Holders of commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs) are required by federal law to be tested for drug use as a condition for hiring. Employers oversee the testing.

Since 1991, with the passage of the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act, the drivers of all commercial vehicles – who by definition hold a commercial drivers’ license (CDL) – are required to be tested for drug and alcohol consumption under the following circumstances:

  1. Pre-employment (pre-employment drug testing for controlled substances only, not alcohol)
  2. Reasonable suspicion (when behavior suggests there may be active use)
  3. Post-accident (if a citation was issued, if there was a fatality or bodily injury, and if a vehicle was disabled such that it had to be towed away from the scene of the accident)
  4. Randomly (random drug testing on an ongoing basis among all holders of the CDL, including in sole-proprietor drivers)
  5. Return-to-duty (after failing a test)
  6. And follow-up (various circumstances)

And to be clear, this means anyone and everyone holding a CDL who does or could operate a commercial vehicle as a part of his or her job responsibilities. That includes employees of the largest long-haul freight companies, independent drivers and even volunteers, such as drivers of vans affiliated with houses of worship.

Reasons for drug and alcohol testing

With specific regard to pre-employment, the rationale should be clear: no driver should be a user of controlled substances and also responsible for operating a heavy vehicle on America’s roads and highways. Rather than address a substance abuse issue after a driver begins employment it’s better that this be done in advance. Drivers who cannot refrain from drug use in the hiring process should not be given this responsibility.

Why is alcohol use not tested in advance of employment? Alcohol can be detected in one’s urine for about 80 hours and in a hair follicle for up to three months. But alcohol consumption is legal off the job such that a pre-employment test – particularly the more aggressive (and expensive) application of a hair follicle procedure – would yield very little useful information. The various drugs tested for – marijuana metabolites/THC, cocaine metabolites, amphetamines, including methamphetamine and MDMA, opiates (including codeine, heroin and morphine) and pencyclidine (PCP) – can be detected between one and 30 days later in urine.

Inform employees and candidates that substance testing is required

The responsibility for testing is on the employer and individuals who are self-employed in contract work. Employers need to make sure driver applicants are fully informed of the commitment and requirement to have a workplace free of controlled substances and alcohol consumption the job. This responsibility to inform typically is done while advertising for the position and as an attachment to a driver application form. Implicit in submitting an application a driver is saying he or she will adhere to the policy and submit to testing under all required circumstances.

Also, an employer should make clear that the Testing Act, administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, will require random testing throughout the course of their employment. This fully underscores the all-encompassing nature of a drug- and alcohol-free workplace for commercial license holders.

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