Congress is poised to let the commercial trucking industry rely solely on hair follicle drug tests, but truckers and civil rights advocates are not pleased. Critics of hair tests have suggested the practice is “unproven” and could discriminate against minorities who typically have coarser follicles.
The Science Behind Hair Follicle Drug Tests
A transportation funding bill has been given provisions by both the Senate and the House of Representatives that would allow trucking companies to ask their employees to submit to hair drug testing rather than traditional urine testing.
The Department of Transportation currently requires truckers to undergo periodic drug tests. However, urine tests are notorious for only detecting drug use that has occurred within a few weeks. Hair follicle drug tests could detect several months’ worth of drug use.
Drug tests with results that go back farther will undoubtedly reduce a drug user’s ability to flush drugs out of their system before submitting to a urine test. But critics are saying that the hair follicle drug test is racially biased.
Studies have shown that drug metabolites bind more tightly to hair that contains more melanin, or dark pigment, and that’s not the only issue. Hair drug tests are more likely than urine drug tests to indicate a false positive; simply being in an environment with drugs could lead to a positive drug test.
Truckers and civil rights advocates are concerned that if the Senate version of the bill passes, a lot of people who haven’t actually ingested drugs could lose their jobs, and black workers would be disproportionately affected.
Police Officer Discrimination Lawsuits
The trucking industry is not the first to come under fire after implementing hair follicle drug tests. In 2005, seven police officers in Boston who swore they’d never used cocaine in their lives had tested positive for drug use. The officers, who were all black, were promptly fired or suspended.
“It was humiliating,” said Officer Shawn Noel Harris, “People who I once considered friends or comrades in arms treated me differently. They looked at me differently.”
The Boston police officers filed suit against the police department, claiming that the test was racially biased. Six of the seven former officers had a second hair test conducted that came back negative within days of the positive result.
Both state and federal courts have confirmed there are problems with the accuracy and racial biases of hair-based drug testing.
Drug Use & The Trucking Industry
According to the research documented by the NTSB, drug usage by truck drivers of all ethnic backgrounds has been a major factor in truck accidents, both fatal and non-fatal.
The isolation of long hours on the road without much communication with others, as well as the tedious nature of the job, often leads truck drivers to use, and also to abuse, drugs and alcohol. In a survey, truck drivers said that methamphetamines were readily available at many truck stops.
There is a drug problem in the trucking industry, and this problem jeopardizes everyone’s safety on the highway. Something must be done to combat trucker drug use, but many believe that a racially biased test is not an ethical solution. If you’ve been in an accident involving a semi-truck, call us today at 314-444-4444.