Alcohol/controlled substances BASIC: Drinking, big rigs don’t mix

Laws banning driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) have been in place for a long time, and the national limit for blood-alcohol-content (BAC) is 0.08%. But for CMV drivers, that limit is an even more stringent 0.02% for alcohol and zero-tolerance for controlled substances, and the consequences of violations here are severe. As part of our series focusing on the FMCSA’s seven BASIC categories, today we’re taking a look at the BASIC that focuses on controlled substances and alcohol consumption by motor carriers.


What the FMCSA requires
Since 1994, the FMCSA and DOT require any CDL-holding driver to comply with drug-testing and breath alcohol tests. That means that testing for the presence of alcohol can occur in any of these settings:

Post-accident — if the driver could have contributed to the accident (as determined by a citation) and for all fatal accidents even if the driver is not cited for a moving traffic violation.
Reasonable suspicion — as observed by any trained supervisor or company official who notices suspicious activity that could indicate misuse of alcohol.
Random — conducted on a random, unannounced basis just before, during, or just after performance of safety-sensitive functions.
Return-to-duty and follow-up — these occur after an individual returns to performing safety-sensitive duties when they’ve previously violated the prohibited alcohol conduct standards. Follow-up tests are unannounced, and at least 6 must be conducted in the first 12 months after a driver returns to duty.

The DOT tests for drugs using a urine sample (which is tested at a laboratory approved by the Department of Health and Human Services). They test for the presence of the following drugs:

Marijuana (THC metabolite)
Opiates (including heroin)
Phencyclidine (PCP) Drivers’ urine samples are divided into a primary and split specimen, with the primary specimen used for the test. If the test reveals the presence of any banned substance, the driver has 72 hours to request a test of the split specimen by another DHHS-approved lab.


What if the test is positive?
Drivers who test positive for either alcohol or controlled substances are banned from safety-sensitive functions. If a driver tests over 0.02% they are banned from safety-sensitive functions for 24 hours; if they test over 0.04% they’re banned from safety-sensitive functions until further testing can occur.

Drivers who are identified as misusing alcohol are referred to a substance abuse professional, who can recommend a course of treatment. Should the driver follow that rehabilitative course, they’re able to return to safety-sensitive work after they’ve met the following conditions:

• evaluation by a substance abuse professional
• compliance with any recommended treatment
• taken a return-to-duty alcohol test (with a result less than 0.02%)
• agreed to unannounced follow-up alcohol tests

The process is a little different if a driver is found to have misused drugs. Those positive tests are sent to a medical review officer (MRO) before being sent to the driver’s employer. The MRO contacts the driver directly to determine if there’s a legitimate explanation for the presence of these drugs, and reviews the rehabilitation options with the driver if their presence is the result of misuse. If a driver is removed from safety-sensitive functions, they’re allowed to return to work if they meet these conditions:

• evaluation by a substance abuse professional
• compliance with recommended rehabilitation
• shown negative results on a return-to-duty drug test
• agreed to follow-up testing to monitor the driver’s continued abstinence from drug use

Drivers should know that positive alcohol or drug tests are only released to the employer and substance abuse professionals. They cannot be released to anyone else without written consent of the driver.


What this means for motor carriers
Motor carriers are responsible for making their employees aware of the rules and rehabilitation opportunities around controlled substances and alcohol. If a driver violates these rules, the resulting violation will stay on the carrier’s SMS record for 24 months.

In 2005, the FMCSA investigated the results of 117,000 random drug and alcohol tests on drivers, and found that 1.7% failed the test for controlled substances and 0.2% failed the breath alcohol test. On the basis of these findings, the FMCSA requires 50% of CMV drivers to undergo random drug testing and 10% of these drivers to take random alcohol tests.

Check back with us next week as we take a look at the next BASIC in our series, cargo-related.