A multiyear study commissioned by 10 major trucking companies concludes that urinalysis, the drug-testing method sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for truck drivers, fails to identify about 90% of actual drug use.

The study by the University of Central Arkansas compared more than 936,000 truck driver pre-employment urine and hair test results, voluntarily submitted by motor carriers. University researchers analyzed data if the driver applicant failed either test. Currently, USDOT only accepts urine tests.

In the study, hair testing revealed opioid use at a rate 25 times greater than detected by urinalysis. Cocaine was identified by hair tests 23 times more often than by urine tests. Amphetamines/methamphetamines? Thirteen times as much. Marijuana was found five times more, PCP three times more, and, though fewer in number, ecstasy a resounding 65 times as much as determined in urine tests.

Research in 2020 by the University of Central Arkansas found that if all truck drivers submitted hair drug tests to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an additional 276,500 drivers would be prohibited from driving. Other research by that university revealed that the type of drug tests used – urine or hair – has no impact on positive test rates by ethnic or racial groups, addressing a racial bias concern with hair testing expressed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The USDOT recently approved the use of oral fluids for drug testing. Oral swabs are particularly useful in post-accident and reasonable suspicion drug tests, where immediate access to a urine collection facility may not be available.

Urinalysis and oral fluids testing only detect very recent drug use. Hair testing, by comparison, can reveal patterns of past drug use. In 2015 Congress approved hair-testing as a USDOT-approved method, once SAMHSA releases final hair testing guidelines. Proposed guidelines were released in September 2020 but there has not been a final rule. Some trucking groups continue to oppose hair testing, saying the science is not yet settled.

Without a final HHS rule supporting hair testing and its adoption by the USDOT, trucking companies may choose, at their own expense, to add hair testing to their pre-employment regimen. However, they must still conduct urine tests and they cannot submit hair test results to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse or share the results with other carriers. Meanwhile, driver applicants who fail a hair test may apply for positions with motor carriers who only utilize urine tests and are not required to complete the federal return-to-duty process due to a failed hair test.

The PrePass blog and podcasts are published as a public service of PrePass®, the most reliable and technologically advanced weigh station bypass and integrated electronic trucking toll payment platform in North America. PrePass also includes INFORM™ Safety and INFORM™ Tolling software for improving truck safety scores and lowering toll costs.