WASHINGTON — A lack of approved testing laboratories has effectively put on hold a new rule making drug testing more convenient for the trucking industry.

The final rule by the U.S. Department of Transportation, scheduled to be published on Tuesday and which also applies to airlines and freight railroads, amends DOT’s industry drug testing program to include oral fluid testing.

“This additional methodology for drug testing will give employers a choice that will help combat employee cheating on urine drug tests and provide a less intrusive means of achieving the safety goals of the program,” according to DOT.

But for an employer to implement oral fluid testing under the regulation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must certify at least two oral fluid testing laboratories. “As of the time of the publication of this final rule, there have been no laboratories yet certified by HHS for oral fluid testing,” DOT affirmed.

“So we’re stuck with just urine for a while longer,” trucking regulation expert P. Sean Garney, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, told FreightWaves. “Hopefully, now that DOT has acted, labs will be a bit more motivated to provide this service and seek certification.”

DOT emphasized that oral fluid testing will be made available to employers as an alternative, not a replacement, for urine testing. “Whether an oral fluid or urine test is administered is the employer’s choice and not the choice of the employee,” according to the preamble to the rule.

Once oral testing facilities have been approved, the new option has the potential to save money for carriers by reducing the time drivers need to spend undergoing testing.

“Most urine collections occur in separate collection facilities, requiring individuals to travel to and from the facilities,” DOT stated. “Oral fluid collection could occur at or near the workplace, reducing travel time.”

Representatives of both large and small carriers generally supported the rule. The American Trucking Associations pointed out that oral fluid collection training requirements would be “far less intensive” compared to urine specimen collections.

“Since oral fluid specimen collections are inherently observed collections, there is minimal opportunity for employees to subvert the test,” ATA stated in comments submitted to the proposal in 2022. “Thus, it is reasonable that the training for oral fluid specimen collections could adequately be completed in a virtual setting, using online videos or modules.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association agreed with the benefits anticipated by DOT, including the added flexibility that oral fluid testing provided versus urine testing.

OOIDA cautioned, however, that the government must ensure that drivers’ personal privacy will be protected as part of the new option.

“In recent years, the privacy rights of truckers have been obstructed by electronic logging devices that track their whereabouts, the growth of automated license plate readers that unfairly target drivers for enforcement, and a lack of cybersecurity protection from DOT’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners,” according to OOIDA. “Any new drug testing guidelines or regulations must prioritize privacy concerns of professional truckers.”

Garney pointed out that another significant benefit for employers was the government’s decision to allow test collectors to change samples in the event an employee cannot produce enough urine or saliva for a valid test.

“In the past, if a driver could not produce enough urine, it trigger a bunch of procedures to try to obtain a large enough sample including a drinking  up to 40 ounces of fluid and waiting up to three hours for a new specimen. This can now be avoided by switching to another sample type,” Garney said.

But while having another drug test option is “good news” for carriers, Garney also raised the issue of a shorter detection window in oral-fluid testing versus urine for certain drugs.

“That said, based on data I’ve seen from a major drug testing company, positive rates from oral fluids are keeping pace or exceeding those for urine analysis so the detection window may not play as big of a factor as some expected.”  

Related articles:

FMCSA’s Hutcheson: Revised guidelines by summer for drug hair testing

Truckers’ positive drug tests up 18% in 2022

FMCSA issues new driver-ban rules for drug and alcohol abusers

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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