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New Study Makes Argument for DOT Hair Testing
5 mins read
If you look at the FMCSA’s latest Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse Monthly report , the data seems clear: marijuana use is responsible for the vast majority of DOT drug violations – it’s not even close. In fact, the data suggests that more truck drivers use marijuana than all other substances combined.


Source: FMCSA November 2021 Clearinghouse Monthly Summary Report

But according to a recent study by the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), that data might not be telling the whole story. “Our research found that DOT is seriously under reporting the actual use of harder drugs by truck drivers, such as cocaine and illegal opioids,” said Doug Voss, Ph.D., Professor of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in a press release.

The reason for the discrepancy is this: while urine tests are very effective at detecting recent marijuana use, it falls short in the identification of cocaine, heroin and opioids.

What the Study Shows

The study looked at all the 1.5 million pre-employment urine drug tests that have been recorded in the Clearinghouse, along with 593,832 urine and hair tests that were submitted by carriers in The Trucking Alliance – a coalition of trucking and logistics companies that use both hair and urine testing during the hiring process.

According to the data, of those drivers who were disqualified from driving due to their drug test results, cocaine was identified 16 percent more frequently, and opioids were identified 14.34 percent more frequently, than what the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse reports.

Overall, researchers found that hair testing detecting the presence of drugs 825% more frequently than urine testing alone.

 It’s the reason the Trucking Alliance (as well as companies outside of the coalition) require both hair testing and urine testing as part of their pre-hire process. The feeling has long been that a urine drug test doesn’t tell the whole story – and doesn’t provide the comprehensive drug testing history that can be seen in a hair follicle drug test.

It’s an argument this new study certainly supports.

What’s Happening with DOT Hair Testing?

Back in 2015, Congress approved the use of hair follicle drug testing as “an acceptable alternative to urine testing” for both pre-employment and random drug tests. However, before hair testing can be used for DOT drug tests, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) must issue guidelines for how the testing method would be used.

The administration did issue its first set of guidelines in 2020, but the proposed rule was met with criticism from the industry – particularly the language that called for a urine “back-up” test to confirm the results of a positive hair follicle drug test.

Although there hasn’t been any new information since that proposed rule was released, the Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed that they are currently still working on the rule – but there is no timeline yet on when we might see an update.

If hair testing was currently an approved DOT drug testing method, the UCA study estimates that 58,910 additional drivers would have been disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle. According to DOT Clearinghouse data, that’s double the number of drivers that were put into prohibited status in 2020.

 For motor carriers, the takeaway is this: if you’re only relying on a pre-employment urine test when hiring a new driver, you might only be getting part of the story. For the greatest safety, and to ensure there are no surprises once hair follicle drug testing does go into effect, you might want to consider making hair testing a standard part of your pre-employment drug testing policy now.

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