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American Shipper

Trucking industry, unions fight over hair follicle drug testing

The American Trucking Associations urged Congress to allow hair follicle testing as an alternative to urine-based testing for drivers.

   The American Trucking Associations is urging Congress to act during the upcoming fall session on legislation that would allow motor carriers to test hair follicle samples rather than urine for the presence of drugs in commercial drivers. 
   Hair follicle testing has proven to be much more difficult to beat than urine-based testing that is the current federal standard. Drugs can be detected in hair follicles for up to 90 days and urine testing can be defeated by switching in a clean sample undetected. Many large companies, including truckload carrier Knight Transportation and Maverick Transportation, which specializes in flatbed, glass and reefer hauls, Schneider National, J. B. Hunt Transport, General Motors and Shell Oil, use hair follicle drug screening as part of their hiring process. 
   The Drug Free Commercial Act of 2015 (H.R. 1467/S. 806) is a top ATA priority because member companies complain they have to pay twice for redundant tests and the cost discourages more widespread use of hair follicle testing. 
   In a letter Monday to leaders of the Senate Commerce and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees, ATA President Bill Graves said, “ATA is aware of thousands of truck drivers who have tested positive for illegal drug use on hair tests and have obtained driving positions with other carriers because they were subsequently able to pass DOT-required urine tests. Several of these drivers have had crashes and, of course, future ones are likely as a result.”
   Schneider National identified 2,066 driver applicants who had used drugs based on hair test results, but only 182 of them tested positive on urine tests. Graves said almost 1,900 drug users would be driving for the trucking company if it did not have a hair testing program in place.
   A survey of just four large carriers revealed that 706 drivers failed pre-employment hair tests but passed urine tests this year alone, he added.
   The Department of Health and Human Services’ Drug Testing Advisory Board recently recommended that department adopt hair follicle testing guidelines as an alternative for federal workplace drug screening programs.
   The hair follicle legislation was attached in June to the DRIVE Act, the Senate’s proposal for a multi-year surface transportation program renewal. But a divided Congress instead passed a five-month extension of the existing funding plan without any policy or program changes. As a result, follicle testing likely will be added as an amendment to any comprehensive surface transportation bill debated in the coming months.
   According to Graves, unions that object to the testing because of perceived racial bias or environmental contamination are compromising safety.
   Last week, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and other groups asked the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to exclude provisions for hair specimen testing from any House surface transportation bill.
   “The Senate has undermined the expertise of scientists and potentially jeopardized the jobs of thousands of bus and truck drivers with this unproven testing method,” TTD President Edward Wytkind said in a letter to Committee Chairman Bill Shuster. “We urge the House to reject the Senate’s hair testing provision and ensure that federal drug tests are backed by scientific and forensically sound evidence.”
   Wytkind claimed studies show that darker and more porous hair retains some drugs at greater rates than lighter hair and that hair specimens can also cause individuals to test positive for drugs absorbed into hair from the environment.
   Graves called those claims “unfounded” and exaggerated.
   “Hair testing is a validated, proven and effective method for detecting illegal drug use that has been widely embraced by private industry and many governments worldwide,” he said. “Congress should remove impediments to the adoption of hair testing by trucking companies that follow industry standards…Moreover, Congress should reject efforts to protect the employment of drivers whose drug use might otherwise go undetected.”
   Another driver safety issue on the ATA’s legislative agenda is establishment of a federal database that would let employers know whether someone had a past positive test for drugs so they can’t easily move to another company if they failed a pre-employment, random or post-accident drug test. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is expected to issue a rulemaking for such a database later this year.