U.S. Department of Transportation Updates Its Drug Testing Policy

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has finalized a rule to amend its drug testing policy in a way that could have significant implications for truckers, commercial drivers, pilots and other federally regulated transit workers who use marijuana off the job.

In a notice last Tuesday, the department said that it has completed the rulemaking process for the policy change, which would allow oral saliva drug testing as an alternative to urine-based tests.

Urine tests for THC are notoriously unreliable as metabolites can show up for weeks or months after consumption. Said tests often result in false positive results for people who are not actually impaired on the job, but have consumed on their free time. These ‘false positives’ are noteworthy because the DOT data released in January showed that tens of thousands of commercial truckers have tested positive for marijuana as part of federally mandated screenings and a significant portion of those truckers refused to return to work, contributing to a labor shortage.

Accordingly, DOT proposed last year that testing of oral saliva be added as an alternate option. Following a public comment period, the DOT finalized the oral saliva testing rule, which will take effect on June 1.

Depending on frequency of use, THC is generally detectable in saliva anywhere from one (1) to 24 hours after use, according to DOT. In their release, the DOT said that “Oral fluid testing can detect the recent use of some drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, while urine drug testing has a longer window of detection.”

Additionally, DOT’s finalized rule sets a 4 nanogram per milliliter screening test cutoff for THC, so that it would not only detect THC but would also eliminate the possibilities of positive tests resulting from passive exposure.

It will be interesting to see if the local, city and state law enforcement agencies begin utilizing these testing methods to determine if drivers are impaired and/or under the influence of THC.