Fewer drug tests for transit workers


WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Department is lowering the required random drug testing rate from 50 percent to 25 percent of employees in qualifying transportation industries.

The Transportation Department currently requires transportation employers to randomly test 50 percent of employees in safety-sensitive positions.

Reducing that number to 25 percent will save employers as much as 40 percent of the cost of random testing, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said last week.

Jim Landry, president of the Air Transport Association, said the industry is pleased by the Transportation Department's response to its request to lower the random drug-testing rate for airline employees.

In four years of drug testing, the airline industry has shown a positive rate of less than 0.25 percent, he said, demonstrating that airline employees as a group do not have a drug problem.

The new rule is intended as a reward for successful efforts to reduce drug use among such workers as pilots, mechanics, train operators and other employees in safety-sensitive positions, Mr. Pena said.

Under the rule, any transportation industry that can demonstrate a positive rate of less than 1 percent for two calendar years will be allowed to reduce random testing from 50 percent to 25 percent.

If the positive-result rate for the industry jumps above 1 percent in any subsequent calendar year, the mandatory test rate will return to 50 percent.

Rail and aviation will be the first transportation industries to benefit from the rule, which takes effect Jan. 1.

Less than 1 percent of all rail and aviation employees selected for random testing during the past two years were positive for drugs.

Complete data for random drug testing from other transportation industries that could qualify for the reduction, such as motor carriers, will not be available until March, when the industries will begin reporting their 1994 data. The Transportation Department began to require industry drug testing result reports in 1993.

In another ruling, The Transportation Department has decided that it will not authorize blood testing for alcohol in post-accident and reasonable-suspicion situations when evidential breath-testing devices are not available.

The department ruled in February that as of Jan. 1, 1995, the nearly 8 million transportation employees in safety-sensitive positions will be subject to alcohol, as well as drug, testing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it soon will issue a list of inexpensive, simple alcohol-screening devices that companies may use even if they are not approved by courts.

But NHTSA still will require court-approved testing within 20 minutes of a positive result from an unapproved device.

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