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10 Common Errors: Complying with Drug and Alcohol Testing Mandates

Mistakes in complying with federal testing regulations may result in both fines and penalties issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Every year, thousands of motor carriers are cited during FMCSA audits.

May 2009, Work Truck - Feature

by Kathy Close

The drug and alcohol testing rules under the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) are often misunderstood and misapplied by fleet management. 

Error on the part of a motor carrier may result in both fines and penalties issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Every year, thousands of motor carriers are cited during FMCSA audits (compliance reviews) for failing to follow the rules in 49 CFR Part 382. In addition, not clearly understanding the regulations may have legal implications if a driver's rights are violated or someone is injured in an accident involving a driver not tested according to the rules. 

1. Failing to Implement a Program

In 2007, the number one overall acute violation (the most severe in the DOT's view) was failure to implement an alcohol and/or drug testing program. In simple terms, this means operational motor carriers subject to Part 382 did not - for whatever reason - set up a program. 

A motor carrier is subject to DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements if it operates commercial motor vehicles (CMV) that require commercial driver's licenses (CDL). Unlike other areas of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), DOT drug and alcohol testing applies to motor carriers that never leave their home state. 

The requirements also encompass a variety of operations, including: 

For-hire carriers that transport goods on behalf of shippers.

Passenger-carrying vehicles regardless of whether a fee is charged.

Private carriers that haul their own products or equipment. 

2. Defining Drivers

In addition to failing to see they are subject to the rules, carriers often err in deciding who must be tested. 

Any employee who operates or is expected to operate, even occasionally, a vehicle that requires a CDL is defined as a driver for purposes of DOT drug and alcohol testing. This group might include dispatchers, supervisors, mechanics, fill-in drivers, and anyone else who operates a CMV despite his or her job title. 

In addition, DOT testing programs must include drivers from staffing services or owner-operators who drive vehicles under the carrier's U.S. DOT number. Even if the carrier does not sign their paychecks, it is still responsible for their safety compliance. 

Keep in mind Part 382 does not apply to everyone who holds a CDL. Licensing is not the deciding factor. If an employee holds a CDL, but will never be called upon to operate a CDL vehicle, he or she should not be subjected to testing. This includes CDL-holders who operate smaller CMVs (i.e., less than 26,001 lbs., transport no hazardous materials, or carry fewer than 16 passengers). Even though they are "drivers" for purposes of qualification files and hours of service, they are not subject to the drug and alcohol program requirements. 

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