It should be of no surprise that urine sample testing for drugs is not very popular. With that in mind, the Department of Transportation has been delving into other potential substitutes for urine drug testing. One that has shown a lot of promise is hair testing, but another that may become more common is testing the saliva of the driver.
Testing saliva (or oral fluid, as it is called by the notice of proposed rulemaking) has many pros and cons compared to urine sampling.
The most immediate benefit of testing with oral fluid is convenience. Whereas urine sampling takes plenty of privacy and planning ahead, collecting oral fluid can take fewer than five minutes and can be done just about anywhere, including at the scene of an accident. Because of this, it is also significantly harder to cheat a saliva test: a driver cannot take advantage of privacy to swap bottles with a clean sample taken from another person.
Another advantage oral fluid has is economic viability. The DOT estimates a saliva test will cost employers thirty-five dollars, an estimated fifteen dollar decrease to its common counterpart. This decrease can result in significant savings on drug testing procedures, depending on the size of the company.
Urine testing will probably never become obsolete due to how much time a collection represents. When testing for marijuana, it appears in saliva samples for 24 hours, whereas urine can show traces possibly up to 67 days later.
The DOT says that the most likely outcome will be that oral fluid testing will be done for quick tests of recent drug use, while urine testing will be done to cover larger ranges of time, such as for a return-to-duty test.
The DOT is allowing for comments on the proposed rule on the relevant webpage. Commenting closes at the end of March 2022.
There is currently no set timeline for when oral fluid testing would become a commonplace option. With no news of hair testing making any progress in recent times, it appears that urine testing will stay the norm for the foreseeable future.
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