Trucking, labor groups clash over hair-based drug tests for drivers

When it comes to drug testing, the nation’s largest trucking lobby wants to split hairs. Specifically, the American Trucking Associations wants hair-follicle testing, considered by many to be more accurate than urinalysis, to become part of motor carrier drug screening programs.

Several labor groups, however, prefer cups to clippers. A coalition led by the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department wants Congress to reject a hair-follicle testing provision in the Senate’s highway bill, calling hair testing “an unsubstantiated method” of screening.  Large trucking operators, including Schneider National, Knight Transportation and J.B. Hunt Transport Services already use hair-follicle testing to screen job applicants, but Department of Transportation standards for driver drug screening programs require urine tests.

Hair-follicle tests, which have been used for decades and often opposed by groups such as the Teamsters union, can detect drug use over a 90-day period, compared with several days for a urine test. Hair tests are claimed to be better at uncovering chronic or multiple drug use.  However, hair-follicle drug tests are not currently recognized as an alternative to urine sampling by DOT, and positive truck driver hair test results could not be reported to subsequent employers or included in a drug and alcohol testing clearinghouse being set up by federal regulators.  ATA wants Congress to fix that by passing the Drug Free Commercial Driver Act, one of several truck-safety-related bills blended into the six-year Senate highway bill known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act or DRIVE Act.  The bill would direct the DOT and Department of Health and Human Services to issue rules permitting hair-follicle analysis an alternative to urine testing for motor carriers, both in pre-employment testing and random screening programs. The DOT and Department of Health and Human Services would be required to develop rules and procedures for validating hair follicle tests.

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