FMCSA Drug Testing: How to Keep Your Fleet Compliant

July 24, 2020

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Key Takeaways

The FMCSA requires mandatory drug and alcohol testing for every commercial motor vehicle driver. 50% of your fleet’s drivers must be randomly tested for controlled substances and 10% must be randomly tested for alcohol every calendar year. Violating the FMCSA’s alcohol and drug testing regulations can result in fines of $3,174 per driver, an investigation, and possibly having your operations shut down indefinitely. In this guide, learn about FMCSA drug testing requirements and how to keep your fleet compliant.

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In 2000, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) established the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The agency’s goal is to reduce commercial motor vehicle (CMV) accidents and fatalities in the trucking industry and other industries that operate CMVs. Since then, the FMCSA and DOT have outlined safety requirements for CMV operators holding a commercial driver’s license (CDL). These safety regulations include rules on drug and alcohol testing.

The FMCSA’s drug and alcohol rules are in place to protect CDL drivers and passenger cars on the highway. Fleet managers play a crucial role in this mission by conducting regular substances testing for new and existing CDL drivers. Failure to comply with FMCSA drug and alcohol testing regulations can lead to costly consequences and a negative safety rating—which is why it’s so important for fleet managers to understand these regulations.

Read on to learn about the most important drug and alcohol testing rules from the FMCSA and how to maintain compliance across your fleet.

Why does the FMCSA have drug alcohol testing rules?

Reducing the number of substance-related commercial motor vehicle crashes is one of the FMCSA’s primary objectives. In 2017, 2.5% of large truck drivers involved in a fatal crash had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of over 0.08%, indicating intoxication. Drug and alcohol testing requirements are meant to help enforce FMCSA regulations related to safe operation of commercial motor vehicles.

What are the FMCSA regulations for drug and alcohol testing?

Here are the most important drug and alcohol testing rules from the FMCSA and DOT agency that fleet managers should understand.

1. Random alcohol and drug testing

Under DOT regulation 382.305, all CDL employers must comply with a minimum annual percentage rate for random testing. As of January 1, 2020, the DOT set the random drug testing rate at 50%, and the random alcohol testing rate at 10% for motor carriers. This means that 50% of your fleet’s average number of driver positions should be subject to random testing for controlled substances throughout the calendar year. Additionally, 10% must be randomly tested for alcohol use during the calendar year.

Every full-time CDL employee in your fleet who performs safety-sensitive functions must be placed in a random testing pool. According to the FMCSA, a safety-sensitive employee is any driver “who operates a commercial motor vehicle in commerce in any state.”

How to conduct random alcohol and drug testing

Everyone in your random testing pool must have an equal chance of being selected for testing in every selection period. Here are some tips for random alcohol and drug testing:

  • Test quarterly. The FMCSA recommends that fleet managers regularly conduct random testing. Quarterly testing helps meet the FMCSA’s required annual random testing rate. 

  • Use a scientifically-valid method of selection. Picking names out of a hat or rolling dice is not acceptable. Everyone in the pool must have an equal chance of being selected during each selection period. The FMCSA recommends using a random-number table or a computer-based random number generator that’s traceable to a specific employee.

  • Maintain an element of surprise. This is crucial for a successful drug and alcohol testing program. While you may want to conduct random tests quarterly, the exact time and day should remain unpredictable. This ensures that employees in safety-sensitive functions know they must always follow drug and alcohol rules while on the job.

  • Create repeatable processes and procedures. Where are your collection sites? How are drivers notified about what steps to take next, especially when they’re on the road? Make sure to create repeatable procedures, so the process is always transparent and fair.

Random testing is one of the best tools you can use to discourage your drivers from substance use and quickly identify employees who pose a risk to themselves and others. You can find additional testing resources on the FMCSA website.

2. Reasonable suspicion testing

If you suspect a driver has violated the FMCSA’s alcohol or drug prohibitions, as an employer, it is your responsibility to request that the employee be tested. You must also document your observations of the driver in question when requesting an alcohol test on reasonable suspicion. 

Reasonable suspicion is based on firsthand observation of “specific, contemporaneous, articulable appearance, speech, body odor, or behaviors indicative of alcohol use.” Only a supervisor or company manager who has completed a two-hour training course on identifying symptoms of alcohol- or drug-related impairment can require an employee to submit to testing. You cannot conduct reasonable suspicion testing based on third-party evidence or observations brought to your attention.

CDL drivers with a positive test result cannot remain on duty. Before drivers return to performing safety-sensitive functions, they must successfully finish the return-to-duty process with a DOT-certified substance abuse professional. 

3. Additional testing circumstances

Aside from random and reasonable suspicion testing, the FMCSA requires that fleet managers administer controlled substances and alcohol tests under several other circumstances:

  • Pre-employment: Any prospective employee with a CDL must undergo testing for controlled substances and receive a negative test result to qualify for employment. Pre-employment checks help you identify drivers who might pose a liability to your fleet before they arrive. Drivers returning from a layoff (who have not been tested in the last 30 days) are also required to receive testing. By using the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse for pre-employment vetting, fleet managers don’t have to spend time getting in contact with previous employers for information about drug or alcohol testing.  

  • Post-accident: Drivers involved in certain commercial motor vehicle (CMV) accidents, as defined by the FMCSA, are subject to drug and alcohol testing. Specifically, on-duty drivers involved in a fatal accident (or a non-fatal accident involving a moving traffic violation) must submit to post-accident testing. Post-accident testing requirements help the FMCSA document the annual number of alcohol- and drug-related crashes involving a CMV. 

