Mandatory hair testing proposal almost ready for rollout

A proposal to make drug testing using hair mandatory in trucking is nearly ready for public comment after being reviewed and approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, regulators have confirmed.

“It has been a pretty lengthy review process, but I think we are at a point now where it is at the Federal Register, hopefully with publication dates being set,” said Ron Flegel, chairman of the Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB) within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), during a DTAB meeting Tuesday.

“I’m hoping within a relatively short period of time, the public will be able to … comment on the proposed mandatory guidelines.”

The guidelines — which Congress directed to be issued over three years ago — have been long anticipated by the trucking industry, where mandatory hair testing is generally supported by major truckload carriers, many of which are already conducting such testing voluntarily.

Independent drivers represented by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), however, are against the proposed rule. OOIDA has cited bias toward hair color and texture as well as a lack of evidence showing a connection between hair testing and a reduction in crashes.

But requiring hair testing for drugs as a prerequisite for driver employment could have major safety and capacity ramifications. A survey released last year by the Trucking Alliance — whose members include major truckload operators J.B. Hunt [NASDAQ: JBHT], U.S. Xpress [NYSE: USX] and Knight-Swift Transportation [NYSE: KNX] — found evidence that thousands of habitual drug users are slipping through the federal drug screening system.

Based on what the Trucking Alliance asserted is a “statistically valid sample” of 3.5 million commercial drivers, the survey data projected with a 99% confidence level that 301,000 truck drivers currently on the road would fail or refuse a hair analysis. Such a purging of applicants from the pool of available drivers could make it more difficult to seat cabs, truckload operators have asserted.

Flegel also said that SAMHSA was working on a federally required report informing Congress of the status of a final rule on mandatory guidelines that is due “sometime in October.” The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would use the final rule as guidance for hair testing guidelines within the trucking sector.

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