OOIDA speaks out against fleets' request for hair testing exemption

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 2/22/2017

In January, six large trucking companies requested that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration allow them to use hair testing in lieu of urinalysis for pre-employment screenings of truck drivers.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association responded on Tuesday, Feb. 21, by urging the FMCSA not to grant an exemption “for an unproven methodology using non-standardized procedures and protocols that could possibly affect the livelihood of thousands of drivers.”

“OOIDA believes that before any alternative testing methodology is allowed in lieu of a proven methodology, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (should) be allowed access to the applicants’ hair testing and crash data to review for validity and to substantiate claims of a reduction in crashes,” the comments states.

Urinalysis satisfies the current FMCSA drug and alcohol testing requirements. However, J.B. Hunt Transport, Schneider National Carriers, Werner Enterprises, Knight Transportation, Dupre Logistics and Maverick Transportation requested 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.”

An exemption would allow the applicable companies to discontinue pre-employment urine testing for commercial driver’s license holders and use hair testing exclusively. Currently, the six carriers use hair analysis as a method for pre-employment drug testing, but it must be voluntary because urine testing is the only screening method accepted under the regulations. If the FMCSA approves the exemption, any driver who tests positive for a controlled substance through a hair test would be sidelined until he or she completes the return-to-duty process.

OOIDA cited low numbers for fatality crashes involving truck drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol and questioned the need for a change in testing.

“In 2013, there were 30,057 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States and according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 48 of those involved a tractor-trailer where the driver was cited for being under the influence of alcohol or medication,” OOIDA wrote. “This represents 0.16 percent of fatal crashes. While OOIDA recognizes that any fatality is too many, it is doubtful that any alternative testing methodology could reduce that percentage.”

OOIDA said that the applicants provided no third-party scientific evidence that hair testing will reduce crashes, and that hair testing has the potential for bias.

“Some of the concerns for using hair testing for controlled substance are hair color and texture bias,” OOIDA wrote. “There have been past studies that indicate that those with darker hair are more likely to show longer periods of time where drug use can be detected. It is believed that passive exposure to various controlled substances could be a concern. … There have been further concerns for those people who routinely color their hair and how those procedures may affect test results. There is also the problem that different individuals grow hair at different rates, which could not be detected by hair testing samples.”

Urine testing, on the other hand, has specific protocol and procedures in place, OOIDA said.

“The applicants have presented no evidence that the hair testing labs have met the rigorous standards of scientific methodology for testing, nor have they shown that the hair testing equipment and protocol have been consistent and unbiased,” OOIDA wrote. 

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