Posted on / by The Trucking Alliance

Best Practices Can Assure Drug Free Truck Drivers

Long time lobbyist Todd Spencer of the Owner Operator Independent Driver Association recently questioned in an industry publication the Trucking Alliance’s claim that an opioid addiction problem exists in the trucking industry. Spencer suggested no data support that claim.

Fair enough. So, here’s some data to further explore the problem.

JB Hunt Transport is one of freight transportation’s largest employers. The logistics service provider is known for implementing best practices throughout the supply chain.

Since 2006, the company has relied on two drug tests before hiring a job applicant. The first is a urine test, the only method recognized by the Department of Transportation (USDOT). JB Hunt also requires applicants to pass a hair exam, which USDOT does not recognize.

The Trucking Alliance adopted JB Hunt’s policy in 2011, as one of its operating principles. Carriers that affiliate with the Trucking Alliance agree to utilize hair exams in their pre-employment hiring policies.

Dean Newell, vice president of safety and training at Maverick USA, and a member of the Alliance’s Advisory Group, recently presented Maverick’s drug test results at a forum hosted by the United Nations. Newell said that requiring a person to pass a hair exam before hiring them as a truck driver is a ‘no brainer’ for any company in the industry.

Newell explained that hair exams accurately identify lifestyle drug users.  Urine tests can reveal drug use, but only for hours before a test is conducted. Hair exams can identify drug use up for to 90 days before the test is conducted. Newell believes that due to the safety sensitive functions of the profession, the hiring standard for truck drivers should be that applicants are drug free for 90 days prior to employment.

Ninety Percent Trick the System

JB Hunt has tracked its drug testing data since 2006. As of September 2018, JB Hunt reports that 131,364 job applicants were asked to pass both tests, and 6,786 people, or 5.17%, either failed the drug tests or refused to take them.

But surprisingly, the urine test failed to catch 86% of the drug users. That’s right. Of those who ultimately failed their drug tests, almost 9 out of 10 passed their urine test, only to fail the hair exam. The hair exam is clearly more accurate at identifying lifestyle drug users. Conversely, the urine test is not a realistic barometer of long-term drug use.

Almost all trucking companies only require applicants pass the USDOT mandated urine test. So, presumably, most job applicants who fail a hair exam simply go down the road. They find a job at another trucking company that requires only one drug test. Or they purchase a truck and work for themselves. Suffice it to say, there are several easy ways for long term drug abusers to skirt the system. We should eliminate any chance that drug abusers are driving  tractor trailers alongside our families and friends today.

Also, problematic is that truck drivers involved in large truck crashes are given 32 hours to undergo a post-accident urine drug test. Enforcement is lax. The practical reality is that its easy for these drivers to wait until the drugs are no longer in their system. Only then do they show up for their drug test. USDOT’s post-accident drug test data are not reliable indicators of drug use in large truck crashes.

Opioid Abuse is Growing Among Truck Driver Applicants

JB Hunt Transport reported that opioids accounted for 48 percent of the illegal drugs identified in tests conducted in 2017 . Cocaine was second.

Inconsistent Data

Mr. Spencer correctly notes that USDOT data show only 1 percent of truck drivers test positive for drug use. So how can these two deviations in data be explained?

Computer technicians often lament that if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out. In other words, an argument is unsound if the premise is flawed. Clearly, USDOT should not rely on urine test results. USDOT should recognize hair testing and formulate policy accordingly. Otherwise, the public’s safety will continue to be compromised.