The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all motor carriers have a drug testing program in place for their safety-sensitive employees. This is to ensure that drivers are able to operate their vehicles without putting themselves or others in danger. If you operate a trucking company, you may be wondering whether or not you can use hair testing for drugs. This is allowed, but you do need to follow DOT guidelines to ensure you stay compliant.
Here is what you should know about hair testing as a motor carrier:
DOT-Required Drug Testing
In order to be compliant, trucking companies must test at specific times. These include screening potential employees before they start driving, testing randomly, if a supervisor has a reasonable suspicion of drug use, after an accident, and as part of the return-to-duty process.
The only acceptable testing method for DOT-required screening is urinalysis. The most common is a standard 5-panel test that checks for the presence of drug metabolites for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP).
Urine vs. Hair Tests
To understand why you might want to use hair testing in addition to DOT-mandated urine testing, it’s helpful to have a basic idea of how these types of drug tests work. Both tests check for the presence of drug metabolites, which are the chemicals left in the body after a drug has been metabolized (processed). The main difference is how long after drug use the tests will be positive. This is because urine tests detect the drug metabolites as they are being eliminated from the body, whereas hair tests detect metabolites that are stored within the hair follicle. These metabolites can be detected for a longer period of time.
A urine test can detect different metabolites for different lengths of time. The shortest window is 2-4 days after the use of amphetamines, cocaine, or opiates. The longest is for marijuana, which is 15-30 days depending on the amount and frequency of use. Drug metabolites can be detected in hair follicles for up to 90 days. This makes it a more accurate method for determining if a potential driver has used illicit drugs within a longer time frame. Trucking companies may choose to use hair testing in addition to DOT tests in order to further ensure that their drivers are drug-free.
Can Motor Carriers Perform Non-DOT Testing?
Trucking companies must follow the above urine testing procedures at a minimum. However, many motor carriers take further steps to ensure their drivers are drug-free by performing additional testing. This is allowed as long as the requirements from the DOT are met. You cannot use hair testing for drugs to replace any of the DOT tests, so you must use urinalysis as well at the specified times.
Another difference between non-DOT and DOT-required testing is that positive results from non-DOT tests are not reported. All urine test results are tracked by the FMCSA Clearinghouse and can be accessed and checked by other motor carriers who are considering hiring that driver. This makes it harder for drivers to conceal drug program violations. However, hair testing and other tests beyond DOT requirements are not a part of this system. They can be used internally for hiring decisions, but they are not shared with other companies and do not follow a driver even though these tests can assess drug use over a longer period of time.
Protect Your Drivers, Your Freight, and Your Company
A study by the Trucking Alliance in 2019 found that while only less than 1% of applicants to trucking companies failed urine drug tests, almost 9% either failed or refused a hair follicle test. This means that even if you are following the necessary steps to stay compliant with DOT regulations, it can be beneficial to invest in additional testing. HDS Safety Services can help you with both required and additional drug and alcohol testing.