A new study conducted by professors at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway has determined that almost 300,000 currently employed truck drivers would fail a drug test if they had to undergo a hair follicle test instead of a urine test. The study was funded by The Trucking Alliance, a group which counts many large carriers and American Trucking Association companies amongst its members.
Professors Doug Voss and Joe Cangelosi authored the report. Voss is a professor of logistics and supply chain management, Cangelosi is a professor of marketing.
Current federal regulations require trucking companies to administer drug tests to new hires and to randomly test at least 50% of their drivers over the course of a year. Urine analysis is the only method that is currently accepted.
The Trucking Alliance, ATA, and many large carriers have long advocated for hair testing to be recognized by the federal government as an acceptable alternative to urine testing. Many of the companies advocating for the change already conduct hair testing, but have lobbied for the change so that they do not also have to pay for urine testing. Average costs for urine drug tests and processing are anywhere from $30-$60.
It does not appear that Voss and Cangelosi gathered any new data for this study, but rather relied on two previous studies. The first was another study commissioned by The Trucking Alliance. It took pass/fail rates of drivers applying to The Trucking Alliance carriers and found that 8.5% of applicants either failed or refused a hair test. This is significantly higher than the 0.6% of applicants who failed or refused a urine test.
Crucially, the Voss/Cangelosi study finds that the failure rate of 151,662 applicants to large carriers are to be considered “representative” of the failure rates of all commercial truck drivers currently working in the country. As any trucker knows though, it’s a serious stretch to say that an applicant to a megacarrier is the same as a veteran trucker.
Despite that, the study’s authors say that there is “a high degree of similarity between The Trucking Alliance sample and the national driver pool.”
The second study that Voss and Cangelosi analyzed was conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which sought to determine whether hair testing could produce racially biased results
“Utilizing independently provided urine and hair pre-employment drug screen data, University of Central Arkansas researchers were unable to find disparate impacts of hair testing among the ethnic groups,” reads the study. “Given these findings, we find no disparate impact among ethnic groups by testing method.”
According to the BLS study that Voss and Cangelosi used for their data however, a black applicant was more than twice as likely as an Asian applicant to fail a hair test. Critics of hair testing point out that due to differences in the porousness of hair, drug tests produce more positives amongst certain racial groups than other. In fact, the ACLU has repeatedly lobbied for hair testing not to be used because “it is widely known” that hair testing has a racial bias, and can return a positive result for drug use even when a person “was merely exposed to, but never actually ingested” a drug.
“Most of us share the road with motor carriers on a daily basis,” write Voss and Cangelosi in their conclusion. “We all hope that commercial truck drivers are well-trained, well-rested, and drug and alcohol free as they pilot 80,000 pound vehicles traveling within a few feet of our vehicle.”
The conclusions drawn in this most recent study seem in our opinion to read less like an academic paper, and more like what someone might possibly write if they were being paid to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion. Which is not a claim that is being made.
“They’re fantastic companies,” Voss said of The Trucking Alliance carriers according to TalkBusiness. “And they want to do things the right way.”