All That's Trucking

Why is the DOT Taking so Long to Move on Hair Testing for Drugs?

May 15, 2013

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Schneider National is one of a number of major fleets who have discovered many drug users are not caught by DOT-mandated urine testing.
Schneider National is one of a number of major fleets who have discovered many drug users are not caught by DOT-mandated urine testing.

The American Trucking Associations used the National Transportation Safety Board's stricter impaired-driving regulations as an opportunity to again push for the DOT to move forward on a process to allow motor carriers to collect hair samples for DOT-required drug testing in lieu of the currently mandated urine testing process.

The NTSB recommended reducing the legal limit for drunk driving to a BAC of 0.05 from 0.08, increasing the use of interlock devices, strengthening penalties for repeat offenders and increasing high-visibility enforcement.

ATA said it supports all of these steps. But in addition to strengthening these measures, ATA President and CEO Bill Graves also again called on DOT to permit hair testing for mandatory pre-employment drug tests of commercial motor vehicle drivers.

“ATA knows for a fact that thousands of truck drivers who have failed hair tests . . . have obtained driving positions with other carriers because they were able to pass DOT-authorized urine tests,” Graves wrote in a May 13 letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“All we are asking is for DOT to allow this industry to use the best available tools under the DOT-mandated drug and alcohol testing program to make sure our roads are safe for all motorists,” Graves said.

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As we reported in a 2011 feature story in HDT, it's much easier for a driver to "cheat" on a urine test than on a hair test for drugs.

"With a urine test, what we are really asking is, 'Does the candidate know how to use the Internet?'" quipped Mark Freemal, sales manager at Omega Laboratories, a provider of hair testing services for the trucking industry. "Our president calls it a stupidity test."

ATA wants the DOT to allow hair testing to meet federal drug-testing requirements.
ATA wants the DOT to allow hair testing to meet federal drug-testing requirements.

The practice of defeating and falsifying urine tests is widespread enough in the trucking industry to have prompted a Government Accountability Office investigation in 2007 that uncovered some disturbing problems.

Undercover investigators were able to use bogus commercial driver's licenses at 24 drug-testing sites, proving that a driver could easily send a substitute in with a fake ID. In addition, 22 of the 24 sites did not follow testing protocols, which opened the door to further cheating, GAO found.

Beyond cheating, urine testing is limited even if done properly. Generally, it cannot detect use of heavier drugs longer than two or three days after use. Cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates are in and out of the digestive system very quickly. It's possible to party hard on Friday and pass a test on Tuesday. As a result, companies don't get an accurate idea of what a driver does in his or her free time.

By contrast, telltale remains of most illicit substances reside in the core of hair follicles permanently.

Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security at Schneider National, told us in 2011 that the company caught around 6% of drivers when they first started hair testing, compared to 1% or less with urine tests. Its hair test fail rate has since dropped to just below 4%, similar to J.B. Hunt, which tols us its drivers were still failing hair tests for marijuana three times as often as urine tests.

This seems like a no-brainer. The trucking industry isn't even asking for mandated hair testing, only that companies who want to do hair testing can use it to meet DOT regs instead of the mandated urine testing so they don't have to continue to double-test. Why is it taking so long for the DOT to act on something so simple?

Comments

  1. 1. Cliff Downing [ May 16, 2013 @ 05:00AM ]

    While understanding the insurance motivation of the ATA in wanting hair follicle testing, I also understand the Libertarian view of such things. No doubt, the powers that be also see this. True, hair follicle testing will show use of substances further out than urine samples, it does not mitigate any problem that use of substances would cause anyway. Because a person used a substance, say Marijuana, several weeks or months ago while off work at home over an extended weekend, does in no way indicate that they are necessarily impaired when operating a commercial vehicle. There is no correlation between the two that has been shown to exist at a level that demands a change in the current methodology. While urinalysis does show recent levels and virtually up to the minute use, which is a factor in operating a commercial vehicle, a use of a substance, say within 12 hrs, would not show up in hair sample.

    So we have a situation where the ATA is not necessarily concerned with actual vehicle safety as it pertains to use of substances behind the wheel, so much as they are appointing themselves the arbiter of moral accountability. But then, the ATA's policy movements have very little to do with safety so much as they have to do with industry control, sans speed limiting vehicles and advocating EOBR's. And using the government to further their aims is not only despicable, but un-American at it's core and a slap at anyone who has taken an oath to defend this nation, it's Constitution, and Liberty in general. The ATA, along with TCA and other fellow travelers, are a pox on humanity and deserve nothing less than scorn and ridicule. I, for one, did not serve and bleed for my nation to enable scoundrels like Bill Graves to try and rule my livelihood. There is not one shred of honor to be found in the ATA, TCA, and the ADSS. Government bureaucrats, I can understand. American citizens who would want to demean the legacy of the sacrifice of their own countrymen, I cannot.

