Hair testing mandate would be misguided, OOIDA says

November 10, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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Mandating hair testing for the nation’s truck drivers would be another “misguided regulatory approach” that will not decrease crashes, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wrote in formal comments to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

OOIDA submitted comments on Nov. 9 in response to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ notice of guidelines for the use of hair testing in federal workplace drug testing programs.

The Association argues that hair testing can lead to false positives, is costly, and would not reduce crashes. Urinalysis satisfies the current drug and alcohol testing requirements by the FMCSA. However, many large fleets require their employees to undergo hair and urine testing.

The guidelines will allow federal executive branch agencies to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs with the limitation that hair specimens be used for preemployment and random testing.

However, a federal agency choosing to test hair specimens must authorize collection and testing of at least one other specimen type, such as urine, that is authorized under the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs. In addition, the agency must provide procedures for how the alternate specimen can be used “in the event that a donor is unable to provide a sufficient amount of hair for faith-based or medical reasons, or due to an insufficient amount or length of hair.”

According to HHS, the “two-test approach is intended to protect federal workers from issues that have been identified as limitations of hair testing.”

While HHS has issued guidelines, FMCSA will still have to go through a rulemaking process before they could apply the guidelines to truck drivers.

Concerns

OOIDA pointed out a variety of concerns regarding hair testing, including color and texture biases that could lead to false positives.

“As discussed throughout the proposed guidelines, there remain significant debates and unanswered questions concerning the use of hair testing,” OOIDA wrote. “Some of the problems in using hair testing for controlled substances are contamination from the environment and the interference of cosmetic treatment on the analysis of the hair.

“Variances in hair types have also posed difficulties in standardizing drug testing. Hair shape, size, color, texture, formation, etc., varies by race, sex, age, and position on the scalp. Differing portions of the scalp hair can even be dormant at any given time and do not reflect drug use. There is no shortage of research illustrating these concerns.”

The limitations of hair testing can lead to discrimination, OOIDA said.

“Hair tests can lead to false positive results because certain drugs can be absorbed into hair,” OOIDA wrote. “Additionally, there is currently no way to fully cleanse hair of the drugs required for Department of Transportation testing. Some drugs, such as cocaine, have been shown to affix to African-American hair at greater rates than they do to fine, light-colored hair.”

Costs

OOIDA said the increase in costs combined with the lack of evidence is enough reason to avoid a hair testing mandate.

“Based on our findings, individual hair tests cost about $90 for drivers, which is twice the amount for standard urinalysis and other tests,” OOIDA wrote. “While expenses are understandable when improving safety, there is not sufficient safety evidence to justify a mandate in this case.”

Numbers

While the Association is against truck drivers using illegal substances, OOIDA said there is no evidence to suggest that mandating hair testing will improve safety numbers.

“To be clear, OOIDA does not, has never – and will never – condone the use of illegal substances for any trucker while operating a commercial motor vehicle or any vehicle for that matter,” OOIDA wrote.

In 2018, there were 33,654 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States. Drivers of trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or more received at least one positive drug test result in 305, or 0.9% of those crashes.

“While any fatality is too many, it is unlikely that requiring hair testing will reduce that percentage.”

The comment period on the notice of guidelines ended Nov. 9. LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.