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Trucker Group Skeptical of Hair Testing to Detect Driver Drug Use

July 7, 2015 By: Trucking News Staff Tags: Fleet Management, News, Owner Operators, Regulations, Safety

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has filed comments on hair testing for drug use in response to a request for information by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The trucking organization claims there are limitations to the accuracy of hair testing and encouraged SAMHSA to evaluate the safety performance of companies that currently use such a method to screen CDL holders.

SAMHSA had asked for comments from trucking industry stakeholders regarding standards and policies that could be applied to federal workplace guidelines for drug testing.

Drugs included in a standard hair drug test include cocaine, marijuana, opiates, methamphetamine and phencyclidine (PCP). These five drug classes are mandated for testing by the federal government.

“The ultimate measure of any change to the current methods for testing should be a reduction in crashes,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. “To this end we encourage SAMHSA to evaluate the safety performance of companies that have voluntarily adopted hair testing. If there is demonstrable evidence that hair testing has reduced the number of crashes their drivers are causing, then it may be worth considering the protocol for such a program and for the program to be consistent throughout other modes.”

Otherwise, Spencer said, hair testing should only be considered as an additional screening method they may choose, “as an appropriate individual business decision.”

OOIDA points out that in 2013, there were 30,057 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States. According to data reported by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the driver of a tractor-trailer was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication in 48 of those crashes — or 0.16 percent. With an average less than one per state, OOIDA says urine screening should be a program that is viewed as a success.

“Professional drivers have every incentive, from regulatory compliance to maintaining a profitable business, to ensure that they operate their vehicle safely,” said Spencer. “These men and women also travel 100,000 miles a year or more on our nation’s public highways, providing them with a unique window into the many unique factors that lead to the safe operations of CMVs, passenger cars and other vehicles.”

OOIDA claims there are limitations with hair-based testing, including its inability to detect recent drug use since it takes anywhere from four to 10 days for the hair containing the drug to grow. Variances in hair types have also posed problems in standardizing drug testing.

“Therefore, urine-based testing will still need to be used to detect recent use,” Spencer said. Spencer also pointed out the cost factor.

Hair-based testing — at $90 per test — is significantly more costly than urine-based testing, which is around $45 per test.

“What will be the impacts of this cost difference as liability concerns move more entities, including small, community-based organizations that use part-time drivers, toward using hair-based testing? What is the availably of labs to conduct the tests?” Spencer asked.

“Given that drug use among CDL holders is significantly lower than the general public and the tractor-trailer driver was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication in only 48 fatality accidents (compared to thousands of car, light truck, or motorcycle accidents) in 2011, is there a verifiable safety benefit from hair-based testing?”