Hair Apparent: A New Drug Test For Truckers?

The long-haired Grateful Dead used to sing about “Truckin’” on “reds, vitamin C and cocaine.” Now, some lawmakers see hair as the best way to test truckers for drug use.

That’s just the latest front in a broader federal crackdown on drugged driving.

This summer, Congress required the Department of Transportation to create a database of commercial drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests.

Last week, the agency warned truckers that new drug laws in Washington and Colorado don’t give them license to smoke up in those states.

Now, Republican Reps. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin and Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee want DOT to start a pilot program to study whether the federal government should be able to pluck truckers’ hair to test for drugs.

The basic premise: It’s too easy to cheat on a urine test.

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office sent in undercover investigators and found that DOT’s drug-testing regime left a lot to be desired.

“DOT’s drug-testing program is vulnerable to manipulation by drug users, especially given the wide availability of products designed to defeat drug tests,” GAO reported. “While all urine collection sites followed DOT protocols by asking GAO undercover investigators to provide identification, investigators successfully used bogus driver’s licenses to gain access to all 24 sites — demonstrating that a drug user could send someone to take a drug test in their place using fake identification.”

And even if a trucker doesn’t send a drug-free substitute in his place, skirting a positive result can be easy. Pills that clear the body of drug traces are readily available at truck stops. Even without those pills, stopping drug use for a few weeks and drinking a lot of water before a test can help boost the odds of a clean result.

Hair retains markers of drug use for a longer period, making it more likely that prospective employers would be able to weed out users before hiring them or catch them in routine tests.