positive drug tests obtained through hair testing. Some carriers are conducting hair testing as a company policy in addition to urinalysis as an added safety precaution.

FMCSA’s latest data also shows that with 25,761 total drug and alcohol violations as of July 1, the industry is on pace to have over 50,000 drivers disqualified in 2020. Taking into account disqualified drivers entering the return-to-duty process, 44,500 drivers will be exiting the industry in 2020, Osiecki estimates.

“I expect the industry will be able to replace these drivers with relative ease and the industry will be safer as a result,” he said.

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  1. StevenJ

    Another issue all driver should be aware of is the CBD products sold, over time could produce a positive drug test result. Hemp is federally legal; However, hemp can contain up to .3% THC and THC is not allowed in a truck driver. THC is fat soluble and is stored in the fat cells in the body. Over time they can accumulate and trigger a positive drug test, effectively ending your driving career, or at the very least putting you out of work for some time while you go through the drug treatment protocol, and then; You are subject to unannounced follow-up testing at least 6 times in the first 12 months following your return to active safety-sensitive service. IF, the company you are with can even insure you. And if they wish to deal with a driver that will have to be drug tested that much. They can find a host of other reasons to get rid of any driver they want, so they probably won’t say it was because of the failed drug test. Then you have to find a company that will take a chance on a drug abuser, plus whatever that last company put on your DAC report. So it may be very difficult finding another driving job. A friend of mine now has found himself driving a Amazon delivery van, and they are trying to implement some of the same controls on them.
    Now, if you have your own authority, insurance may be cost prohibitive for you, $25,000 a year or more are the rates you will find, even with an otherwise safe/claim free driving history.

    Also, as a driver, any OTC medications sold for pain relief, could contain, CBD, it’s very important now to get name brand products that you are 100% sure do not contain CBD or any other substance that could trigger a positive result. As a truck driver, not only can we not drive in the same lanes as the 16 year old boy with no driving experience, but we can’t take the same over the counter medications (even those sold at truck stops) without a threat to our lively hood. Be very careful what you put into your body.

  2. Steven J

    I believe most of these are failing to be able to urinate in the allotted time. I know of experiences where the company takes you to the test, doesn’t allow you to drink, and then says if you don’t go in two hours it’s a refusal. Had they let the drivers drink bottles of water until they went, mother nature would have taken care of it. Legislators and some companies treat the human body like a machine, that’s the real safety problem. One can’t always just go on command.
    Also, what was the safety record of these drivers? What really happened? Did they not make the appointment due to other circumstances or did they deliberately refuse. They may have gotten a job at one company, so didn’t show up to the drug test at the other. Many drivers apply to more than one company when they are looking for a job and ditch the least desirable job even though drug tests and physicals are already set up. There’s more to this story. One can spin things in the direction they want the “data” to show.
    I’ve always thought the test to be an invasion of privacy. However I don’t want a drug abuser behind the wheel of a motorcycle, much less a 35,000+ lb vehicle. And how best do we do that without drug testing? Because I believe even with hair testing, the real drug abusers will still figure out how to beat it. It only catches people who may have taken one of their spouses pills when they hurt themselves instead of going to a doctor. Etc.

  3. Lloyd Smith

    So let’s get this straight. A hair follicle test does not show you to be under the influence of of anything. What someone did 6 months ago will not effect anyone today. It’s like saying I drank a beer at Hooters 2 weeks ago and getting fired for it. If folks want to test hair follicles go for it. This crap is getting out of hand.

  4. n0mader

    Yeah, the industry will be soooo much safer after ruining the career of a driver who smoked a joint on his time off. Vote Libertarian!!!

    1. Leslie Wingfield

      Follow the rules or get out loser. Drugs or driving. Period. And yes, I had to make the same conscious decision, work or weed. I’ll smoke when I retire.

Comments are closed.

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.