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

ORLANDO, Fla. — A long-awaited revamp of mandatory guidelines for using hair to test truck drivers for drugs will be out this summer, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Robin Hutcheson.

Hutcheson updated the trucking industry on the progress being made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the new guidelines at the Truckload Carriers Association annual meeting on Monday.

“We know that hair testing as part of drug testing is a big issue for you,” Hutcheson told a packed ballroom. “And you know that DOT [the U.S. Department of Transportation] must follow HHS mandatory guidelines for this. We are being proactive as much as we can on this issue. I met directly with HHS leadership and staff and can report back today that revised proposed guidance will be available for public viewing by summer of this year.”

HHS’ first try at the guidelines in 2020 was roundly opposed by groups on both sides of the truck driver drug hair-test issue.

Hutcheson’s announcement was among several regulatory updates she provided in a luncheon speech focusing on driver safety and DOT’s goal of zero fatalities. She cited the roughly 5,000 crashes involving trucks that occur each year, with the truck driver dying in 800 of those crashes.

“I cannot think of another place in the modern world [where] we would accept those kinds of numbers of people dying in the workplace,” she said. “It’s not acceptable.”

She noted several actions currently pending at FMCSA aimed at finding the reasons behind truck accidents and driver deaths, including a causal-factor study, studies on detention time and driver compensation, and an upcoming truck-leasing task force that will examine predatory leases.

“It is not always the fault of the truck driver when there’s a crash, but when a truck driver is involved, were they speeding?” Hutcheson said. “Why were they speeding? Because of detention time sitting and not being paid for that time, and then after waiting four hours to get loaded, were they hurrying to get to their destination?”

In addition, Hutcheson announced the closing of a loophole in the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. It involves a reporting gap that allows a driver to have a drug violation reported by an employer after a pre-employment query by a prospective new employer but before an annual query is made after the driver is hired by the new company. It’s a gap the new employer might never be aware of, she said.

“I’m happy to report today that we’re implementing a system improvement to address that issue,” she said. “The clearinghouse will very soon start notifying employers if there’s a change to a driver’s clearinghouse record up to 12 months following a query. You’ll be notified by an email when a driver in a query has new information in their record within that 12-month time period.”

The new notifications will begin later in March.

Hutcheson also noted the progress being made with her agency’s safety management system, which is undergoing an overhaul in the methodology the government uses to rank carrier safety. She encouraged carriers to head to the FMCSA’s website to preview how it would work.

“Go in and test your score in the old system, and the new system, and comment on it,” she said. “The main reason we’re proposing these updates is to promote fairness to ensure greater consistency and results, and by holding similar carriers to the same standards.”

Comments on FMCSA’s new safety system are due March 16.  

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.