The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently received an application from The Trucking Alliance (TA) asking that the results of hair testing for drugs be reported to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.
FMCSA officials note that although the agency “lacks the statutory authority to grant the Trucking Alliance’s request for exemption until the Department of Health and Human Services has taken certain action, FMCSA requests public comment on the exemption application, as required by statute.”
The TA applied for an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) “to amend the definition of actual knowledge to include the employer’s knowledge of a driver’s positive hair test, which would require such results be reported to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse and to inquiring carriers.”
Hair testing is in use by employers and court systems across the continent, but it hasn’t yet been approved for controlled substance testing by the FMCSA.
TA members currently utilize hair testing in addition to urine testing.
However, regulations don’t recognize hair testing for FMCSA purposes, including compliance with testing, reporting, and record keeping policies. Because of this, carriers that test hair samples must also test urine samples, adding considerable cost to the testing process.
Advocates for hair testing say the method has advantages over urine testing — perhaps most importantly, drug residues are stored much longer in the hair than in the urine. Cocaine, for example, can be out of the user’s system in as little as 48 hours, depending on the amount used. Drivers who use cocaine can simply stop using before reporting for a new job, or even before returning to a company terminal where a random drug screen is a possibility.
Hair testing can detect the use of cocaine within the past 90 days, and even longer in some cases. The same goes for amphetamines and other controlled substances.
Marijuana metabolites tend to remain in the body longer and can show up in a urine test a month or more after use. The large percentage of positive results for marijuana reported by the Clearinghouse could be more an indication of how long the drug is detectable in urine samples than of the prevalence of use by drivers.
Additionally, hair testing proponents argue, that there are methods drivers can use to try to cheat urine testing, including substituting urine from another person or using synthetic urine, which is easily available online. There are even “delivery” products that provide an assist in passing an observed test. Diluting specimens with water is often attempted as well.
Cheating a hair test is also much more difficult than with a urine test.