Looking Both Ways
A Look Both Ways into Drug and Alcohol Testing for the Commercial Truck Driver.
This post of Looking Both Ways is about the Federal Regulations contained in 49CFR Part 382 – Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing. Back in the mid 1990’s the government mandated drug and alcohol testing of commercial drivers. The purpose was to help prevent accidents and injuries resulting from the misuse of alcohol and/or the use of controlled substances by drivers of commercial motor vehicles. Our government actually acted with straight forward thinking and good common sense. Surely mandatory drug and alcohol testing has had a positive effect in reducing accidents in the trucking industry.
Drivers subject to the regulations
Within the expediting industry are drivers that operate cargo vans, Sprinter vans, Non-CDL straight trucks, CDL straight trucks and also drivers that drive semi-tractors. What regulations apply to which drivers? This can be pretty confusing even to Safety professionals. If you drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as defined under Part 382 then you are subject to the DOT Alcohol and Controlled Substance testing regulations. A very basic definition of a CMV for our use is any truck over 26,000 pounds or that transports placardable quantities of hazardous materials. Please consult your Safety Regulations book in part 382.107 for all actual definitions. Many Carrier companies adopt their own company policies such as requiring drivers of vehicles over 10,000 pounds, or even all drivers regardless of vehicle weight (like cargo vans under 10,000 pounds) to take a pre-employment drug screen. A Carrier’s company policy may subject all drivers to random testing. The company policy is not be misrepresented as a DOT regulation. We are looking only at Federal Regulations. Please consult your company driver manual for the policies and procedures for your carrier company.
When are drivers tested?
Drivers subject to the Federal regulations are tested for controlled substances in the following circumstances:
Â· Random testing
Â· Reasonable suspicion testing
Â· Return to duty testing* and;
Â· Follow-up testing*
*Many companies do not conduct Return to Duty testing or Follow-up testing as the driver is terminated at the point of a positive result.
What drugs are drivers tested for?
Under the Federal guidelines drivers are tested for the following five drugs or classes of drugs:
Â· Marijuana metabolites
Â· Cocaine metabolites
Â· Opiate metabolites and
What if you take prescription medication? Taking prescription medications as prescribed
to you by your doctor will not cause you to test positive for a DOT regulated
drug test. The government implemented
procedures require the Medical Review Officer to question drivers regarding
prescription drug use prior to erroneously reporting a positive result to the
What is considered a positive?
Â· Alcohol .02<>.04 – off 24 hours from performing safety sensitive functions
Â· Alcohol >.04
Â· NIDA-5 – positive for one or more of the 5 drugs tested for
Â· Refusal to test
What constitutes “Refusal”?
Refusal occurs if you fail to provide enough breath or saliva for alcohol testing, or urine for controlled substance testing, or leave the collection facility without completing the required testing. You would need a valid medical reason why you could not provide sufficient saliva, breath or urine to avoid a refusal. Your reason why you could not provide breath, saliva or urine for testing may not be acceptable or within DOT guidelines. Do everything in your power to complete the test. Clearly obstructing the testing process also constitutes a refusal.
Consequences for positive results and what to do.
You tested positive for controlled substances - a foolish choice now becoming a life and career changer. The Medical Review Officer (MRO) from the drug collection facility calls questioning you attempting to discover any reasons you would test positive for Marijuana (or any of the other 4 drugs on the list). Your response is “I was in a car with five of my buddies who were smoking pot....” The correct way to handle this is to honestly admit that you had smoked some weed last week – something you most likely had not done in years. Believe it or not, you actually have to inhale to test positive for pot.
The doctor issues the positive result to your carrier company. The carrier will either terminate you or assist you with a Return to Work Program. Carriers may associate Return to Work with exposure to risk, so many choose to terminate the driver.
You will choose one of two choices or paths to follow:
Â· The MRO will refer you to a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). The SAP will interview you to determine a plan of action for you to follow in order to return to work. Many times this includes group meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous, classes and other support groups. You attend the meetings and classes, submit to return to duty testing and then are subjected to follow up testing. Do it all successfully and you have your job back and stay in the industry. Should the carrier offer a Return to Work program, you have your job back at that carrier. If the carrier terminated your position as a result of the positive, you are now relegated to seek employment from other carriers. Good luck.
Option two is you choose not to follow the
advice or program of the SAP. You sit
out of a driving position for two years minimum. The chance that you may be able to hide a
positive drug screen result is now being reduced because the government is
establishing a National Clearinghouse which will hold records for all reported
positive controlled substance and alcohol tests. Remember too that most reputable companies
hire applicants with only “recent” driving experience. A gap in your driving history prompts
What can you do to protect your CDL and your career?
Â· Don’t do illegal drugs. If you take illegal drugs, please seek professional help and seek a different profession. If you are with friends that are doing illegal drugs keep the professional truck driver head on your shoulders and consider removing yourself from that situation.
Â· If and when you consume alcohol, prior to consuming alcohol call your dispatch and take yourself out of service. Do not drink in your truck. Allow sufficient time for the alcohol to leave your system prior to driving. See the regulations regarding the definition of alcohol use.
Â· Proceed immediately to the testing facility if called or required to submit to testing.
Â· Be sure to take forms of Identification with you to the testing facility.
sure to remind the person at the collection facility that you are there for DOT
What not to do
Â· Don’t walk out of a collection facility – that constitutes a refusal to test.
Â· Do not gargle with alcohol based mouth wash immediately prior to an alcohol test.
Â· Do not transport ANY alcohol in your truck except that manifested on a bill of lading in a shipment. Do not even have empty containers from alcohol in your truck. Yes, drivers who recycle cans and have had boxes of empty beer cans in truck intended to recycle have been cited under the regulations. In the United States alcohol is prohibited in a CMV unless it is part of the manifested load being transported.
Â· Do not take prescription medications that are not prescribed to you directly. In other words don’t take your wife’s prescription pain pills for the ache you have in your back.
Â· Think that you can legally smoke marijuana and drive a truck because you reside in a state with Medical Marijuana laws.
Â· Do not inhale.
Tricks that don’t work:
Â· Using urine of others. The temperature of the urine specimen must be in a specific range.
Â· Use of masking agents. Many of the “supplements” or “kits” sold at the local “head shop” can cause the specimen to test as “Negative Dilute” and can change Creatine levels prompting for re-tests.
Â· Excuses. The excuses you come up with might have worked with your mom, but won’t stand a chance with a Medical Review Officer or a Substance Abuse Professional.
The regulations really are intended to protect you the driver because:
Â· The Regulations test for 5 drugs and the 5 drugs only
Â· Assure your confidentiality
Â· Call for the use of certified labs only
Thanks to the Pat Travers Band for some great music. I was listening to the Smokin’ Whiskey song on YouTube as I was writing parts of this blog. Sounded just as good today as it did in my youth. Just remember, testing positive after snortin’ whiskey or drinkin’ cocaine can result in “boom, boom – out go the lights” on your driving career.
Disclaimer: This blog is NOT intended to give legal advice, nor be a substitute for any training required by the Regulations.
Till the next blog, Thank you drivers for all you do!. Please be safe!
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©John Mueller, CDS, COSS