Maverick is one of a number of trucking fleets that use hair testing to screen drivers for drug use.
 - Photo: Maverick

Maverick is one of a number of trucking fleets that use hair testing to screen drivers for drug use.

Photo: Maverick

New research validates a study that almost 300,000 truck drivers would fail a hair test for drug use today, according to The Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, which did the original study and funded the validating research.

Written by Doug Voss and Joe Cangelosi at the University of Central Arkansas, the peer-reviewed research article will appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Transportation Management (July 2020).

Drug Testing in the U.S. Trucking Industry: Hair vs. Urine Samples and the Implications for Policy and the Industry” examined trucking industry data and found about 300,000 truck drivers would be removed from their positions if forced to pass a hair drug test.

Read HDT's in-depth series, Trucking Under the Influence

Hair testing opponents argue that the test is biased against ethnic minority groups, the researchers note, but “comparing urine and hair pass/fail rates for various ethnic groups, our results indicate ethnic groups are significantly different irrespective of testing procedure.”

The report cites several studies and articles that “highlight the possibility that current federally accepted urinalysis is insufficient to deter and catch drivers who may abuse substances that degrade their driving performance.”

Because of problems with drivers being able to cheat urine testing, some motor carriers, including Schneider, Knight-Swift Transportation, J.B. Hunt Transport, Werner Enterprises and Maverick, use more stringent hair drug tests, the Trucking Alliance last year conducted a study comparing pass/fail rates for urine and hair drug screens. Using 151,662 paired pre-employment urine and hair drug test results from 15 different trucking companies, their results indicated that 949 (0.6%) applicants failed the urine test while 12,824 (8.5%) failed or refused the hair test

The Alliance extrapolated their results over a population of 3.5 million U.S . truck drivers and claimed that, if their results were generalized across the U.S. driver population, almost 300,000 current drivers would not be on the road if forced to pass a hair test. However, no evidence was presented to justify whether their sample was, in fact, generalizable.

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In addition, opponents of hair tests have argued that they are biased against certain ethnic groups based on hair composition. Several authors, however, “have argued that the bias claim is spurious,” according to the Arkansas researchers.

About the Research

University of Central Arkansas researchers were given access to data independently provided by cooperating trucking companies that employ hair testing in addition to urinalysis. The goals were to determine if:

  1. The Trucking Alliance sample is generalizable, which would support their claim that roughly 275,000 drivers would be unable to engage in safety sensitive functions if forced to pass a hair test and,
  2. whether hair testing has a disparate impact on minority ethnic groups.

Based on its review, researchers concluded that:

  • The Trucking Alliance sample is large enough to generalize across the national driver population;
  • The Trucking Alliance sample is representative of the national driver population;
  • The Trucking Alliance urinalysis v. hair test results can be generalized across the national driver population. This supports the notion that roughly 275,000 current drivers would be unable to perform safety sensitive functions if forced to undergo hair testing.

Researchers also reported that they were unable to find disparate impacts of hair testing among the ethnic groups.

DOT Slow to Act on Hair Testing

Congress authorized the DOT to recognize hair testing of commercial drivers in 2015. Congress directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to write hair test guidelines. “Despite other internationally recognized lab standards for hair testing in existence now, HHS is now almost four years behind its deadline,” said Lane Kidd, managing direcotr of The Trucking Alliance.

In fact, in 2018, the bipartisan Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 directed the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to report to Congress on its progress creating and issuing guidelines for hair testing.

The researchers also said their work shows that more research should be done on drug testing. “The supply chain literature is largely silent on the drug testing debate … Future investigations may wish to examine trucking company drug testing best practices, such as when drivers are most likely to test positive or the relationship between the number of positive random drug screens and safety performance.”

About the researchers: Douglas Voss is professor of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Central Arkansas. He holds a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Joseph D. Cangelosi Jr is the Textbook Brokers Professor of Marketing at the University of Central Arkansas. His research focuses on statistical analysis and analytics across various topics, including logistics, He has a D.B.A. from Louisiana Tech University.

Hair Testing and the Clearinghouse

On a related note, in comments filed last month with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Trucking Alliance urged that the agency accept a truck driver’s previously failed hair test for drug use, to the newly established Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Current FMCSA policy states that if an employer becomes aware of a commercial motor vehicle driver’s drug or alcohol abuse, other than the DOT urinalysis test, this constitutes an employer’s ‘actual knowledge.’ This knowledge should be reported to FMCSA, specifically, to the clearinghouse, contends the Alliance.

The Trucking Alliance believes that, as long as the testing method meets generally accepted laboratory standards, FMCSA should recognize a failed hair test as an employer’s actual knowledge, and the test results should be reported to the clearinghouse.

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