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Driver issuesNewsTruckingTrucking Regulation

Truckers frustrated with hair-test guideline delays

Holdup within Trump Administration preventing industry from making headway in keeping drugs abusers out of trucks, according to carriers

A five-year delay of a rulemaking that would give trucking companies the option to use a hair test instead of urinalysis to screen drivers for drugs is preventing significant safety improvements, according to major industry players.

The benefits of hair testing within the trucking industry was a common theme among several panel discussions at a truck safety summit held by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today.

Representatives from truckload operators Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN), Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), Knight-Swift (NYSE: KNX), and Maverick Transportation provided quantitative evidence of how hair-testing programs they use alongside mandatory urinalysis is keeping hundreds of habitual drug users from filling seats in their company’s cabs.

But American Trucking Associations (ATA) President Chris Spear contended that rolling out hair testing industry-wide won’t happen until the Trump Administration corrects procedural issues..

Congress in 2015 mandated the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promulgate guidelines for hair testing. 

“To see it stall for five years at HHS, and now submitted to the [Office of Management and Budget], it’s very clear to me that we have some career people at HHS that are very wedded to urinalysis labs,” Spear said.

“This is about competition in my view. I think having a scientifically proven alternative to urinalysis in the environment that we’re now operating in, with opioids and marijuana, I think it’s timely and absolutely essential for safety on our public highways. We’re going to continue to push hard and if we don’t get the rule we want, we’re going to go back to [Capitol Hill] and will be even clearer if we have to. We’re going to keep pressing until we get it done.”

Recent data compiled by the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse revealed that drivers may be attempting to cheat urinalysis tests for drugs at a relatively high rate, which could lead to a renewed push for motor carrier hair-testing requirements.

After HHS issues a rulemaking allowing hair testing as an option to urinalysis, it would then be up to FMCSA to adopt rules specifically aimed at motor carriers.

Dan Furth, President of the National Tank Truck Carriers said his members would adopt hair testing almost immediately if it became the industry standard. “We want to make sure drivers are in the right physical and mental state to drive. We would be huge adopters of it,” he said.

Thomas DiSalvi, vice president of safety and compliance at Schneider National, said that results more than 100,000 pre-employment applicants found a 4% to 4.5% positive rate using hair testing compared with 0.4% positive rate with urinalysis.

“We’re missing the chronic drug users when we rely only on the urine test,” he said.

“We’ve seen a difference in hair positive rate versus urine which was about 10 times greater” using hair testing, said Jamie Maus, vice president of safety and compliance at Werner Enterprises. “What was more surprising was the types of drugs we were picking up. The number one drug we see is cocaine, then amphetamines, and then opioids – marijuana is not even in the top tier.”

Maus added, “The scary part is, while a driver can be disqualified from driving from Werner Enterprises, they’re able to go to another carrier [that may not use hair testing] because hair testing isn’t recognized under federal regulations. Of the 5,000 positive hair tests in the last couple of years, only a handful of those also tested positive in urine, so only a handful of those would have been reported to the current Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse or to other companies.”

Small-business trucking companies headed by owner operators, however, are concerned hair testing can be biased against people with different hair types, and about positive results from non-habitual users.

“Nobody wants people using drugs on the highway, but unfortunately a drug can last up to six months” in someone’s system, commented Lewie Pugh, vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “So is the problem six months ago or now? That’s why urine is the better way to go.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes Schneider (No. 7) and Werner Enterprises (No. 10).

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.