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Companion bills seeking to make hair testing an acceptable method of drug screening for trucking companies were introduced Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, Rep. Rick Crawford and other members of the state's delegation were among the bills' sponsors. The "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2015" is intended to provide trucking companies with more flexibility when conducting drug and alcohol tests in hopes of detecting habitual drug users.

"Preventing drug users from operating commercial trucks will improve safety on our roads and enhance industry standards," Boozman said in a statement. "This legislation eliminates the duplicative drug-testing process and allows trucking companies to use the more effective option, without having to pay for two tests."

Urinalysis is the only form of drug screening recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transportation. But Arkansas-based trucking companies such as J.B. Hunt and Maverick test hair as well, identifying it as a more effective screening. Hair testing has a 60- to 90-day window of detection, while urine tests typically measure back two or three days.

J.B. Hunt began hair testing prospective drivers as part of its drug screening process nearly nine years ago. Boozman cited data from the company indicating 82,000 driver applicants were tested for drugs in that time span. There were 3,845 drivers who were undetected for drug use in the urine exam but tested positive for drugs in the hair exams.

"I think people recognize that it will improve highway safety, and it gives motor carriers the flexibility to choose the specimen type they believe will be most effective in their business," Greer Woodruff, vice president of safety and security at J.B. Hunt, said about the proposed bills Thursday.

Dean Newell, Maverick's vice president of safety, said there have been "several" drivers flagged in hair tests who passed urine tests. Newell said Maverick has used hair testing as part of its drug screening process for about two years with the goal of "getting the drug users and abusers off the road."

Crawford said he believes his bill will accomplish that.

"My bill's only concern is improving the safety of our roads," Crawford said in a news release. "Some drug users, when they know that a drug test is likely, are able to abstain for just a few days before the test and beat the system."

The bill also would permit flagged hair tests to be shared with other companies as part of a national clearinghouse previously mandated by Congress. The national system, scheduled to start later this year, will identify drivers who have failed or refused tests. Results of flagged hair tests won't be part of the clearinghouse if the bill fails.

The bill also would trim costs associated with conducting both tests. If the bill passes, companies demonstrating they can carry out an applicable hair testing program may apply for an exemption from mandatory urine testing requirements.

J.B. Hunt and Maverick are among the companies who have decided to pay for both right now. J.B. Hunt said urine tests cost between $35 and $40 each, while hair exams are between $50 and $60.

"To those carriers' credit, they are currently investing more money in that particular screening process because they believe that gives them a better chance of having a better driver," said Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. "But to penalize them for making that decision and have them pay for two tests, I think eliminating that is a step in the right direction."

Newton said the Arkansas Trucking Association supports the bills. Senate legislation was co-sponsored by Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. Arkansas congressmen Steve Womack, French Hill and Bruce Westerman joined Crawford in co-sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives.

The American Trucking Associations and the Trucking Alliance, which is comprised of Arkansas companies J.B. Hunt and Maverick, also are proponents of the bills.

Lane Kidd, who is the managing director of the Trucking Alliance, said a similar 2013 bill never "gained traction" largely because of congressional gridlock. But Kidd is optimistic there will be a better result the second time as the emphasis on safety in the trucking industry continues.

"It's going to be a financial savings for the companies," Kidd said. "It's going to ensure the motorists don't have drug abusers in trucks and on the highways, and then thirdly, it's going to ensure that with this new federal law creating this clearinghouse, people who do test positive on a hair exam will see those results go into a database. So it seems to be a pretty win-win situation."

Business on 03/20/2015

Print Headline: Testing of hair option in 2 bills

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