The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing to change federal guidelines for drug screenings of transportation workers to include the testing of oral fluid as an alternative to urinalysis. The proposed rule change was published by the DOT on February 28 in the Federal Register, the official journal of the United States government.
“This will give employers a choice that will help combat employee cheating on urine drug tests and provide a more economical, less intrusive means of achieving the safety goals of the program,” DOT wrote in its proposed rule change.
DOT is not eliminating urinalysis as an option for testing truck drivers and other transportation industry workers as required by federal law. The agency noted that the window of detection for oral fluid testing for marijuana use is approximately 24 hours, while urinalysis screenings can detect cannabis use from between three and 67 days before administration of the test.
The proposed rule change also establishes training criteria for personnel collecting oral fluid samples, sets requirements for oral fluid collection sites, outlines the steps for oral fluid collection and creates guidelines that oral fluid collectors and collection sites must take to protect the security and integrity of sample collection.
The proposed rule changes are designed to be consistent with the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs Using Oral Fluid established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2020. The same year, HHS also published a proposal to expand federal drug testing guidelines to include hair follicle testing, but the proposed rule change has not yet been finalized.
Truckers Face Routine Drug Testing for Cannabis
Federal law mandates that truck drivers and other specified transportation workers undergo periodic screenings for marijuana and other drugs. In January 2020, new legislation went into effect requiring the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to create and maintain a database of all truckers who had failed a test for alcohol or drug use. The legislation allows trucking companies to avoid hiring drivers who had previously failed a drug or alcohol test at a different employer.
The new drug screening reporting requirements went into effect as cannabis policy reform measures continue to take hold across the country. More than three dozen states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, and 18 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized cannabis for use by adults. Since the reporting requirement went into effect two years ago, the new law has impacted approximately 110,000 drivers. More than 72,000 truckers have had their licenses suspended, with more than half failing tests for past cannabis use.
Last month, Wells Fargo head of equity strategy Chris Harvey blamed, among other factors, drug screenings for cannabis for contributing to the current driver shortage that is plaguing the nation’s trucking industry.
“It’s really about drug testing,” Harvey said while speaking on a conference call in February. “We’ve legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all… What we’ve done is we’re excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry.”
However, it is likely that many of those disqualified truckers were never high while on the job. Lamont Byrd, director of the Teamsters’ safety and health department, noted that unlike alcohol, testing positive for cannabis under most drug screening methods is not an indicator of driver impairment.
“The use of marijuana among drivers presents a real dilemma because we don’t have a test that can measure impairment like we do for alcohol,” Byrd told Minnesota Public Radio. “So the drug or its metabolites… hang around for days, weeks and sometimes longer periods of time, so you don’t know from a test perspective if a person is actually impaired. So to err on the side of caution, its use is prohibited.”