  • Return-to-duty: After a licensed medical review officer (MRO) uploads a driver’s positive test result to the Clearinghouse database, the driver must follow the FMCSA’s return-to-duty procedure to perform safety-sensitive functions again. This multi-step process involves an evaluation from a DOT-qualified substance abuse professional (SAP) and successful completion of the prescribed treatment. Drivers must also pass a drug or alcohol test and comply with follow-up random testing. Once the driver has completed their return-to-duty process, their updated test results will also be submitted to the Clearinghouse database. 

  • Follow-up: Return-to-duty testing doesn’t conclude when the driver passes their first direct observation test. Upon returning to work, the driver must submit to another six random tests over 12 months. 

As an employer of CDL drivers, you must ensure the administration of these drug and alcohol tests. Failing to begin or continue the return-to-duty process and follow-up testing for drivers who violated FMCSA’s drug and alcohol prohibitions could lead to a penalty of up to $15,040

What is the BAC limit for CDL drivers?

Most states have established that driving at a BAC level of 0.08% or above is driving under the influence. The FMCSA holds an even stricter BAC standard for commercial driver’s license holders. Drivers who operate a commercial motor vehicle with a minimum BAC of 0.04% violate FMCSA alcohol regulations. They risk suspension of their license, in addition to a tarnished driving record.

What is the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse?

At the beginning of 2020, the FMCSA launched the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse is a comprehensive online database containing a five-year history on all drivers with substance abuse violations. It was created to help motor carriers and the federal government keep track of commercial motor vehicle drivers who failed an alcohol or drug test. 

By law, medical review officers (MROs), FMCSA-regulated employees, substance abuse professionals, and other service agents must report positive tests to the Clearinghouse. Violations are recorded for five years or until the commercial motor vehicle driver completes the return-to-duty process. The online database also contains records of refusals to submit to testing.

As of January 6, 2020, the Clearinghouse requires all interstate and intrastate motor carriers to conduct pre-employment screening and annual driver checks. It gives fleet managers unprecedented transparency into prospective employees’ violation records, ensuring that only the safest drivers join your fleet. 

Now, motor carriers are required to use the Clearinghouse to conduct pre-employment and annual driver checks. You can register for the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse on the official Clearinghouse website.

How does the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse create safer highways?

Before the Alcohol and Drug Clearinghouse, fleet and hiring managers had to contact previous employers to learn about violations. Determining clearance for safety-sensitive functions was difficult and unreliable. Reaching out to a lengthy list of employers individually was time-consuming and often failed to give an accurate picture of driver history. The Clearinghouse’s secure, digital records make pre-employment screening more efficient and leave little room for error. Fleet managers can now meet federal alcohol and drug regulations without the headache of contacting every prospective employee’s previous employer. 

In addition, the Clearinghouse deters dishonest drivers from hiding previous drug and alcohol violations by requiring submissions of all positive test results and test refusals. This also prevents suspended drivers from “job-hopping” or circumventing the return-to-duty process. (This is when drivers in violation will wait a few weeks after failing a test and pass a new test elsewhere.) The database’s transparency gives drivers an incentive to follow the FMCSA’s required rules for returning to work after a substance violation.

What happens if you violate the FMCSA’s alcohol and drug testing regulations?

If fleet managers fail to implement a DOT-compliant testing program, the consequences are costly. Knowingly employing a driver who did not complete necessary testing or lacking a consistent testing schedule can result in hefty fines up to $3,174 per driver. An acute violation could lead to a penalty of up to $15,040 per driver. Some fleets can even be forced to shut down if the FMCSA deems the motor carrier “unfit” for operations.

The DOT can also increase your fleet’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) scores if your drivers repeatedly violate the federal standards for alcohol and drug use in the workplace. Crashes due to driver-related factors, including driving under the influence, also factor into your “Controlled Substances/Alcohol” CSA rating. A higher score on the 0-100 scale indicates unsafe operations. You could be subject to an FMCSA investigation if your score rises above the FMCSA’s defined intervention threshold.

FMCSA Intervention Thresholds for Controlled Substances/Alcohol CSA Score

Type of carrier

Intervention threshold

Passenger carriers


Hazardous material carriers


General carriers


Using the new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database to ensure that you’re only hiring the safest drivers can improve your CSA score. Even before the Clearinghouse became mandated for use during the hiring process, motor carriers who used the FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Program lowered their crash rate by 8% on average.

How can you maintain compliance with FMCSA drug testing rules?

To stay compliant, you must maintain a comprehensive drug and alcohol testing program and conduct regular pre-employment screenings with the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. You must also require all fleet supervisors to complete the mandated supervisor training. This training teaches supervisors how to identify behaviors and circumstances that could constitute a referral for reasonable suspicion testing.

FMCSA drug testing rules are just one part of compliance. For HOS, driver safety, and more, Samsara’s complete fleet management platform can help take the stress out of keeping your fleet compliant with FMCSA regulations. Real-time GPS tracking and AI Dash Cams can give you direct insight into harsh events and drivers who could be a cause for concern. Paperless record-keeping also streamlines DOT compliance by keeping your most important records (including HOS and DVIRs) just a click away.

See how Samsara can help you stay compliant with FMCSA regulations today. Reach out to our team for a free trial or demo today.


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