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The Future of DOT Drug Testing
5 mins read

SEPTEMBER 17, 2019 – All of the research over the past few years has been clear: drug use is on the rise. Between the current opioid crisis and the growing legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, the rate of positive drug tests among the US workforce reached a 14-year high in 2018.

Drug testing has been required for CDL drivers for decades, but many in the industry have long felt that the current regulations aren’t doing enough to keep our roadways safe. In response to these concerns, a few changes are coming that will have a dramatic impact on the current regulations – with the first one going into effect in just a few short months.

Related Article: Countdown to the DOT Drug & Alcohol Testing Clearinghouse

The Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

Beginning in January 2020, all FMCSA-regulated drivers who receive a non-negative drug test will have their results reported to the Clearinghouse where they will be visible to both employers and state and federal agencies for the following five years. Employers will be required to check the database before hiring a new driver, as well as annually for the duration of their employment. So while some drivers were able to skirt the system and hide a positive drug test result in the past – especially if they had multiple employers – they’ll now be held accountable for the test results every time.

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The impact of this is yet to be seen, but it’s likely that we’ll see more drivers pulled from safety sensitive functions than ever before. Some larger carriers have expressed concerns that these drivers will gravitate towards non-CDL driving jobs, which don’t require drug and alcohol testing, and have asked the FMCSA to provide them with access to the database as well. So far, that request has not been granted.

Hair Follicle Drug Testing

Over four years ago, President Obama signed a law that required the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies to create a comprehensive set of guidelines around hair follicle drug testing. And while these guidelines were due to be published by December 2016, nothing has been released yet. With little reason given for the delay, some experts believe it will be another three years or so before we see any movement towards hair testing becoming an approved DOT testing method.

Approximately five percent of trucking companies are currently administering their own hair follicle drug test in addition to the required DOT urine test because it shows a clearer picture of someone’s drug use. For example, while one survey found that only one percent of trucking applicants failed the DOT urine test, almost 9 percent of applicants failed the hair test.

To show the potential impact, consider this: one of the country’s largest motor carriers has been hair testing applicants for over a decade. During that time, they’ve refused to hire over 5,000 prospective drivers who passed the DOT test, but whose hair test showed signs of drug use.

Between the upcoming Clearinghouse and the potential for hair follicle drug testing to become a DOT-approved testing method in the next few years – it’s possible that many more drivers could find themselves with a public Clearinghouse record that employers will see prior to making a hiring decision. And while it will certainly help carriers hire safe drivers, it could also reduce the driver pool during a time when finding good, safe and reliable drivers is already starting to become a challenge. Since Brazil started hair testing motor carriers in 2016, for example, they’ve lost more than a million drivers.

What are your thoughts on these new and future regulations?  Leave us your comments below!

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