Study suggests FMCSA is underreporting driver drug use

New research finds that truck drivers abuse cocaine more than marijuana, contrary to driver drug-use reports by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The study from the Trucking Alliance and the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) suggests that the use of urine tests to screen for drugs instead of hair samples is the cause for the inaccurate data.

Doug Voss, Ph.D., professor of logistics and supply chain management

“Our research found that DOT is seriously underreporting the actual use of harder drugs by truck drivers, such as cocaine and illegal opioids,” Doug Voss, Ph.D., Professor of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at UCA, said in a statement. “Our analysis clearly concludes that hair testing identifies these harder drugs at higher percentages than the single urine testing method relied on by the federal government.”

The study involved comparing hair drug testing results from Trucking Alliance member carriers to DOT data, which suggests that drivers use cocaine more than marijuana, and that hair testing would show that twice the number of drivers should be disqualified for drug use.

The study compared 1,429,842 truck driver pre-employment urine drug test results reported by the federal government’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse with 593,832 urine and hair test results submitted by carriers in the Trucking Alliance. The Clearinghouse is administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), but the agency accepts urine test results only.

Test method causes undercount

In 2020, the FMCSA disqualified 54,955 commercial truck drivers for failing a urine test for illegal drug use. Marijuana was cited by FMCSA as the primary drug of choice. However, the UCA study found that FMCSA would likely have disqualified twice that many truck drivers, another 58,910, had they submitted to a hair drug test. Instead of marijuana, cocaine would have been the primary drug among this driver population.

UCA researchers concluded the following important findings:

  • Trucking Alliance drivers are less likely to use illegal drugs than the national truck driver population. They passed their urine drug tests 269% more frequently than drivers in the Clearinghouse.
  • However, among Trucking Alliance drivers who were disqualified for failing their hair test, cocaine was identified 16.20% more frequently and opioids were identified 14.34% more frequently than the DAC urine test results.
  • Researchers found statistical evidence that urine testing is effective at detecting marijuana, while hair testing detects marijuana, but also a higher percentage of harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin and opioids.
  • The severity of this issue is compounded by the finding that an additional 58,910 DAC drivers likely would have been disqualified in 2020 if the drivers had submitted to hair testing.

‘A considerable liability risk’

“Federal law prohibits truck drivers from using illegal drugs, yet thousands are escaping detection,” said Lane Kidd, managing director of the Trucking Alliance. “Drug-impaired truck drivers are a critical public safety issue, but employing these drivers can be a considerable liability risk.”

“Until hair is recognized as a single-test method, employers should consider what Trucking Alliance carriers are doing and require driver applicants to pass the required urine test and also a hair test,” Kidd said. “Driving a tractor trailer while under the influence is a lethal combination, and we must keep these drivers out of trucks until they complete rehabilitation and return to duty.”

In 2015, Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to “use hair testing as an acceptable alternative to urine testing” for pre-employment and random testing of commercial truck drivers. But the federal government has yet to issue guidelines, despite the presence of recognized international lab standards for hair testing.




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