In 2017, 3.5 million U.S. truck drivers accumulated 297.6 billion miles on the road.
Commercial truckers are just one of the crucial jobs that keep our transportation industry running. These jobs are economically critical, and they also play an important role in public safety.
However, substance abuse among key transportation employees can endanger not just the individual and their co-workers, but also members of the general public.
Congress addressed this problem in 1991 by passing the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act. It requires drug and alcohol testing of all safety-sensitive transportation employees.
But what does that mean?
What Counts as a Safety-Sensitive Transportation Employee?
“Safety-sensitive” employees perform tasks that could present a direct safety threat to themselves or others, especially if they do their job under the influence of alcohol or certain drugs.
A variety of industries and careers fall under this category. Examples include:
- Commercial Motor Carriers: commercial truckers, school bus drivers, and others (CDL holders driving commercial vehicles on public roads)
- Aviation: flight crews, flight instructors, air traffic controllers, aircraft maintenance, and others
- Transit: operators/controllers of buses, subways, light rail, commuter rail, trolleys, and ferries, plus mechanics and armed security for same
- Railroad: train and engine employees, dispatchers, signal employees, and others
- Maritime: crewmembers operating a commercial vessel
- Pipeline: operations, maintenance, and emergency response employees
It’s less about job title and more about duties. If a manager and supervisor might need to perform safety-sensitive jobs on short notice, then they qualify for testing.
What Regulations Apply? Under What Agency?
The how of DOT drug testing is enforced by the DOT Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC). They publish and interpret the regulations under 49 CFR 40. This includes collecting, testing, and return-to-duty procedures.
The regulations and enforcement for who and when vary by industry:
- Commercial Motor Carriers (49 CFR 382): Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Aviation (14 CFR 120): Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Transit (49 CFR 655): Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
- Railroad (49 CFR 219): Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
- Maritime (49 CFR 4 and 16): U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
- Pipeline (49 CFR 199): Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
These agencies determine who gets tested and in what situations.
What Drugs Does DOT Test For (and How)?
DOT alcohol testing can be conducted by breathalyzer or saliva tests. It can only detect alcohol content above 0.02.
DOT drug testing is conducted by urine sample only. It looks for metabolites of:
- Opiates (including codeine, heroin, and morphine)
- Amphetamines and methamphetamines (including MDMA)
Under some circumstances, prescription and over-the-counter medication may be allowed. You should get official medical confirmation that it’s safe to perform your duties on the medication before you start. If you test positive, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) will verify whether you have a legitimate medical reason before the result is official. They’ll certify your test as negative if they decide you qualify for the exception.
This process is not true for medical marijuana. All marijuana use is prohibited.
Employers can conduct the testing themselves or contract out to a third party. Either way, the employer is ultimately responsible for making sure the tests are conducted properly.
When Does DOT Drug/Alcohol Testing Occur?
This varies by industry and agency, but testing generally occurs under the following conditions:
- Pre-Employment, before you start safety-sensitive functions
- Random, throughout the year (employers can’t just pick and choose—there are guidelines)
- Reasonable Suspicion/Cause, if a trained supervisor sees signs that you’re under the influence
- Post-Accident or Incident, as defined by your regulating agency
- Return-to-Duty, after a test failure and rehabilitation process is completed
- Follow Up, after a return-to-duty test—at least 6 unannounced tests in the first 12 months, continuing up to 5 years based on a professional recommendation
Employers are responsible for making sure you’re tested at the right times.
What Happens If You Fail or Refuse a DOT Drug/Alcohol Test?
Your test result is handled as a “fail” if you:
- Test positive for a drug (in any amount) with no legitimate medical purpose
- Register a 0.04 or greater alcohol content
- Refuse to participate in or complete a test (even if you think you have a good reason)
If you register an alcohol content between 0.02 and 0.039, it doesn’t count as a “fail.” But you’ll be barred from safety-sensitive functions for 8 to 24 hours, depending on the agency.
If you fail a test, your employer should immediately remove you from all safety-sensitive functions. You’re not allowed to return to duty until you:
- Undergo an evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)
- Complete whatever education, counseling, and treatment your SAP recommends
- Pass a Return-to-Duty test
- Submit to follow-up testing as recommended by your SAP
Those are the DOT’s requirements. Employers and other regulations could stop you from returning to your job. For example:
- Your employer has the right to fire you for failed test
- You could lose your certification or license to do that job due to other regulations
- Your test result will follow you to other companies, who may or may not decide to hire you
If you have a drug or alcohol problem, you may be able to mitigate consequences by self-reporting to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a voluntary referral program. They aren’t available everywhere, and their benefits vary by employer or union. But if you do have access to a program, it’s probably your best option.
If you wait until after you test positive, the benefits of “self-reporting” disappear.
DOT Training Requirements
Since supervisors have the responsibility of identifying a “reasonable suspicion” for testing, most agencies require training. Supervisors need to learn the signs and symptoms that warrant testing, the correct procedures to follow, and how to handle employee resistance.
The FMCSA requires a 2-hour course, with 60 minutes on alcohol misuse and another 60 on controlled substances. We offer DOT Supervisor Training along with a full suite of DOT training online. It’s more flexible, convenient, and affordable than a classroom course. Enroll today or reach out to our customer support team to learn more about our DOT training solutions.