All truck drivers must undergo pre-employment screening for drug and alcohol use as required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA.) Currently, the mandatory test is done with a urine sample, but six major trucking companies have asked the FMCSA to allow them to use hair follicle testing instead, indicating that the test is more accurate.
J.B. Hunt Transport, Werner Enterprises Inc., Dupre Logistics Inc., Knight Transportation Inc., Maverick Transportation, and Schneider National Carriers are the companies that want an exemption to discontinue pre-employment urine testing in favor of hair analysis. Hair follicle testing is controversial. Supporters say that it is more effective at detecting habitual drug and alcohol users because substances consumed within a few hours of the test will show up, as compared to urinalysis which only detects consumption that takes place within a few days prior to testing. The Vice President of Safety and Loss Prevention for Schneider reports that they performed side-by-side hair and urine testing and found that hair testing of applicants resulted in a positive rate four times higher than urinalysis.
National Workrights Institute founder and President, Lewis Maltby, says that hair testing is not a good option because it is unreliable. While any drugs ingested do show up in hair follicles, the test cannot distinguish between drugs present in the hair and outside contaminants in the air that the donor was exposed to. In other words, external contaminants can result in a positive test result although the donor did not use the drug. Moreover, Schneider reports that it is extremely difficult to get the hair surface clean enough to guarantee there will be no false positives. Darker and more porous hair retains drugs at greater rates and a federal appeals court found the test scientifically unreliable and discriminatory in a claim brought by African-American police officers in Boston.
The six trucking companies who made the request are concerned that drivers who cannot pass the hair follicle drug test will apply to a different company, resulting in a threat to the general driving public. However, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights organizations are against hair follicle testing for truckers out of concern for the real motive behind the request. It may be that they are doing so to promote themselves as safer companies, while companies that either cannot afford hair follicle testing, or do not believe it is reliable, will be portrayed as both unsafe and unconcerned about safety.
Thus far, the FMSCA has not issued a ruling on whether it will allow the exemption from pre-employment urine testing in favor of hair follicle testing. Driving a 26,000-pound truck while impaired by drugs or alcohol is a threat to drivers everywhere.
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