Back to Blog

Everything You Need to Know about Driver Drug Testing

Increased recreational drug use has motivated employers to enforce regular drug testing. For drivers, drug testing has become part of employment requirements. For business owners, regularly testing drivers ensure compliance with regulations.

Indeed, periodic drug test for drivers is a critical part of ensuring safety. Negative drug tests assure appropriate compliance with laws and regulations. Moreover, adequate testing helps companies remain compliant with their insurance obligations.

In this article, we are going to discuss the importance of drug testing for employed drivers. We will also discuss the various elements involved in regularly testing—these tests screen drivers for banned or controlled substances. 

General Overview of Driver Drug Testing

Transportation industry employees performing safety-sensitive tasks must ensure a safe environment. Employees such as drivers must abide by transportation safety regulations. These regulations pertain to the safety of co-workers and customers. Therefore, drivers need to follow the rules set by the Department of Transportation. Also, employers can set their own regulations.

General regulations often include mandatory drug and alcohol testing. Testing for banned and controlled substances intends to prevent risks. For example, an intoxicated driver can become a safety risk. Consequently, regulations aim to prevent public safety risks as much as possible.

The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 established driver drug testing. This act required a drug and alcohol-free transportation system. Therefore, all transportation industry employees need to be drug-free. This act required periodic drug and alcohol testing in government agencies.

Testing includes employees in various areas such as:

  • Public transportation
  • Aviation
  • School buses
  • Limousine chauffeurs
  • Delivery van drivers
  • Railroad workers
  • Pipeline 
  • Mining

In 1994, transportation regulations included alcohol testing. Thus, employees conducting sensitive tasks must undergo testing. “Sensitive” duties include:

  • Driving large commercial vehicles
  • Hauling heavy loads
  • Carrying passengers
  • Commercial driving tasks (deliveries, courier, taxi)

Department of Transportation agencies and private companies must perform periodical testing. Failure to comply may lead to penalties. Additionally, testing is a requirement for insurance purposes. Intoxicated drivers involved in accidents are a liability. As such, an insurer may refuse to cover liabilities involving an intoxicated driver. Therefore, employers generally require drivers to undergo testing.

Commercial drivers must comply with specific substance regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) supervises driver testing and education programs. 

These programs intend to eradicate the use of drugs and alcohol during work hours. Also, the FMCSA issues guidelines on substance testing. Regulations stipulate the following drivers must undergo testing:

  • Full-time 
  • Self-employed
  • Occasional 
  • Leased

Any driver operating a commercial vehicle must follow the regulations. These regulations apply to the following situations:

  • Anytime driver operates the vehicle
  • Waiting time during dispatch
  • Waiting time during cargo inspection
  • Waiting time during loading and unloading
  • Waiting time during vehicle repairs

In essence, drivers are subject to regulation during working hours. Drivers must adhere to regulations even when not driving. The following are specific regulations drivers must abide by:

  • The maximum blood-alcohol level is .04 during vehicle operation.
  • Drivers cannot carry any illegal substances (drugs and alcohol) in the vehicle.
  • No consumption of substances during working hours.
  • No consumption of substances for four hours before vehicle operation.
  • No consumption of substances for eight hours after an accident.
  • Drivers cannot refuse to take a drug or alcohol test after an accident.

Drivers must also comply with local and state regulations. Employers should disclose their substance use policies. These policies may include additional testing and education obligations. Employers may require drivers to undergo testing during pre-employment procedures.

For more information, the Department of Transportation’s website contains links. These links have official guidelines. Drivers and employers should consult the area that pertains to them. Getting relevant information will help avoid future issues.

Types of Driver Drug Tests

According to the FMCSA, laboratories perform drug tests. Mainly, drivers must supply urine samples. However, blood samples may also be necessary (post-accident testing). 

Drug testing identifies the following substances:

  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines
  • Opiates
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services page contains useful information. This information focuses on legally permitted substance amounts.

The Department of Transportation does not discourage employers’ additional testing protocols. Employers may also choose to test for other drugs. Employers must notify drivers of the drugs screened in the test.

Drug tests consist of urine samples. Post-accident tests could also involve blood-drawn samples. Alcohol testing generally consists of a breathalyzer test using saliva.

There are three main types of drug tests:

Pre-employment screening

Pre-employment screening involves a standard drug test. This test is part of a new driver’s hiring process. Transfer to a safety-sensitive position also requires drug testing. Alcohol testing is also necessary for this phase.

Drug and alcohol tests are a one-time requirement. Employers may deny applications based on positive test results. Employers may also hire drivers on a probationary basis. Driver on probation must submit subsequent negative tests. They may need to attend additional drug education courses.

