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FMCSA Drug Testing Program in DOT Crosshairs

FreightWaves

Internal auditors at the U.S. Department of Transportation could soon be conducting a review of the FMCSA's drug testing program as part of a transportation industry-wide mandate, FreightWaves has been told.

"There's no formal plan at this point," an official with DOT's Office of Inspector General told FreightWaves. "The Federal Railroad Administration is our second mode to be reviewed, and from there we'll probably look at the other modes, but I don't know what order that will be in."

The Inspector General announced on December 18 that fatal accidents in the railroad industry linked to drug and alcohol use, along with reports of an increasing number of railroad workers testing positive for drugs, has placed a spotlight on the regulators' oversight of drug and alcohol testing, prompting the audit that the official confirmed would begin in January.

The OIG notice also stated that it is already in the process of reviewing the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight of drug and alcohol testing, and that it would be conducting a "series of reviews" of drug testing programs within the transportation industry.

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Dealing with the surge in opioid abuse that has occurred over the last several years, including among transportation workers, is an issue where the Trump Administration has enjoyed bi-partisan support in Congress.

On October 24, President Donald Trump signed the "Support for Patients and Communities" Act, a package of legislation with various titles aimed at addressing opioid and other substance abuse.

One of those titles, "Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation," directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to submit to Congress a status report on hair testing guidelines, which were required under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015 but not yet issued. The report was required to be published before the end of the year.

While current FMCSA regulations require only that breath and blood samples be used to test CDL holders for alcohol, and urine to test for drugs such as opioids and marijuana, certain trucking groups such as the ATA and the Trucking Alliance, which represents large commercial carriers, have been pushing to have hair follicle testing written into the regulations.

Citing data from truckload giant J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT), the Trucking Alliance asserted that 7.7% of the carrier's job applicants tested positive for drugs in 2017, up 2% over the company's 12-year average. The J.B. Hunt data also revealed, the Trucking Alliance noted, that 90% of the applicants who passed a urine test failed a hair follicle test.

But representatives of independent and smaller carriers contend that the push by larger operators for mandatory hair testing is also a way for companies to push liability onto their drivers.

"While hair testing can show the presence of various substances in an individual, the Trucking Alliance fails to show how such testing would prove driver impairment while operating a commercial motor vehicle," asserted Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA, which represents owner-operators.

The opioid bill signed by Trump in October also required that, no later than 60 days after enactment into law, that FMCSA is to provide a status report on the agency's Commercial Driver's License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a new database listing CDL holders who violate DOT's drug and alcohol testing program.

A FMCSA source could not confirm if the report has been submitted to Congress, but expects the database to be up and running sometime in 2019.

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