Trucking Alliance pushing Congress for tighter drug testing

The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, also known as the Trucking Alliance, is lobbying Congress to enact stricter drug testing rules for American truck drivers.

The Trucking Alliance is a coalition of freight and logistics companies that support safety reforms in the commercial trucking industry.

The Trucking Alliance recently announced it will push for congressional passage of a new drug testing law to require driver applicants to verify no opioid or illegal drug use at least 30 days before being hired.

The announcement came at the recent United Nations event, “The Use of Technology to Promote Road Safety – The Brazilian Experience.”

Brazil requires all commercial truck drivers to pass a hair-based drug test before renewing their licenses. More than one million Brazilian drivers have either failed the hair test or refused to renew their licenses since the law took effect in 2016.

“Current drug testing methods for truck drivers are failing,” said Lane Kidd, managing director of The Trucking Alliance. Kidd told UN attendees that in 2017, J.B. Hunt Transport identified 1,213 people who tested positive on their pre-employment hair test. Yet, 90 percent of the company’s truck driver applicants passed the government-mandated urinalysis. “Clearly, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pre-employment drug test protocols are missing most lifestyle drug users and opioid addicts, and that’s a national problem for our industry,” said Kidd.

“We have an opioid problem in our nation, and from my experience, we have one in our industry, too,” said Dean Newell, vice president of safety and driver training at Maverick USA, headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. Newell also spoke at the United Nations meeting. “We [Maverick] started hair testing for opioids in 2014, and we’ve seen a steady increase [in opioid addiction] every year.”

Research indicates opioids go undetected in a person’s system after a few hours, allowing opioid addicts to avoid detection via urinalysis. However, a hair exam can detect drug use for up to 90 days.

According to The Alliance, opioids feeding drug abuse in the trucking industry include codeine and morphine pain killers branded under a variety of names. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently added four of these – hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone – to its pre-employment drug test protocols. But unless the applicant takes these opioids within a few hours of collection, a urinalysis drug test can miss their use, say hair testing proponents.

“We hope Congress will follow Brazil’s leadership and require a drug test that proves without a doubt that a truck driver job applicant hasn’t taken illegal drugs or abused opioids for at least 30 days,” said Kidd.

Kidd also said Congress might consider a new drug test law for all current truck drivers, requiring a hair test before they renew their commercial driver license, as Brazil requires. “Too many loopholes allow truck drivers to skip random drug testing, even after they’re involved in a serious large truck accident.”

Newell agreed that current regulations do not capture lifestyle drug users. “We’ve had 154 drivers at Maverick who failed their hair test after they passed a urine test. Those 154 drivers are working for another company,” explained Newell. “They’re running up and down the road with our families, and that is not acceptable.”

Kidd added that since 2006, J.B. Hunt Transport has refused to employ 5,060 job applicants who failed a hair test after passing their urinalysis. Most of those truck driver applicants found jobs at other transportation companies, because almost all U.S. carriers use only the minimum federally required urinalysis.

“Multiply J.B. Hunt Transport’s experience by the hundreds of thousands of truck driver applicants each year across the United States, and we have a major problem,” said Kidd.

Hair testing “will save lives and hair testing is the right thing to do,” said Newell. “Maverick wants to make sure the company is the safest it can be, and that all drivers are well trained and drug free. We have a moral obligation to our employees, but we also have a moral obligation to the public.”

North of the border, Canada’s Federal Transport Minister, Marc Garneau, is advocating a drug testing program that would address the growing issue of workplace cannabis impairment.

Garneau has reached out to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, Railway Association of Canada and the Canadian Urban Transit Association to stimulate dialogue on the topic.

Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Association, says it’s a complex matter.

“This is a complicated issue involving multiple departments and legal matters. The policy direction outlined by the minister is sound and CTA looks forward to working with Transport Canada to ensure that our industry’s concerns are taken into consideration,” he said. “CTA’s goal is to see the eventual introduction of mandatory drug and alcohol testing for commercial truck drivers in Canada.”

Many Canadian drivers are already required to do drug and alcohol testing due to their travel to and from the United States.