Some 300,000 truck drivers would fail a hair test for drugs, says the Trucking Alliance – but...

Some 300,000 truck drivers would fail a hair test for drugs, says the Trucking Alliance – but most of those would pass the DOT-required urine test.

Photo: Quest Diagnostics

A university study holds that a survey of the paired pre-employment urine and hair drug screenings of 151,662 truck drivers — of which 12,824 failed the hair test – “can be generalized across the national driver population," meaning statistically, more than 300,000 truck drivers would fail a hair test for illicit drug use.

The study by the University of Central Arkansas was commissioned by the Trucking Alliance, a safety-advocacy group whose carrier members operate some 70,000 over-the-road tractors.

The Trucking Alliance recently conducted a survey of 15 trucking companies that use a pre-employment hair test when hiring commercial driver license holders along with the federally required urine test. To compare the results, the companies submitted paired drug and urine test results of 151,662 truck driver applicants.

According to the Alliance, the results indicated “a major discrepancy between the number of drivers who failed a urinalysis drug screen and those who failed a hair test. While 949 (0.6%) applicants failed the urine test, 12,824 (8.5%) either failed or refused to submit to a hair test.” The group noted in a news release that the Department of Transportation classifies refusals to submit to a drug or alcohol screening as a failure. As a result, a hair test failure rate 14.2 times greater than urine was yielded. 

Based on this study and generally accepted employment demographics, 310,250 truck drivers would statistically fail a hair test for illicit drugs and opioids use.

The results showed cocaine was the most prevalent drug, followed by opioids, including heroin. Marijuana was the third most widely detected drug. All of these drugs are prohibited by federal law and automatically disqualify persons with a commercial driver license from operating a commercial truck, noted the safety group. 

The Trucking Alliance subsequently asked the UCA College of Business to analyze the survey and determine if the test results could be applied, with accuracy, to the national U.S. truck driver population. The UCA study, entitled “An Examination of the Geographical Correlation Between Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers,” concluded that:

  • The Alliance sample is “large enough to draw inferences to the national driver population, with a 99% confidence level and a margin of error of less than 1%”
  • The Alliance sample is representative of the national truck driver population
  • The Alliance urine vs. hair test results can be generalized across the national driver population.

“We now have clear evidence that hundreds of thousands of drug-impaired truck drivers are skirting the current drug test system and creating a dangerous public safety risk,” said Lane Kidd, managing director of the Trucking Alliance.

The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 requires drug and alcohol testing of “safety-sensitive” transportation workers, including truck drivers. The Department of Transportation administers the law, using drug-test guidelines approved by the Department of Health and Human Services.

DOT currently recognizes just one drug test method – urinalysis. But it allows employers to require additional drug-test methods as part of the employer’s hiring practices. A growing number of trucking company employers, including Trucking Alliance carriers, require a second drug test, a hair analysis, as part of their pre-employment truck driver hiring policies.

Until the Department of Health and Human Services completes hair test guidelines that are currently under development, DOT cannot recognize hair-testing for DOT pre-employment and random drug test protocols.

The Trucking Alliance also pointed out earlier this year that until DOT recognizes hair-analysis testing, no employer will be allowed to submit hair-test failures into the CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse that becomes operational starting in January.

The clearinghouse is intended to allow employers to know if a person applying for a truck driving job has previously failed a drug test, but without hair-testing results being included, it will miss those drivers who were able to pass a urinalysis but failed a hair test.

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

View Bio