Trucking Industry Impacted By Hair Drug Testing

According to a report, about 300,000 truck drivers in America would be withdrawn from their positions if they needed to pass hair drug testing instead of urine testing, which may not be adequate to capture those who use illegal drugs.

Joe Cangelosi and Doug Voss, both professors at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway, completed a study on utilizing urine and hair samples for drug testing and racially biased hair tests. Voss is a professor of supply chain management and logistics. Cangelosi is a professor of marketing. The Alliance for Notebook Safety and Security, or The Trucking Alliance, paid for the study and has been published in a 33-page report.

Voss said he started the study about a year ago, and the “Journal for Transportation Management” recently approved the peer-reviewed research.

“I’m always surprised when somebody would get out on the street in an 80,000-pound truck and be high on some illegal substance,” Voss said. “To find out that there are almost 300,000 truck drivers on the road that shouldn’t be on the street if we just used another test is surprising and a little frightening.”

Most things today have been hauled by truck at some point, and about 3.5 million truck drivers to haul nearly 71 percent of U.S. cargo, the report reveals. According to this study, the U.S. government requires all possible truck drivers to pass a urine drug test before driving. However, these tests are “easily thwarted,” Nevertheless, some trucking businesses use hair drug screenings, which are more rigorous.

hair drug testing for truck drivers
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“Hair testing opponents assert that the test is discriminatory against ethnic minority groups,” according to the report. “Comparing hair and urine pass/fail rates for several ethnic groups, our results show ethnic groups are significantly different no matter the testing procedure. Factors apart from testing method appear to carry ethnic group pass/fail rate variations.”

Asked what the business would do if 300,000 drivers were removed from their positions, Voss said the short answer is to hire better people.

“The better response would be, what would they do if they do not take those 300,000 people off the street,” he said. “The cost of keeping these people on the street is exorbitant. It is morally wrong to allow someone to drive a truck high.

“The Trucking industry has an ethical obligation to be as secure as it can be,” he added. “This is a measure they can take to do things better. I believe the huge majority of the trucking industry agrees with this statement. They’re fantastic businesses, and they need to do things the right way.”

Voss noted the national government should recognize hair testing, which is about double the urine test price. Companies that require hair and urine tests are being “penalized” for needing to do both, ” he said. However, if performing both tests saves the company from one crash, it pays for additional costs.

“In the age of atomic legal verdicts, the cost of injuries is very restrictive,” Voss said.

Carrier Bankruptcies Surge

Rising insurance rates because of large legal decisions have directed trucking firms to enhance their safety performance, the study shows. The high rates were a factor in the near tripling of carrier bankruptcies in the first six months of 2019, from the same period in 2018.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) utilizes the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program to measure a carrier’s safety performance. The CSA gathers information from roadside inspections and crash reports, including controlled substances and alcohol violations. A correlation exists between security incidents and breaches of controlled substances and alcohol, according to the report.

Truck Drivers using psychoactive substances have decreased driving competence and a higher risk of safety incidents. Prospective drivers that take a urine drug test could abstain from illegal drug use for three days and pass the test before beginning to drive and using the medication again, the report reveals. Urine tests typically capture one’s illegal drug use within the last two or three days.

“To beat a urine test, it is not something I have ever tried to do, but in the course of this study, we have figured out it’s not that difficult to do,” Voss said. “If you’re using illegal drugs and you need to beat the test, stop using those drugs for around three days. Then take the exam, and you are fine. That is not the same as hair testing. That has a lookback period of approximately three months. If you are a chronic drug user, that is going to much more difficult to beat.”

The report cites a 1998 research in which Oregon enforcement companies performed unannounced urine drug tests of truck drivers through roadside and entry inspections. Because the tests weren’t previously declared, the drivers couldn’t prepare for the test. Out of the 822 urine samples, 21% contained substances, including cannabinoids, stimulants, and alcohol.

Existing Federally affirmed testing possibly isn’t enough to decter or locate drivers using illegal drugs that degrade their driving performance, according to the report. Consequently, the inefficiency and that hair testing aren’t federally recognized, carriers like Schneider, Knight-Swift Transportation, Maverick USA, Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services, and Werner Enterprises use hair drug testing to examine if drivers are sober.

