DOT Compliance Services, Drug & Alcohol Compliance

DOT Drug Testing: Getting It Wrong Could Cost Your Business

On Sept. 9, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sent out an official DOT drug testing reminder to all motor carriers to “only use a Federal Drug Testing Custody and Control Form (CCF) when testing employees subject to FMCSA drug testing regulations and to properly fill out the Federal CCF.”

But what does that mean exactly? Who is “subject to FMCSA drug testing regulations”? How do you properly fill out a chain of custody form? And most importantly, what happens if you mistakenly perform a Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) drug test when it wasn’t required?

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to cause harm to your transportation business by selecting the wrong drug testing process while trying to do the right thing regarding DOT-regulated drug testing. So let’s look at this DOT drug testing process, who should receive a federal drug test vs. another type of test, and when. 

Which drivers and employees are subject to DOT drug testing regulations? 

According to the official communication from FMCSA in September, “…only commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders, commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders, or drivers that should have either a CDL or CLP should be given a DOT drug test with FMCSA specified as the DOT Agency on the custody and control form (CCF)….” 

Also, according to the FMCSA, DOT-regulated drug testing should be performed on drivers that SHOULD have either a CDL or CLP.

But not so fast. This does NOT mean that you should always administer a DOT drug test any time an employee with a CDL or CLP engages in an accident or suspicious behavior. 

Examples of When Employees with CDLs Should NOT Receive a Federal DOT-Regulated Drug Test: 

A salaried mechanic has a CDL but does not use it during his work duties, but you, as the company owner, personally observed them under the influence of something at work.

A forklift operator at your warehouse with a CLP crashed the forklift into a large pallet of goods while on duty, causing approximately $10,000 in property damages.

Your employee, or you as an owner-operator, hold a CDL, but the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driven for tour operations carries less than 16 passengers and weighs less than 26,000 pounds, and you do not transport hazardous materials.  

These are just a few examples of when an owner-operator should not perform a federal DOT test. By all means, these are scenarios in which it is reasonable for companies to perform drug and alcohol testing – just not at the level of federal reporting. Don’t use the DOT process and chain of custody forms in these instances. 

When should you perform federal DOT-regulated drug testing?

New Hire Drug and Alcohol Testing

Both new full and part-time drivers must pass a DOT drug and alcohol test if they hold a CDL and:

  • Will drive a CMV larger than 26,000 pounds GVWR on public roads
  • Will transport 16 or more passengers on public roads
  • Will transport hazardous materials on public roads

Drivers who do not hold a CDL or only drive on private property are not subject to DOT drug and alcohol testing. These new hires should receive a private company test, not a DOT test.

If a driver was removed from a random testing pool for more than 30 days, the driver must again be pre-employment tested. But, consider their CDL and CLP status carefully and if their job requires a DOT chain of command form.

Random Testing

According to the FMCSA, each DOT agency has regulations that require certain safety-sensitive employers to implement a random testing program. For motor carriers, this falls under regulation 49 CFR Part 382.305.

The DOT Agency that regulates the transportation industry sets the random testing rate. Administrators set the rates using information reported by the Drug and Alcohol Management Information System (MIS). You can check the current rate on the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC) website.

But here’s the kicker. You gotta keep ‘em separated. Only DOT safety-sensitive employees may be part of the DOT random testing pools. The employer’s DOT testing program must always be separate and distinct from its private company or non-DOT testing program – including random testing pools.

Post-Accident Testing

Post-accident testing is a big area of concern for both the FMCSA and owner-operators. The FMCSA is cracking down on this and has sent out multiple notices on the specific criteria that require a DOT process for drug and alcohol testing.

If a vehicle has to be towed away from the scene, if medical attention was required as a result of the accident, if there is a fatality, and/or if the driver was cited, then a DOT chain of custody form should be completed. 

It’s important to note also that if towing or medical attention is required, there must also be a citation issued to require a DOT drug test. If there was no citation issued, then do not perform a DOT test. 

If the accident resulted in a fatality, a DOT Test is required whether or not a citation is issued. 

“There is a little acronym for this: F.I.T. or Fatality, Injury, or Tow away and cited.”

Ryan Bunnell, General Manager, TCS

If the incident does not meet any of these criteria, then do not perform a DOT test and do not complete a DOT Chain of Custody form.

Post-accident drug testing is where our TCS Compliance Specialists see the most errors in drug and alcohol testing practices. Understandably, companies want to err on the side of caution and, if unsure, perform DOT testing and chain of command forms. But this really can do much more harm than good.

Reasonable Suspicion Testing

According to the FMCSA, “DOT-trained supervisors can direct a driver to be drug or alcohol tested whenever he or she exhibit (sic) signs of drug or alcohol abuse. The decision must be based on observations concerning the appearance, behavior, speech, or body odors of the driver.”

Consider the criteria for DOT testing vs. private company drug or alcohol testing carefully. If you’re unsure, consult a Transportation Compliance Services Compliance Specialist.

Return to Duty Tests

Return to duty DOT drug and alcohol testing is only required after the driver has completed the Return to Duty Process, but before returning to perform their job function driving a CMV. Not all employees returning to duty should be subjected to a DOT Chain of Command. If an employee is returning to work but is not operating a CMV on public roads, it may be best to perform a non-DOT test.

This is one instance where consulting a Transportation Compliance expert before performing a DOT test is the safest course of action.

Follow-up Testing

After a positive drug or alcohol test and return to duty, the substance abuse professional (SAP) who signed the return to duty report will prescribe follow-up testing. These follow-up tests are in addition to random testing, and the SAP can prescribe follow-up testing for a maximum of five years.

Why It’s So Important to Administer the Correct Type of Drug Test Along With the Correct Chain of Custody Forms

Administering the wrong type of drug test and incorrectly completing the Federal Chain of Custody Forms can have huge financial consequences for your business. 

In one instance where a DOT test was incorrectly performed, an employer was sued by the driver and found liable for a $2 million dollar settlement. The driver got into an accident on an icy road where his trailer tipped over, but he was able to right it and drive away. No tow was needed, no injuries, and no driver citation, so the incident did not meet the criteria for DOT testing. While the company was within its rights and responsibilities to perform post-accident testing, they were liable for using the wrong test in this case. 

Positive DOT tests and chain of command forms lead to reporting to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Performing unnecessary DOT testing will trigger additional safety audits for your company which can put your business at additional risk.

Our TCS Compliance experts have observed that the FMCSA is performing many more safety audits than it did just a year and a half ago. Each FMCSA Safety Audit opens up your business to scrutiny. The auditor will require documentation that verifies you have established effective safety management controls. Auditors may also request documents related to drivers and vehicles, as well as general operating procedures and record-keeping requirements.

Have a Plan. And a Documented Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy.

The FMCSA requires that employers within the transportation and trucking industries have written guidelines on controlled substance use and alcohol misuse in the workplace. These policies must be written in a specific way in order to meet FMCSA requirements.

TCS has over 20 years of experience with drug and alcohol testing and compliance services and chain of custody. We put that experience to work for our trucking and transportation clients to clearly define their company testing guidelines, including who should receive a DOT test and when. We provide detailed, documented drug and alcohol testing policies that meet all FMCSA requirements.

After the drug and alcohol testing policy is finalized, our TCS Compliance Specialists work directly with our clients to make sure the documented testing process happens correctly and timely – each and every time.

At TCS, we’ve made it our business to take care of yours. Let our Managed Services Compliance Specialists help you keep your business on the road for the long haul.

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