Truck Driver Drug and Alcohol Test – When, How, Why?

Once upon a time, a truck driver could do a binge long-haul for two straight days. Fueled by high coffee octanes, amphetamines, and driving without care just to make it to the goal faster. These times are way past us now, though. The strict work hours regulations are with extreme prejudice towards those who break them.

Driving under the influence of drugs is stricter, and the consequences are more significant. Such is the case for both legal repercussions and the well-being of the driver and others. There is perhaps more at stake here than with unregulated driving hours, even though drowsiness is a problem with both. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has made significant strides to subdue illegal and legal opioid use in the commercial trucking industry. Truck driver drug tests are a strict norm that you must pass if you are to get on the road.

When Is a Truck Driver Required to Do a Drug Test?

There are four main types of truck driver drug tests:

  • A truck driving school drug test,
  • A pre-employment drug test,
  • A random drug test, and
  • A post-accident drug test.

However, drug tests are not limited to the above. Additionally, a truck driver can be asked to do a drug test if:

  • There is a reasonable suspicion the driver is under the influence. If this is the case, the driver can be tested immediately; 
  • A driver returns-to-duty after they have been positive on a drug test refused a drug test, or broke the prohibitions of Subpart B of 49 CFR Part 382;
    • When a driver returns-to-duty after completing the process for return-to-duty with a substance abuse professional vetted by the DOT, they will be tested again, and they must be negative to start driving again;
  • Follow-up tests for drivers who were positive on a drug test – this applies to all drivers who went through the return-to-duty procedure, and the follow-ups are mandatory for six tests in 12 months. Still, they can be extended to up to four additional years of follow-up tests.

The above is what the DOT dictates as mandatory. Some trucking companies will require additional drug tests beyond the established regulations. Drivers may be asked to take a drug test when they are involved in minor accidents. These may include hitting a deer, inanimate object, or when there is minor damage to the tractor or trailer. The employer’s procedure may dictate other additional circumstances that can require the driver to take a drug test too.

Positive Drug Tests Are Listed on a DAC Report

Another thing worth mentioning is that a positive drug test shows on a DAC report, so failing the test may have long-term consequences. Every employer pulls a DAC report on their drivers – so failing the test may be the deal-breaker for your next job application.

What Drug Types do DOT Tests Check For?

All DOT drug tests are performed in laboratory conditions and are checking for the following five classes of drugs:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates such as opium and codeine derivatives
  • Methamphetamines and amphetamines
  • PCP (Phencyclidine)

There are minimum thresholds for each of the above substances, and going above it will result in a positive drug test.

Regarding alcohol, the DOT alcohol tests flag concentrations of 0.02 BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) and above as positive.

As mentioned above, the company can request additional drug tests outside of DOT regulation. The DOT does not prohibit such tests and does not limit the types of drugs to just the five checked for in DOT-approved drug tests. 

Truck Driving School Drug Test

This test is covered by the DOT’s mandatory pre-employment drug test and applies to both owners of a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) and those with a learner’s permit. Since the CDL schooling process includes on-the-road learning, the learner’s permit owner must undergo a drug test for CDL school before they can drive the vehicle. 

Pre-Employment Truck Driver Drug Test

This test is mandatory for each company you work for after you get a CDL or after you enroll with a new employer. Trucking companies and employment agencies are obliged under law to perform tests on all drivers before allowing them to operate a commercial truck.

Random Truck Driver Drug Tests 

Random drug tests are also mandatory. As of 2020, each employer must perform random drug tests equaling the amount of 50% (or more) of the driver positions available in the company. 

Owner-Operator Random Drug Test

Owner-operators must be within the random drug testing procedure. To do this, they must be a part of a random drug testing consortium and have in place a random testing procedure that includes two or more drivers.

Post-Accident Drug Tests

The FMSCA states that the driver must undergo drug and alcohol tests after crashes. The following the conditions in the following chart provided by the FMSCA must be met:

A chart provided by the FMSCA that contains the information of the types of trucker accidents that require a drug test.
The FMSCA chart for accident types that require a drug test

Trucker Drug Testing Procedure

There are two sampling types used in the trucking industry: urine drug test and hair follicle drug test.

Urine Sample Drug Test

Although drug tests can be performed via both urine and hair follicle samples, the DOT drug tests are exclusively performed on urine samples. Truck drivers are required to go to a collection site to do the test. There, they must verify their identity and provide the urine sample in a specialized container.

The urine undergoes a preliminary test of color and temperature on-site. If it passes, it is split into two sample bottles that are marked against tampering. Each of these two samples is tested with two different methods. Only if both ways return a positive result is the drug test positive.

Hair Follicle Drug Test

These tests are outside DOT drug tests and are performed as a part of an employer’s procedure for additional drug tests. The hair follicle tests are considered more reliable, as hair holds traces of substances from up to 90 days ago.

These tests were pushed to be a part of the DOT drug test in 2015. The bill passed in 2018, and the Department of Health Security has the task of implementing these into the DOT drug testing system.

How to Prepare for a Trucker Drug Test

Even if you have not consumed substances that are a part of the truck driver drug test, the possibility of it turning positive, no matter how unlikely, can be very stressful. 

While the fear of it turning positive if you have not consumed such substances is unjustified, there are slight chances for it to show a false positive with some prescribed medications. 

Therefore, as a part of your preparation for a DOT or employer drug test, make sure you have all prescriptions for the medications you take available. Should the improbable happen, and the test turns in a false positive, you will be required to schedule a follow-up and give proof of your prescriptions.

Final Words

Truck drivers might find drug tests an annoying inconvenience. However, they have been a part of the trucking industry for a reason. 

These tests keep unstable drivers off the road. Operating a large vehicle under the influence presents an even greater danger for other participants in traffic than a car. 

Remember, these tests are with good intentions. Since their implementation and the follow-up amendments of the DOT legislation to be more strict, there has been a statistical decline, with each additional measure, of accidents caused by truck drivers under the influence.