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New bill proposes hair testing for truck drivers

Written by Steve Gursten Posted April 20th, 2015

The Drug Free Commercial Truck Driver Act of 2015 could change the way the trucking industry screens for drugs – and prevent drugged driving

hair testing truck drivers

Lawmakers have proposed a new bill that could change how the trucking industry screens drivers for drugs. The Drug Free Commercial Truck Driver Act of 2015 (S.806 and H.R. 1467) would give truck companies the option of using hair tests — as an alternative to traditional urine tests — to meet federal requirements when conducting drug and alcohol testing.

Under current procedures in the commercial trucking industry, urinalysis is the only accepted method of drug and alcohol testing. But that doesn’t remotely mean it is the best method of drug and alcohol testing. Our attorneys have written before about some of the ways truckers can cheat detection on traditional urine tests, and one need only flip to the ads in the back of many trucking industry magazines to see the variety of products that promise to defeat traditional drug tests.

A number of fleets are already voluntarily conducting hair tests, in addition to mandatory urine tests, to identify habitual drug users who may otherwise briefly abstain from use or even attempt to “beat the test” to gain trucking employment.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas said on his website that not only will preventing drug-users from operating commercial trucks improve safety on our roads, but the new legislation “eliminates the duplicative drug-testing process and allows trucking companies to use the more effective option, without having to pay for two tests.”

Because hair tests have not yet been accepted by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to meet federal testing requirements, other motor carriers have been deterred by the costs of employing hair testing programs in addition to the required DOT urine-based tests (even though paying for two tests would ultimately save lives and money by preventing drugged driving crashes).

Studies show urinalysis alone is often less effective in detecting substance abuse, with only a two-to three-day window of detection. Hair testing, in contrast, provides a  60-to-90 day window to detect substance abuse.

Boozman added that from May 2006 – December 2014, J.B. Hunt Transport’s drug testing data found that out of more than 82,000 driver applicants who took a mandatory drug test, 3,845 people were undetected for drug use in their urine exam, but had drug-positive hair test results.

Schneider National’s pre-employment drug testing data from March 2008-June 2012, found 120 prospective drivers failed the urine test, while 1,400 applicants had drug-positive hair test results.

As I wrote above, it isn’t exactly an industry secret on how it’s easy to dupe a urine test if you’re a truck driver who is using illegal drugs. In August of 2013, our attorneys wrote about a similar proposed bill to require motor carriers to screen with hair samples instead of urine testing.

So far, this piece of legislation has been praised by trucking industry groups like the American Trucking Association and Trucking Alliance.

Making the move to hair sampling would greatly improve the drug screening process for all commercial motor vehicle drivers. And as the Schneider National example shows, it can help prevent truck accidents by using better detection methods to get  truckers on drugs off the roads.

Is there legal culpability for a company that fails to use hair drug testing?

Finally, all of this raises interesting legal questions as more and more information comes to light about the advantages of hair testing on whether commercial transportation companies that know or suspect truck drivers of using illegal substances may soon face lawsuits with additional claims, based upon the failure to drug test using hair testing.

I expect we will soon see new lawsuits where lawyers for a person injured or killed by a truck driver on drugs are adding new legal counts based upon the company’s negligent supervision and negligent entrustment for failing to adopt hair testing policies.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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