When a CDL Fails a Drug Test, He Is Prohibited From Doing More Than You Think

Simply put, when a CDL driver fails a drug test, he must be immediately removed from performing safety-sensitive functions (i.e., driving CMVs) until successful completion of the return-to-duty process with a DOT-qualified substance abuse professional, and a negative Return-to-Duty drug and/or alcohol test, as required by the FMCSA.

But what does this actually mean?

Well, let’s discuss the terms in detail to better understand the implications. There are a few key words here that we need to pay attention to – CDL driver, safety-sensitive functions (CMVs), DOT drug test, RTD process.

CDL Licenses and DOT Drug Testing Requirements

Under FMCSA, there are several classes of CDL licenses.

A Class A or Class B license allows a driver to operate a vehicle that meets these criteria. If a driver operates (or is available to operate) one of these, then s/he must be in a drug testing program.

Other classes of CDL allow a driver to drive a vehicle rated for 10,001 lbs or more. They must meet all of the DOT requirements, but are not subject to DOT drug testing.

What they drive (not the class of CDL), determines whether they are subject to drug testing.

Interestingly, if a CDL driver who is subject to drug testing fails or refuses a drug or alcohol test, s/he is not only disqualified from performing safety sensitive work for these vehicles, but also from operating any vehicles that require any class of CDL. Effectively, his CDL is suspended until the driver completes the RTD process.

What Are Safety-Sensitive Functions?

FMCSA defines safety sensitive work as:

Safety-sensitive function means all time from the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time he/she is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work. Safety-sensitive functions shall include:

(1) All time at an employer or shipper plant, terminal, facility, or other property, or on any public property, waiting to be dispatched, unless the driver has been relieved from duty by the employer;

(2) All time inspecting equipment as required by §§ 392.7 and 392.8 of this subchapter or otherwise inspecting, servicing, or conditioning any commercial motor vehicle at any time;

(3) All time spent at the driving controls of a commercial motor vehicle in operation;

(4) All time, other than driving time, in or upon any commercial motor vehicle except time spent resting in a sleeper berth (a berth conforming to the requirements of § 393.76 of this subchapter);

(5) All time loading or unloading a vehicle, supervising, or assisting in the loading or unloading, attending a vehicle being loaded or unloaded, remaining in readiness to operate the vehicle, or in giving or receiving receipts for shipments loaded or unloaded; and

(6) All time repairing, obtaining assistance, or remaining in attendance upon a disabled vehicle.

Definition of CMV

A CMV (Commercial Motor Vehicle) includes vehicles that do not require their drivers to drug test. Drug testing is required for 26,001+ lbs or more. But a CMV is defined as 10,001 lbs or more.

Here is the exact definition of a CMV:

Commercial motor vehicle means a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property if the vehicle

(1) Has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), whichever is greater; or

(2) Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 or more pounds), whichever is greater; or

(3) Is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or

(4) Is of any size and is used in the transportation of materials found to be hazardous for the purposes of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (49 U.S.C. 5103(b)) and which require the motor vehicle to be placarded under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR part 172, subpart F).

DOT Drug Testing

A failed DOT drug or alcohol test has meaningful implications for both the driver and the employer. In short, DOT drug testing is serious business. Here are some cases when the DOT drug testing is mandatory:

After a failed (or refused) drug  or alcohol test, getting back to work as a CDL driver is a challenging and time-consuming process.

Return to Duty Process after a Failed DOT Drug Test

Drivers with drug or alcohol violations must complete the DOT return-to-duty process before returning to safety-sensitive duties. Here are the Return-to-duty program steps (49 CFR Part 40 Subpart O):

  • The driver must stop driving effectively immediately.
  • The employer refers them to a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).
  • The SAP evaluates the driver and prescribes a course of treatment or education for their drug use and violation.
  • After being evaluated, the driver must pass a drug test called a “return-to-duty” drug and/or alcohol test to be able to perform safety-sensitive work again. This test is directly observed to deter cheating.
  • Once the driver has successfully returned to work, s/he is subject to ongoing follow-up testing. These tests are directed by the employer and performed without notice and directly observed. Drivers must pass at least six of these tests within a year, and follow-up testing can last as long as five years. If the driver fails any of these tests, the return-to-duty process will have to start over.
  • The regulations are silent about who pays for treatment and follow up testing and many employers make the offending employee responsible for the cost.

Failed Drug Tests and FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

The only mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is to remove from public roads commercial drivers who have tested positive for drugs and/or alcohol. This is the reason why failed drug tests, as well as refusals to test, are added to the driver’s record in the FMCSA Clearinghouse’s database. Resolved violations remain for five years after the violation occurred.

Employers are required to query the Clearinghouse database before new hires can perform safety-sensitive work,  and regularly during the course of employment. This helps employers find out whether the driver has been prohibited from driving because he failed or refused a DOT drug or alcohol test. It should be noted that positive or refused drug or alcohol tests under the regulations of agencies other than FMCSA are NOT reported to the Clearinghouse.

Final Words

Violations of the drug or alcohol regulations have severe repercussions. Like we mentioned before, the consequences could be far more serious than you might think. This is why they should never be taken lightly under any circumstances.

Your drivers should have an additional motivation to pass DOT drug tests if they are aware of the potential implications associated with failing such tests. If they fail a drug test, their career as a CDL driver might be placed on hold for several months or even years.

Make sure to stay compliant with DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements with the help of a reliable and trustworthy company. InOut Labs can help you develop an FMCSA, DOT-compliant drug testing program based on 6 key requirements: written policy, supervisor training, employee assistance, employee education, testing and FMCSA Clearinghouse.