Truck Driver Hair Testing Moves Forward at J.B. Hunt

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Jun. 24, 2013 12:00 am  

Positive results for drug use have kept more than 3,200 prospective drivers — including 1,700 who used cocaine and 71 who used cocaine in combination with opiates, heroin or amphetamines — from getting behind the wheel for J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. since May 2006.

While the pre-employment drug screening results might have kept those drivers off the J.B. Hunt payroll, they were not prohibited from climbing into the cab of an 18-wheeler elsewhere. All they had to do was find a company that does not use hair follicle testing and then abstain from drug use, depending on the substance, for as little as 24 hours.

Current government regulations in place stipulate that urinalysis remains the only universally accepted and sharable method of drug testing for transportation companies. While firms are free to supplement their pre-employment screening with a more stringent method like hair testing, they are not allowed to report the findings outside of their own human resources offices.

So it is entirely possible that the 3,221 drivers who failed J.B. Hunt’s drug tests since 2006 are on the road for somebody else. And only 90 of those users were flagged by the urine samples they submitted.

“We deny them employment, but these people are likely driving a truck for somebody else,” said Greer Woodruff, vice president of safety and security at J.B. Hunt. “… People with positive hair tests obviously do not need to be behind the wheel. These are the kind of people we screen out, and we think if more companies could do hair testing and share the results, we could move these people off the roads and out of commercial vehicles. Or they could go through some type of rehabilitation program. Right now they’re just moving to a different company.”

J.B. Hunt became the first major transportation company to incorporate hair testing seven years ago. Other companies have since followed suit, despite the additional costs and the fact that results cannot be shared with others in the industry.

Advocacy groups like the Arkansas Trucking Association, American Trucking Associations and the Trucking Alliance (both J.B. Hunt and North Little Rock’s Maverick belong) are pushing for either regulatory or legislative changes to rules that have been implemented by the Department of Transportation based upon guidelines set by Health & Human Services. Advocates would like to see legislation adopted that would allow companies their choice of testing options and then give them freedom to report their findings to others in the industry.

It is possible that legislation could be introduced in both houses of Congress this year to make hair follicle analysis an accepted standard for trucking companies. Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said co-sponsors are being sought for legislation that will enact the change needed.

“It makes no sense from a safety standpoint why federal agencies — which have said we must reduce accidents involving truck drivers — wouldn’t recognize the method of drug testing that is most accurate and shows longest-term use of drugs,” said Kidd. “Trucking companies are not [only] interested in if you used drugs yesterday. They want to know if there’s a lifestyle of use.”

Method Spreads

Hair testing’s success rate in identifying those lifestyle users is what makes that method superior, proponents say.

Follicle samples — usually collected by cutting or shaving an inch-and-a-half of hair — can detect drug use as far back as 90 days. Current methods of testing accepted by the DOT go back only about 48 hours.



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