Hair testing study flawed and insulting to truck drivers

January 14, 2022

Mark Schremmer



That’s really the only way to describe it. Following a recently released study involving the Trucking Alliance, news outlets published stories with such headlines as “Truckers prefer cocaine.”

The problem is – as the OOIDA Foundation points out – that the study is flawed and presents a negative and unfair image of the men and women who travel the highway in order to make sure Americans are fully stocked with groceries, medical supplies and all other essential goods.

“To me, it’s mind-boggling that anyone would even want to publish this,” said Andrew King, a research analyst for the OOIDA Foundation.

“No academic publication of any kind would even touch this paper or this research. It doesn’t have any analysis. It doesn’t include any limitations. It doesn’t even include their methodology and what they actually did. It’s very poor.”

In a news release sent earlier this week, the Trucking Alliance released a study from the University of Central Arkansas suggesting that truck drivers abuse cocaine more than marijuana. The Trucking Alliance, a longtime proponent of hair testing, is using the study as ammunition in its efforts to mandate that all motor carriers require hair testing over urine testing in their pre-employment screenings.

However, King says the study attempts to prove its point by using two data sets that shouldn’t be compared. The University of Central Arkansas study compared pre-employment test results from carriers who participate in the Trucking Alliance and use hair testing to pre-employment urine results from FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

“The problem is that these two data sets really can’t be compared,” King said. “One takes place over four years, and the other is one year. One is based off nine carriers, and the other is based off hundreds of thousands of carriers that are across the United States. You are talking about different types of operations … what they haul and where they are hauling. You really can’t compare these two groups.”

Considering the “incomparable” data being used, King said the study is irrelevant.

“They don’t even make an attempt to explain how they could be comparable or why they should be compared,” he said. “That’s really the foundation of the entire study, so if you blow that part out of the water – which I think is pretty obvious – then the rest of the study is just taking up paper.”

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 2015 FAST Act requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration release guidelines on hair testing. In September 2020, the agency acknowledged the limitations of hair testing. For instance, the agency cited legal cases that “indicate an employment action taken on the basis of a positive hair test alone, without other corroborating evidence, may be vulnerable to legal challenge.”

The OOIDA Foundation also has been critical of the lack of evidence supporting the need for mandatory hair testing.

“The Trucking Alliance has yet to demonstrate that they have experienced a reduction in crash rates since their voluntary adoption of hair testing,” the OOIDA Foundation wrote in its one-page brief on the topic. “Neither have they presented evidence showing that their hair testing labs meet the rigorous standards of scientific methodology for testing nor that their hair testing equipment and protocol has been consistent and unbiased.”

 The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has called hair testing “unreliable and discriminatory.”

Hair testing reveals that a person was in the environment of a substance, but it doesn’t prove that a person used the substance. As more states legalize marijuana and its use becomes more prevalent, it is reasonable to theorize that a truck driver could fail a hair test for being near someone who is legally using the drug and without ever personally ingesting the substance.

Another issue with hair testing is that a substance can remain in the follicles for months, so a positive test does not mean a truck driver is navigating the highways under the influence of a controlled substance. It only means that they were likely exposed to the substance – directly or indirectly – in the past few months.

“This isn’t so much a study as it is marketing material to push an agenda of hair testing,” King said.

And trying to make the nation’s professional drivers, who have kept America moving through the pandemic, look like a bunch of people hopped up on cocaine is a pretty low marketing tactic. LL


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.