Random testing

Random testing consists of unannounced testing. Random tests occur periodically throughout the year. In a random test, employers can select any team member. However, the selection process must be fair and equal. It’s illegal to single out employees.

Employees need to know the consequence of positive testing in writing. Consequences might include:

  • Follow-up testing
  • Transfer to a non-sensitive position
  • Temporary suspension
  • Mandatory participation in drug education programs
  • Possible dismissal

Testing must occur using a scientifically valid laboratory-based method. Employees may refuse to take the test under justified grounds. Employees may also appeal test results. Appeals often require employees to take another test.

Post-accident testing

Drug and alcohol testing may be part of a post-accident investigation. These tests may be necessary for insurance purposes. Moreover, law enforcement may require drug and alcohol tests. These tests must occur within eight hours of an accident.

Post-accident testing takes place based on reasonable cause. Reasonable cause refers to suspicion of possible intoxication. Employers may require further testing in addition to law enforcement. Drivers may appeal test results. They can also request independent testing to clarify their responsibility. 

Employers can legally conduct follow-up testing when:

  • An employee tests positive for drugs or alcohol.
  • An employee refuses to take a test.
  • An employee tests negative but shows signs of possible substance use.

Follow-up testing is random. Random testing could happen up to six times in the next 12 months.

Insurers may require companies to test listed drivers annually. Therefore, drivers should be willing to random annual tests. Some insurers may also require periodic random tests. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require periodic testing. Employers can remove drivers from safety-sensitive functions. Employers may reinstate drivers after a subsequent negative result. 

Refusal to Test

Refusal to test consists of an employee’s non-compliance. Non-compliance includes the following situations:

  • No-show. The employee doesn’t attend their scheduled appointment.
  • Withdrawal. The employee leaves the testing site before completing the test.
  • Adulteration. The sample suffers some time of alteration. This alteration makes it impossible to produce a satisfactory result.
  • Substitution. Sample switching is a common practice. Use of animal urine is also possible.
  • Failure to cooperate. This occurs when employees are unwilling to cooperate during the testing process.

Employees and candidates have the right to refuse a test. Employees can refuse to test in these cases:

  • The testing process is unfair.
  • Employers fail to disclose complete information.
  • Employers coerce employees into testing.
  • Suspicion of unlawful testing practices.

In general, employees should comply with testing. Doing so avoids possible consequences for non-compliance. Then, employees can appeal, citing their reasons. As such, employees should “comply, then complain.” 

In some cases, employees can seek legal counsel. Seeking legal counsel is advisable in a dismissal. Employers should also seek legal counsel before dismissing an employee. 

In essence, refusing a drug test carries the same consequences as failing one. The immediate result is removal from a safety-sensitive job. In other words, the employee must perform a non-safety-sensitive job.

Afterward, an employee must undergo follow-up testing before returning to a safety-sensitive position. The return-to-duty process may include participation in an education program. Employers might also require counseling.

Refusing to test doesn’t count in the following situations:

  • Pre-employment screening
  • Testing for non-safety-sensitive positions
  • Medical conditions requiring controlled medication

Drivers can refuse to take a non-Department of Transportation test. These tests may be part of an employer’s regular protocols. However, employers can suspend drivers suspected of substance abuse. 

Employees may return to work after counseling with a substance abuse professional. The professional must determine the employee’s fitness for duty. The professional may clear the driver for the task. A professional could evaluate the driver is unfit. Consequently, the driver must undergo further counseling.

Employers can reinstate drivers to safety-sensitive positions upon clearance. However, drivers may undergo regular testing during a probationary period. Failure to comply may lead to permanent removal from safety-sensitive parts. 

Positive Test Outcomes

A positive test does not constitute automatic grounds for dismissal. Also, refusing to test does not mean termination of employment. However, the employer may suspend the driver indefinitely. Dismissal requires documented instances of driving under the influence. Non-compliance or repeated tests also serve as justification. 

Criminal negligence may apply when performing safety-sensitive functions under the influence. This situation can lead to arrest and charges against the employee. 

Testing positive or refusing to test has the following consequences:

  • The employee must go through an examination by a substance abuse professional. Employers must provide drivers with a list of qualified professionals. The professional then notifies the employer of their findings.
  • The driver must receive counseling or take a course. The professional may also recommend additional treatment. The driver cannot perform safety-sensitive functions during this time.
  • The employee must undergo another evaluation by the same professional. The professional will then determine fitness for safety-sensitive jobs. 
  • The driver must also provide urine samples for further testing. Alcohol testing requires a breathalyzer test. A negative test result is essential for resuming safety-sensitive functions.

