FAST ACT: FMCSA looks to establish hair testing guidelines

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A recent measure plans to allow motor carriers to use hair testing for drugs as an acceptable alternative to urine testing once the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services establishes federal standards for hair testing.

The measure is outlined in section 5402 of the recently signed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The five-year FAST Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 4. The bipartisan legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 3 by a vote of 359-65 and the Senate later that same day by a vote of 83-16. The 1,300-page legislation authorizes federal surface programs through fiscal year 2020, providing $305 billion for roads, bridges and mass transit.

According to section 5402, motor carriers shall be permitted “to use hair testing as an acceptable alternative to urine testing in conducting pre-employment testing for the use of a controlled substance and in conducting random testing for the use of a controlled substance if the commercial motor vehicle operator was subject to hair testing for pre-employment testing.”

An exemption from hair testing will be provided to truck drivers with established religious beliefs that prohibit the cutting or removal of hair.

“Not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall issue scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing as a method of detecting the use of a controlled substance,” section 5402 of the FAST Act states.

The inclusion of hair testing as an alternative has its share of opposition.

In August, a coalition of labor, medical and civil rights organization asked Congress to remove the hair-testing provision from the highway bill. The coalition of 17 different groups said the science for hair testing is unproven.

“We urge the House to reject the Senate’s hair testing provision and ensure that federal drug tests are backed by scientific and forensically sound evidence,” the coalition wrote. “Nothing less should be acceptable.”

The coalition argued that hair testing can’t “reliably and accurately distinguish drugs ingested by an individual from those found in the environment and absorbed by the hair.” As a result, hair testing can lead to false positives.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed comments questioning the motives behind hair-based testing given the many incentives for truck and bus operators to drive safely. The Association is also concerned about false positive readings; a lack of criteria to distinguish between drug use and environmental contamination; and limitations that come along with a person’s age, sex, race and hair types.

Some research points to higher drug failure rates in hair testing for individuals with darker hair colors.

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