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What Is a Department of Transportation (DOT) Drug Test?

A row of parked white commercial vans.

A DOT drug test is a drug test that is required of anyone who is working under the authority of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and is considered a “safety-sensitive” employee. Many of these employees are those who drive commercial vehicles, who also are typically required to submit to a DOT physical. In most other areas of employment, employee drug testing is administered at the discretion of their employer, rather than the process being subject to federal regulation, as in the case of DOT drug tests. The DOT’s drug screening rules are detailed under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 40.

If an organization does not have the resources available to perform a drug test in compliance with DOT rules, they are still able to hire the individual, but cannot allow them to engage in safety-sensitive tasks such as operating a motor vehicle until the drug test can be performed. The exception to this is safety-sensitive positions within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which individuals are prohibited from holding without the prerequisite drug test, regardless of whether they are engaging in safety-sensitive tasks or not. 

Who Is Subject to a DOT Drug Test?

Safety-sensitive employees are employees whose position is at increased risk to significantly impact their safety or the safety of those around them. In terms of employees that fall under the umbrella of the Department of Transportation, this often applies to commercial vehicle operators. Bureaus that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation include:

Positions that may be considered safety-sensitive include:

  • Operators of commercial vehicles;
  • Operators of large passenger vehicles;
  • Flight crew;
  • Pilots;
  • Ground security coordinators;
  • Crew for maritime commercial vessels;
  • Maintenance workers for hazardous materials;
  • Transportation workers for hazardous materials;
  • Train workers;
  • Signal service workers;
  • Aircraft dispatchers;
  • Train dispatchers;
  • Mechanics;
  • Armed security. 

When Are DOT Drug Tests Required?

DOT drug tests are required of safety-sensitive personnel under the following circumstances:

  • Pre-employment testing: This is drug testing that is done during the onboarding process. 
  • Testing due to reasonable suspicion: This is testing that is done as a result of observations that may indicate that an employee is engaging in drug use during work hours. 
  • Random testing: Drug tests conducted quarterly select a random employee for testing. 
  • Return-to-duty testing: This testing is required before an employee returns to work after a violation of the drug use policy. 
  • Follow-up testing: Follow-up testing is unannounced testing that may occur for the first twelve months after the initial return-to-duty testing. 
  • Post-accident testing: Safety-sensitive employees must submit to alcohol testing within 8 hours of involvement in an accident that falls under certain DOT criteria, and must submit to drug testing within 32 hours of the accident.

DOT-Prohibited Behaviors

DOT drug testing is so highly regulated because industries related to transportation involve such high safety risks. Workers such as vehicle operators could cause serious harm to themselves and people around them with the smallest lapse in judgment or physical failing. As such, they need to be fully present mentally, and physically capable of performing their duties well, thus meriting additional regulations for preventing drug usage among these employees. 

These regulations are meant to supplement comprehensive drug prevention policies in individual workplaces. The following actions are prohibited per DOT regulations:

  • Performing your job duties under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
  • Generalized drug use on or off-duty;
  • Refusal to submit to a DOT drug test. 

What Substances Does a DOT Drug Test Test For?

DOT drug tests test for the following substances:

  • Marijuana;
  • Cocaine;
  • Opiates;
  • Amphetamines;
  • Phencyclidine (PCP).

Prescription medications are allowed under DOT policy, although the employee must be able to provide proof of prescription from their physician, and must not exceed their prescribed dosage. 

All DOT tests utilize a 5-panel urine test. This process requires employees to urinate into a pre-prepared cup, which will then be sent off to a laboratory for processing. Results will typically be ready within 3 to 5 days. Alcohol testing is typically done in conjunction with drug testing. 

What Happens If an Employee Fails a DOT Drug Test?

If a safety-sensitive employee fails a DOT drug test, they will be immediately removed from their position, and will be required to meet with a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). The evaluation from the SAP will help determine whether the employee can continue in their position, or if they may be able to seek out similar work in the future. Depending on the position, the specific organizations and policies involved, and the evaluation of the SAP, the employee could also stand to lose related certifications and licensing. Therefore, any individual who intends to have a successful career associated with the Department of Transportation should strive to follow a drug-free lifestyle.