Congress Shows Impatience with Drug Testing Delays


Alexandria, Virginia: 

By:  TCA’s Vice President of Government Affairs David Heller and TCA’s Government Affairs Manager Kathryn Sanner

In just a few short weeks, our industry will be graced with one of the biggest safety advancements in recent memory. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse goes live on January 6, providing an online database that will shed light on prospective drivers’ drug and alcohol program violations.

While the Clearinghouse represents a significant step forward, other regulatory efforts to advance new drug testing methods are lagging – namely, protocols for hair testing. In Section 5402(b) of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was passed by Congress in 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was directed to produce scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing as an alternative to urine testing for detecting drug use. Deadlines for establishing these guidelines have come and gone, and now the new rules are purportedly being held up for approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Congress, at the urging of the trucking community, has repeatedly demonstrated its intent for hair testing to become a viable alternative to urine testing. Now, one prominent Senator is saying enough is enough. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has introduced a bill that would require OMB to submit a report to the committee explaining why these guidelines are being held up and when they will be approved. HHS would also be required to report on the delay.

Additionally, the bill, titled the Preventing Opioid and Drug Impairment in Transportation Act, instructs the Department of Transportation to conduct a study regarding the accuracy of the onsite oral fluid screening technology available today and ways to improve this technology moving forward. While the language does not go as far as creating mandates for onsite, or “roadside,” oral fluid testing, the requested study will help establish a baseline understanding of what is available in the market today.

As marijuana legalization and decriminalization laws continue to proliferate throughout the country, now is the time to work toward developing a roadside test to determine a driver’s level of drug impairment. Trucking, as a zero-tolerance industry, cannot afford to be subject to increased accidents due to a driver’s lack of foresight. We understand that with these new laws comes an increased perception within the truck driving community that the use of marijuana is acceptable, but that is simply not the case. Until a roadside oral fluid test is deemed to consistently and successfully determine a driver’s impairment, we will continue to face a growing safety threat.

We hope that Congress will expediently pass Sen. Wicker’s bill, and we look forward to the future in which the motoring public will not have to fear that the driver of the 80,000 lb. vehicle beside them is driving under the influence. Unfortunately, until that eventual reality comes to fruition, the negative safety implications of drug and alcohol use will continue to grow.