Six big fleets ask to use hair testing for illegal substance screenings

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 1/19/2017

Six large trucking companies requested that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration let them use hair testing for pre-employment screenings of truck drivers.

Urinalysis satisfies the current FMCSA drug and alcohol testing requirements, but J.B. Hunt Transport, Schneider National Carriers, Werner Enterprises, Knight Transportation, Dupre Logistics and Maverick Transportation have asked for an exemption, because they said they believe their data “demonstrates that hair analysis is a more reliable and comprehensive basis for ensuring detection of controlled substance use.”

Notice of the motor carriers’ request was scheduled to be published Thursday in the Federal Register. 

An exemption would allow these fleets to discontinue pre-employment urine testing for commercial driver’s license holders and use hair testing exclusively. According to the FMCSA’s notice, the six carriers asking for the exemption already use hair analysis as a method for pre-employment drug testing, but it is voluntary because urine testing is the only screening method accepted under the regulations.

If the FMCSA approves the exemption, any driver who yielded positive results for a controlled substance through a hair test would not be allowed to perform safety-sensitive functions until the driver completes the return-to-duty process. In addition, the applicants would need to share positive hair testing results with other prospective employers.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association has spoken out against the use of hair testing, because it believes the method is more costly and has multiple issues.

“There are significant limitations with hair-based testing, including its inability to detect recent drug use as it takes anywhere from 4-10 days for the hair containing the drug to grow far enough from the scalp,” OOIDA wrote in comments from June 2015. “Therefore, urine-based testing will still need to be used to detect recent use.”

OOIDA also stated that there could be issues with standards with hair testing.

“The variances in hair types have also posed problems in standardizing drug testing,” the Association wrote. “Hair shape, size, formation, etc., varies by race, sex, age and position on the scalp, hair color and texture. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, dark hair is more likely to test positive for a drug and, additionally, African-Americans are more likely to test positive than Caucasians. Differing portions of the scalp hair can even be dormant at any given time and would not reflect drug use.”

Written comments regarding the possible exemption will be able to be submitted at the website or by mailing Docket Services, U.S. Department of Transportation, Room W12-140; 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE; Washington, D.C. 20590-0001, or by fax at 202-493-2251.

Comments must be received on or before Feb. 21.

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