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COVID-19 Response: Drug Testing Methods To Be Altered?

COVID-19 Response: Drug Testing Methods to be Altered?

As a component of risk management in the commercial transportation industry, trucker drug testing has long been a part of operations. Ensuring drivers are free of potential impairments makes sense, both from safety and liability perspectives.Trucker drug testing protocols are evolving, and regulatory agencies are investigating new methods in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.The goal of these drug testing evolutions is to promote safe driving practices, ultimately reducing or eliminating common risks from the transportation sector.

Federal Drug Testing of Truckers

Beginning in 1991, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) established rules for trucker drug testing. These rules are based on technical standards developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Traditionally, collection of urine is called for; drivers must submit samples for urinalysis either at random or after an incident like a collision.

Updates to Drug Testing Protocols

While urinalysis is a common and time-honored trucker drug testing method, this testing protocol is not without its drawbacks. Primarily, collection of urine is obtrusive, and typically requires a visit to a laboratory under carefully controlled conditions. Second, urine samples can easily be faked or contaminated, which may not accurately pinpoint drivers under the influence of illegal or dangerous substances. Finally, urinalysis may only catch casual users, allowing truckers to hide their habits from fleet managers and employers.

Advances in testing methods have proven themselves to be more accurate, less obtrusive, and easier to manage. In fact, SAMHSA has recently completed an update of technical standards for drug testing, particularly in testing of oral fluids and hair samples. Oral fluids or hair samples can be collected immediately after an incident right at the roadside, and does not require a visit to a laboratory. These samples can also be collected while keeping COVID-19 social distancing protocols intact; truckers can produce a saliva sample without direct physical contact. Finally, oral fluids or hair samples provide a clearer picture in terms of a person’s drug use, and can detect the presence of illegal substances within the past 90 days.

Now that the SAMHSA technical standards have been updated, the next step is for a host of regulatory agencies to review and adopt these protocols. Stakeholding agencies include the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the DOT. Oral fluid and hair sample testing represents a powerful tool for improving driver safety, and industry analysts suggest these revised protocols will save money and complications related to trucker drug testing.

Implications for the Trucking Industry

Fleet owners and owner-operators know that trucker drug testing has been a part of the industry for decades. Testing is a part of risk management, promoting safe driving practices on America’s highways. Advanced drug testing will also help to reduce the costs and inefficiency of current urinalysis testing methods. Most importantly, improved testing protocols will ultimately reduce liability risks, protecting fleet owners from expensive claims and regulatory penalties or loss of licensure.

About Gain Insurance Agency

Gain Insurance Agency protects trucking businesses against liabilities and claims in the industry. We combine products provided by respected insurance providers with our expertise and custom packages to meet customers’ individual needs. Our goal is to give you the coverage that you need at the lowest possible price. To learn more about our products and services, contact us today at (877) 424-3344.

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