Granting requests made by driver trade unions, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has re-opened the public comment period for a request made by some of the country’s largest carriers to allow them to drug test driver applicants via hair sample instead of a urine sample. FMCSA currently only accepts results from urine sample testing.
The initial comment period for the request lasted only 30 days, until Feb. 21. In a Feb. 23-published Federal Registry entry, however, the agency extended the deadline to April 25.
The petition was filed Jan. 19 by J.B. Hunt, Schneider, Werner, Knight Transportation, Dupree Logistics and Maverick Transportation. The carriers asked FMCSA to allow them to drug test drivers via hair sample alone. The carriers already test their driver applicants’ hair, but they’re still required to perform urine-based tests, which they argue are unnecessary and costly since they already test drivers via hair sample. The carriers argue hair testing is more accurate in detecting drug use.
Several driver unions, including the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department and the Teamsters Union, asked FMCSA to extend the comment period to give them more time to assess the petition and evaluate the data filed with the petition. Neither party has filed comments yet.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed public comments in the waning days of the initial comment period. OOIDA asked FMCSA to deny the request. The group argues FMCSA should wait until federal guidelines for hair sample testing are established by the Department of Health and Human Services before allowing carriers to test via hair sample alone.
OOIDA also argues the matter isn’t pressing, as a fraction of a percent of fatal truck crashes involve a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Despite the current dust-up over hair sample testing, it’s been settled long-term. The FAST Act highway funding law passed in 2015 opens the door for carriers to screen drivers with a hair sample test instead of a urine test. The law stipulates that HHS must develop guidelines first, however.
The carrier group that filed the petition argues the statutory deadline for HHS to publish guidelines for hair testing has passed, delaying carriers’ ability to halt urine tests in favor of hair tests alone.