While trucking companies traditionally use urine drug screening as the mainstream way to test potential drivers before hiring, hair follicle drug screening is becoming more popular and fleets are adapting this new method. Many experts in the industry argue that hair follicle drug screening provides a better picture of the driver’s lifestyle and is more effective than urine testing.
As opposed to urine testing, which provides a two- to three-day history of drug use, hair follicle drug screening offers a 30-day history, according to a Fleet Management news article. Drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine leave the digestive system relatively quickly, but according to a Heavy Duty Trucking magazine article, “telltale remains of illicit substances reside in the core of hair follicles permanently.” Therefore, this testing method takes a deeper look into what truck drivers do in their spare time, rather than allowing someone who parties hard on Friday night to pass a urine drug test the following Tuesday.
Why do Industry Experts Agree or Disagree About its Use?
Hair follicle drug screening is not an officially accepted drug testing method. Carriers can’t submit a hair follicle drug test for a urine test, and they must pay for the testing themselves. There is also some debate about the color of hair and its ability to absorb drug metabolites, as stated in the Heavy Duty Trucking magazine article, which some experts say could lead to racial bias in truck driver hiring.
Along with these issues, standardized hair testing may simply be shelved because a testing infrastructure for solid hair—as opposed to liquids such as urine and saliva—isn’t in place and would be expensive to create.
How Hair Follicle Drug Screening has Impacted Hiring Drivers
C.R. England, a refrigerated carrier, conducted a study reviewed in a Fleet Management news article. The carrier discovered the difference between urine and hair follicle testing when they found that 150 out of 2,000 participants in the study tested positive for drugs through hair follicle testing when they appeared to be clean based on the Department of Transportation-mandated urine drug tests.
Another example in a DC Velocity article explains a case where 29,063 trucking applicants were tested with both the urine and hair tests. The urine test resulted in 94 applicants testing positive for drugs while the identical applicants tested at the same time with the hair test exposed 1,121 applicants for drug use.
Other carriers, including Schneider National, J.B. Hunt and Gordon Trucking, have joined C.R. England in adopting hair testing, though they also continue to use the urine testing method because it’s the federally-recognized standard. Because so many more drug users can be identified using the hair follicle drug screening method, this trucking technology certainly has the potential to prevent drug users from driving big rigs, which increases safety for everyone.