A substance abuse professional might recommend regular follow-up testing to ensure compliance. Drug and alcohol testing may occur on at least six occasions in the next 12 months. Additionally, follow-up testing may include random testing for 60 months.

A subsequent failed test may result in the following:

  • Permanent removal from safety-sensitive positions
  • Termination of employment
  • Suspension of employment for rehabilitation purposes
  • Temporary suspension from all duties
  • Temporary license suspension (driver’s, aviation, railroad)
  • Permanent license suspension (driver’s, aviation, railroad)

Further consequences depend on company policies or collective bargaining agreements. For instance, some employers may enforce an unpaid leave of absence. Then, employees must seek rehabilitation. Also, employers or insurance may not cover substance abuse counseling or treatment.

Costs of appealing positive tests generally fall on the employee. For example, the employer may refuse to cover the cost of follow-up testing. 

Positive test records remain archived as part of employment history. Companies must disclose positive test records to subsequent employers. Therefore, the employee’s test history passes on from one employer to another. Negative test history also follows drivers. 

Some employers may accept a history of negative test results during pre-employment screening. However, a history of positive tests may force drivers to undergo extensive evaluation. 

The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse requires employers to report positive test results. The regulation came into force on January 6th, 2020. This Clearinghouse is a database of drug and alcohol violations. Employers can screen job applicants in this database. 

Companies must also check the database to ensure the accuracy of current employees. Employers need to update their records annually. Only violations must go into the Clearinghouse records. Specifically, employers must report positive test results.

The Department of Transportation encourages employers and co-workers to act proactively. Drivers suspected of substance abuse can attend treatment programs anonymously. Seeking proactive treatment doesn’t count against the employee’s record. 

Attendance to substance abuse counseling or programs is confidential. Employees can also seek treatment without their employer’s knowledge or consent. Therefore, taking proactive action can help eliminate positive test results.

Companies should encourage their staff to report suspect substance abuse. Doing so can help the company act proactively. In such cases, drivers can undergo treatment without having to test. 

Employers often sponsor voluntary counseling and education programs. As such, seeking voluntary help is a great way to reduce unfortunate events.


The Department of Transportation requires companies to test employees for drugs and alcohol. Testing can happen periodically. The most common type of testing is random. As such, employers can perform unannounced tests at their discretion. 

The Department of Transportation mandates annual testing. Nevertheless, companies can test their employees for pre-employment screening purposes. Also, employers may test their employees at any time once on the job. Post-accident testing is necessary, especially for investigation purposes.

A positive test result can lead to consequences. These consequences range from mandatory counseling to removal from safety-sensitive functions. Repeated test violations can lead to termination of employment. 

Refusal to test carries the same consequences as a positive test. Follow-up testing or counseling is necessary before returning to work. Non-compliance can also lead to permanent removal from safety-sensitive positions.

Employees may refuse to test under specific conditions. Nevertheless, suspicion of substance abuse can lead to suspension from safety-sensitive tasks. 

Companies and employees must act proactively. Seeking treatment or counseling before testing positive is advisable. Voluntary treatment and counseling are confidential. Thus, drivers can seek help without their employer’s knowledge or consent.

Qualified substance abuse professionals can provide support and treatment. Companies and employees should seek appropriate counseling when necessary. Companies often sponsor voluntary counseling and treatment.

Main Takeaways

  • The Department of Transportation mandates drug and alcohol testing for safety-sensitive positions. Employers are responsible for conducting tests. Only approve laboratories may process samples.
  • Employees with positive test results must cease safety-sensitive positions immediately. These employees must undergo further testing or treatment. A negative test result is necessary before returning to work. Additionally, companies may require the completion of an education program.
  • Refusal to test consists of non-compliance during testing procedures. Altering and substituting samples constitutes a refusal to test. Failing to cooperate is also a violation of testing procedures. A refusal to test has the same consequences as a positive result.
  • Positive tests don’t constitute automatic grounds for dismissal. Repeated violations can result in termination of employment. Employees are subject to their employer’s penalties for violations. Employees can appeal positive test results. However, employees often have to cover the cost of follow-up testing.
Blog Commercial Everything You Need to Know about Driver Drug Testing

Recent Topics

My Dog Bit Someone: Now What?

When you become a pet owner, you take on a lot of responsibility—not just for your dog, but for the...

Cybersecurity Insurance Providers

Businesses today must exist online. Otherwise, they risk missing out on a broad customer segment. Indeed, companies need to thrive...

Is It Illegal to Sleep in Your Car?

We all know we shouldn’t drive while drowsy. But can you take a nap inside your car? Whether you’re traveling...