Legislators take another crack at truck driver drug testing bill

Arkansas Senators Mark Pryor (D-Ark) and John Boozman (R-Ark), along with Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark) are taking another run at new legislation that would enable trucking firms to conduct random drug tests on truck drivers’ hair, a measure they say would make America’s highways safer.

“Advanced uniform drug testing requirements for trucking companies will help cut costs, spur economic growth and improve safety on our roads,” said Boozman. “Hiring drivers who lead a drug-free lifestyle is good for the industry and other drivers who share the roads. It makes sense to have the most accurate drug tests available and the ability to share those results among the industry.”

A similar bill was introduced last year by Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble but did not produce any new legislation.

The legislation would require Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue guidelines for hair testing and allow this method to be used for pre-employment testing and random testing during employment. But the bill would only allow later random tests if hair tests were used at the pre-employment phase.

If passed, the legislation would require positive test results from the hair testing be reported to a national database being developed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Currently, only urine testing is recognized by HHS and is mandatory as a pre-employment test for truck driver applicants. 

Proponents of the bill argue that many truck drivers are able to pass the urine test before being hired, and then later fail a hair test, and that this has prompted many companies to explore hair testing as a more reliable alternative.

The ACLU is expected to fight the additional drug-testing requirement. In the past, the ACLU has said drug tests obliterate the right to privacy for workers.

“Employers have the right to expect workers not to be high or drunk on the job,” the ACLU says on its website. “But they shouldn’t have the right to require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test. That’s not how America should work.”

Rather than solely relying on punitive measures, employers could consider fostering an environment that encourages individuals facing substance-related challenges to seek assistance voluntarily, possibly through engaging in rehab in 30 days programs. This approach not only prioritizes the well-being of employees but also aligns with a more compassionate and rehabilitative vision for addressing substance-related issues in the professional sphere.

The Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations (ATA), two of the largest trucking groups, are advocates for allowing hair testing instead of urine testing. ATA researcher Abigail Potter said using a hair sample to test for drug use yields much higher positive tests. About 2.4 to 10.4 percent more driver applicants are screened out due to positive drug tests when using hair, she added. 

Several large carriers already use hair drug testing in their pre-hiring process, including Schneider, J.B. Hunt, Gordon Trucking, C.R. England and Roehl Transport.

J.B. Hunt, which uses hair testing to screen its drivers, said the method is more accurate, can detect drug use over a longer window of time and is more tamper-proof than urinalysis.

The problem has been that companies can’t report hair test results to others in the industry. That means that it’s entirely possible that the 3,221 drivers who failed J.B. Hunt’s drug tests since 2006 are on the road driving for somebody else.

Leaders in the trucking industry have advocated for hair testing for years. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration sets mandatory guidelines for Department of Transportation’s commercial driver drug testing. In 2004, it considered using hair testing and later concluded the proposal needed further research.

Hair testing is much more difficult to tamper with to avoid a positive result than urine analysis, according to Schneider National’s Don Osterberg. The senior vice president of the Wisconsin carrier stated hair testing detects drug use over several months versus urine tests, which indicate drug use from the previous 24 to 48 hours.

In 2008, Schneider began including hair testing in its pre-hiring process for drivers before adding it to the company’s random-testing program in 2011. As of last summer, 120 prospective drivers failed the urine test, but 1,400 prospective drivers had drug-positive hair tests.

C.R. England added hair testing in 2011 after the Utah carrier’s trial run indicated hair tested positive at a rate of three times higher than urine alone.

In 2006, J.B. Hunt began using hair testing and the following year, Hunt’s senior vice president, Greer Woodruff, testified before Congress on its effectiveness. By 2011, FMCSA indicated the Arkansas-based carrier’s rate of positive urine tests had dropped 75 percent through using hair samples, according to the Transportation Research Board.

Gordon Trucking began testing urine and hair following a testing period using both methods from July to September 2011. Of the 170 drivers screened, hair testing detected 10 positive candidates that would have otherwise been hired, the Washington truckload carrier reported.