Drug testing under fire

According to a report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), crucial improvements to trucker drug testing are necessary, as users have been able to easily subvert tests

According to a report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), crucial improvements to trucker drug testing are necessary, as users have been able to easily subvert tests and the lack of a nationwide database of drug-testing information has made it easy for drivers who fail tests to find new jobs.

“Although FMCSA and its state partners review thousands of carriers each year, these reviews touch about 2% of the industry,” the report stated. “As a result, carriers have limited incentives to follow the regulations. Factors contributing to failures to detect drug use include the ease of subverting the urine test, either because collection sites are not following protocols or because drivers are using products that are widely available to adulterate or substitute urine specimens.”

The report also talks about how owner-operators skirt regulations. “Self-employed owner-operators who test positive will likely continue to drive without going through a return-to-duty process,” the report states. “Owner-operators are required to follow the drug testing regulations and be in a drug testing program like all other drivers employed by motor carrier companies; however, there are inherent conflicts for a self-employed owner-operator in complying with the requirements. Even if an owner-operator who participates in a consortium tests positive, there is no process for removing the individual from safety-sensitive duties, and no one beyond the owner-operator will be notified of the positive result.”

GAO recommends several steps to strengthen the drug-testing program:

  • Enhancing enforcement of safety audits for new carriers
  • Increasing the authority to levy fines when collection sites disregard federal protocol
  • Banning subversion products at the federal level
  • Encouraging states to suspend commercial driver’s licenses after positive tests
  • Implementing a national drug testing information database.

“It’s long overdue, and we’re for any further testing,” David Heller, director of safety for Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), told FleetOwner. “Everyone in the industry should be for stricter drug policies.”

Greer Woodruff, senior vp of corporate safety & security for J.B. Hunt Transport Inc., delivered testimony last November representing the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) regarding the need for more effective testing procedures.

“ATA encourages the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to move forward with rulemaking that would allow the use of alternative specimen testing methods, such as hair, sweat, and oral fluid for federal workplaces,” he said. “These alternative methods have shown great promise in applied situations to detect ‘lifestyle drug users’ and those that seek to evade the current urine collection method of controlled substance testing. Testing of hair would be a particularly good addition to the drug prevention arsenal. Information from ATA’s membership indicates that the regular, chronic user is more likely to show a positive drug test result when a hair specimen is employed.”

According to an NBC Nightly News report, J.B. Hunt has reported that while only 1.56% of its drivers failed urine tests, 8.97% failed hair tests.
“As it turns out, here in the United States of America, we have no meaningful program of drug testing for commercial truck drivers,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee. “None…Collection facilities are easily penetrated with false drivers licenses. Devices are easily smuggled into facilities to alter urine samples -- a host of these products are readily available on the internet.”
“Trucking has worked diligently to eradicate drug and alcohol abuse from its work force. And we’ve made great progress in recent years,” said ATA president & CEO Bill Graves. “But we are requesting additional help from the government since it is a federally required program involving significant federal oversight. Today’s release of a Government Accountability Office report confirms the need for what ATA has been recommending for many years—a national database of drug and alcohol test results.”

View more Fleet Owner management news and other commercial trucking-related articles.

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