Trucking Alliance Study

The data also cites a 2019 study by The Trucking Alliance that compared fail and pass rates for hair and urine drug tests. It included 151,662 urine and hair tests completed by 15 carriers before a prospective driver was appointed. The results showed 0.6 percent, or 949 applicants, failed the urine test while 8.5 percent, or 12,824, refused or failed the hair test. Those who refuse to have a drug or alcohol test are deemed to have failed it, according to the FMCSA.

If the study outcomes were distributed across the U.S. driver population, almost 300,000 existing drivers wouldn’t be allowed to drive if needed to pass a hair drug testing.

The Trucking Alliance requested UCA to complete two research to independently ascertain whether its 2019 study could be attributed to the general U.S. driver population and if hair testing was biased against ethnic groups depending on the pass and fail rates for drug evaluations. According to the investigators’ report, the Trucking Alliance analysis sample was large enough to be credited across the total U.S. driver population, is representative of the populace, and hair and urine test results could be”generalized throughout the national driver population. This supports the notion that approximately 275,000 current drivers would not execute safety-sensitive functions if compelled to undergo hair testing.”

The report noted that research on the trucking business had grown lately. However, the researchers were unaware of any functions that addressed drug testing or the consequences of carriers using hair testing in place of or along with urine testing. However, federal agencies don’t permit carriers to use hair testing instead of urine testing. Because of this, carriers that need hair testing must also complete urine testing to comply with national requirements.

While the hair testing costs more to complete than the urine tests, UCA researchers said carriers should think about doing hair testing along with the urine test. The added cost might be more than offset by the extra cost of safety events that were prevented.

“Future investigations might want to test trucking company drug testing best practices, like if drivers are most likely to test positive or the association between the amount of positive random drug screens and security performance,” the investigators stated. “Such research would be rather interesting. On the one hand, higher random drug test failure rates may show a more effective drug testing program and fewer safety incidents. But if arbitrary failure rates rise, driver recruiting and selection problems exist.”

Racial Bias Study

Concerning racial prejudice. The report cites a 2010 study that compares hair and urine test results among black and white Americans and finds no racial prejudice between the evaluations to detect cocaine use.

UCA Researchers, in their analysis, used hair and urine test results from three carriers. The evaluations were conducted between 2017 and 2019 and included over 145,000 evaluations, of which nearly half were urine tests. Researchers used the four-fifths rule to know whether bias was a factor. To comply with the law, cultural groups must pass the drug tests at a speed of 80% compared to the ethnic group with the highest passing rate.

Drivers who opt not to define their ethnicity passed the urinalysis at the lowest speed, which was 98.7percent of the ethnic group with the highest passing rate. And this exceeded the necessary rate in obeying the four-fifths rule.

Drivers who represented black and multiple cultural groups who took the hair test passed at the lowest speed, which was 95.5 percent of the ethnic group with the highest passing rate. This also exceeded the necessary rate in obeying the four-fifth rule.

Consequently, UCA researchers did not find the disparate impacts of hair testing among cultural groups.

Arkansas Response

Shannon Newton, the Arkansas Trucking Association president, released the following statement to Chat Business & Politics after the story was posted:

“Your headline and the basis of your report undermine entirely the professionalism of the tens of thousands of industrial truck drivers and the 7 billion dollars spent yearly by the trucking industry to make sure that we’re investing in the best equipment, technology, and individuals to deliver cargo safely.

Hair testing isn’t currently recognized as an approved methodology from the U.S. Department of Transportation to fulfill the requirements imposed on motor carriers to comply with federal drug and alcohol regulations handed over by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The Arkansas Trucking Association strongly believes that it ought to be. We supported the passage of the FAST Act five years back, where Congress obligated USDOT and the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services to declare rules approving hair testing instead of urine tests.

We are vigorously working to advance the regulatory activities that will enable hair testing to be recognized. When research in this way verifies an efficient way to uncover drug use and make the streets safer, we should provoke the regulating agencies to act on that information with appropriate policies. That’s why we support regulatory action, which will enable hair testing to be known as a substitute for a urinalysis and results to be submitted to the federal Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

The carriers who are now using hair testing should be praised for their commitment to safety. They continue to incur the extra costs of duplicative drug tests to comply with Department of Transportation rules.

The trucking industry is united in its efforts to keep drug users from commercial vehicles. We believe in hiring the best, most competent, and safest applicants to safely deliver America’s freight.

Keeping Drivers who routinely use drugs out of their cabs of commercial vehicles is in everyone’s best interest.”

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