A recent study of truckers operating in the U.S. concluded that a high percentage were using mind-altering substances and that 30% confessed to using amphetamines to help them stay awake on the road. Equally disturbing is the fact that U.S. truckers have the highest frequency for positive alcohol tests (12.5%) in the world. Trucking is a tough job, with long hours and isolation, but the same substances that truckers use to help them cope can also lead to hallucinations, dependency, impairment and a massive public safety issue. This is why the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) heavily regulate drug testing and alcohol testing for drivers. (Learn more in Everything You Need To Know About The FMCSA Clearinghouse Final Rule).

The drug use epidemic, the growing legalization of recreational and medical cannabis and the FMCSA rule that goes into effect in 2020 could sideline more truckers and create a crisis for employers who are struggling through an existing driver shortage. Knowing the drug testing rules that govern your industry and ensuring your employees understand them can go a long way to helping you avoid this crisis. Here is what you, and the truckers you employ, need to know.

DOT or Non-Dot

FMCA is an agency of DOT and employers who fall under its mandate must adhere to very strict DOT regulations regarding both drug and alcohol testing. The rules for all others commonly referred to as non-DOT employers are more flexible but also more complex.

Existing Companies/Operators

You and your employees are subject to DOT and FMCSA regulations regarding drug and alcohol testing if your drivers are required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and operate one of the following types of trucks or buses:

  • A truck/ bus with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 26,0001 or more pounds
  • A truck/bus with the capacity to carry 16 or more passengers (including the driver)
  • A truck/bus of any size that is used to transport hazardous materials which require the vehicle to be placarded

New Companies/Operators

New companies and operators are subject to special safety audits during their first 18 months in operation. Although there are other factors in the safety audit you can automatically fail if you:

  • Do not implement a drug and alcohol testing program
  • Do not implement random testing
  • Use a driver who has refused a drug or alcohol test
  • Use a driver who you know has a blood alcohol content of 0.04 or greater
  • Use a driver who failed to complete the required follow-up testing procedures after a failed drug test

Random Testing

A random drug and alcohol testing program is a requirement for all FMSCA governed employers. These tests must occur when a driver is on duty, just before or just after driving. How you select employees for random testing is also strictly controlled and must be truly randomized using a scientifically valid method. Testing must be spread throughout the calendar year and must be given to 25% of your drivers annually and alcohol testing on 10% of your drivers annually. Owner-operators are required to enroll in a random testing consortium.

Reasonable Suspicion Testing

If you, or your supervisors, suspect one of your drivers is abusing drugs or alcohol, you are legally required to insist that the driver is tested. It’s important to note that these suspicions must be based on specific and acute symptoms related to appearance, behavior, speech or body odor. Employers with more than one employee must ensure supervisors are trained to make these determinations and the FMSCA requires a minimum of 60 minutes each of drug use and alcohol abuse training for these supervisors. Owner-operators are exempted from this requirement.

Additional DOT-FMSCA Requirements

  • Pre-employment: CDL drivers must have a negative drug test result before they operate a vehicle.
  • Post-Accident: Drug or alcohol tests may be required after an accident only under specific conditions: in the event of a fatality, if the driver is at fault and the vehicle is towed or if an individual is taken to a hospital.
  • Return-to-Duty: After drivers fail or refuse a drug test, they are required to complete a return-to-duty process under the direction of a DOT qualified Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and then to subject to a directly observed drug test. A negative result is required before a driver can return to work.
  • Follow-Up: A minimum of six directly observed drug tests within the first 12 months following a driver’s return to duty are required by the FMSCA although the SAP may order additional testing up to a period of four years following the initial negative test.

Positive Tests

Drivers are considered to have failed a test if they refuse the test, test positive in a drug test or register a 0.04 or higher on an alcohol test. (Learn more in When An Employee Refuses A DOT Drug Test: What Employers Need To Know). The FMSCA requires that a driver who tests positive be immediately removed from any safety-sensitive position, including driving a CMV, until the return to duty process is complete.

FMSCA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

In the past, FMSCA employers have been required to query their driver’s previous employers about the driver’s drug tests over the previous three years, but drivers wanting to avoid detection could simply leave an employer off their record. As of 2020, the FMSCA will require all of its employers to submit, within 3 business days, the results of all failed and refused drug tests as well as return to duty and follow-up tests to an FMSCA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Once it is operational, all FMSCA employers will also be required to query the Clearinghouse for records prior to hiring a CDL applicant and to query the Clearinghouse regarding all existing employees. Employers will also be expected to continue to query previous employers until the Clearinghouse has been live for three years.