  2. 2. Deborah Lockridge [ May 16, 2013 @ 05:50AM ]

    Cliff, I didn't get into it in this blog, but you can read it in the story from 2011 -- these companies say hair testing gives them a more accurate look at someone's overall drug habits, long term. They don't want to hire habitual drug users. And isn't it their right as a company to make that determination?

    Unlike the speed limiter or EOBR issues, where I understand your concerns, it this case, ATA isn't calling for a mandate for this to be a requirement for everyone. All they want is for the government to recognize these tests as meeting the federal requirement for them to do drug testing.

    (I think there are some interesting arguments to be made as to why the DOT should not lump marijuana in with other illicit drugs, but that's another battle.)

    Thanks for your comments, and thank you for your service to our country.

  3. 3. Adam [ May 23, 2013 @ 06:44AM ]

    I am coming aboard with Schneider National and they just had me do a hair and urine test so looks like SNI is already on top of their game.

  4. 4. Deborah Lockridge [ May 23, 2013 @ 10:25AM ]

    Yep, Adam, Schneider was one of the fleets leading the way, along with J.B. Hunt and a handful of others.

  5. 5. John [ May 23, 2013 @ 07:07PM ]

    Deborah If on Friday after a long week and I live in Washington State
    I smoke a joint and have a few beers. I will not be stoned or drunk
    Monday morning. I did nothing that is not legal in this State.
    Whats the point in finding out I did it?

  6. 6. John [ May 25, 2013 @ 10:00PM ]

    Quote :It's possible to party hard on Friday and pass a test on Tuesday. As a result, companies don't get an accurate idea of what a driver does in his or her free time.

    So I have no free time? unless I am waiting to load or unload thats
    free right?

    What I do that is not illegal on my time is just that.
    Not drunk or stoned when reporting to work is all that should matter.

    If you dont think so it will soon come to your job.

  7. 7. Deborah Lockridge [ May 27, 2013 @ 05:56AM ]

    If you're going to be a truck driver, federal DOT regulations insist that you be drug-free. From the company's standpoint, imagine someone does decide to drive stoned and has a horrendous wreck. You can bet the lawyers for the victims will start asking why the trucking company wasn't being as vigorous as possible in its drug testing procedures.

  8. 8. Justin [ August 14, 2013 @ 02:26PM ]

    That's the thing though. He was talking about not being stoned when driving. Just like people drink on the weekend or even on weeknights if they are so inclined yet always show up to work sober. And I would say alcohol is right up there with heroin yet no one has a problem with it. Believe it or not I have relaxed with a plant that enhances my thinking and gives me new perspectives on life and helped me change it for the better. And I in no way would ever drive "stoned" yet apparently because I have done this in the distant past I am unfit as a person or something. Some kind of less individual who only deserves to wash dishes for the rest of his life because of a dumb generalization of what I did three years ago. How the hell does that make any sense?

  9. 9. Justin [ August 14, 2013 @ 02:42PM ]

    I mean understand if they find someone who just does a ton of drugs all the time but they really don't discriminate or give a damn. They'll just fail everybody that they find anything with, because you gotta be a perfect saint according to someone's arbitrary (and wrong) morals, that's what's wrong with hair testing. But I could have been a hardcore "drug user" (with alcohol) in my past and still get hired cause everyone accepts it. Ah man whatever I'm off to cut my hair and stop complaining I don't have time for this bs lol. It's not hair testing itself that is wrong, in theory I actually agree to a point. But how it's always carried out by ignorant people (or those who have to answer to ignorant people) is what's wrong.

  10. 10. friday [ November 15, 2013 @ 06:33PM ]

    Why all the regulations on a truck and driver.. and not on cars and other. Vehicles. Would somebody in a pickup truck be less. Dangerous. Because he's smaller..most of these accidents are prevocedorcaused by fourwheelers.

  11. 11. Professional [ December 16, 2013 @ 02:18PM ]

    It's ridiculous that drivers can't enjoy a toke on one of their very few days off. If drivers can drink on their free time without consequence, why can't we smoke?

  12. 12. Ryan [ February 23, 2014 @ 04:28PM ]

    Cliff,

    You seem like an intelligent guy. I'm so sick of seeing morons lost in their prejudice and mistaking it for truth. I'm realizing right now that I probably can't become a truck driver for a while because I had dental work done and took vicodin in Mexico. It's a shame because I was planning to do it, and there is no good reason for this horse shit.

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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

Editor in Chief

All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.

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