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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