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Dec 07 Written by 

Five Things About Drug Testing For Owner-operators Most People Won't Tell You

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Commercial owner-operators have some loopholes when it comes to drug testing. They need to be disciplined and have self-control. If they're self-employed, how do they meet the Department of Transportation's drug testing requirements?  

We filtered through the Department of Transportation's (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) drug testing information that only applies to owner-operators. We wrote it in our own words so, it's easier to understand. Let's get started.

Are you covered under the Federal DOT-FMCSA drug and alcohol testing regulations?

First things first. Determine if the DOT-FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations apply to you.

  1. Do you operate a truck or bus:
    1. with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 or more lbs.?
    2. designed to carry 16 or more passengers (including the driver)?
    3. of any size that transports hazardous materials which the vehicle is placarded?
  2. Do you need to hold a CDL in the United States or a similar license issued in Mexico or Canada?

Did you answer “yes” to questions 1 and 2 above? If so, this means you’re subject to the DOT-FMCSA drug and alcohol regulations. These are the DOT code of federal regulations in 49 CFR Part 40 and the FMCSA in 49 CFR Part 382. 

Your state may exempt you if you operate farm vehicles. Do you transport farm supplies within 150 miles of the farm? Are the vehicles not used for motor carrier (commercial) purposes? If so, check with your state regulations to be sure.

What is an owner-operator?

Owner-operators are individuals that own and operate their own trucking business. They have a DOT and Motor Carrier (MC) number. Is this you? Good news! As an owner-operator, you have two exemptions. 

Here are two exemptions to the FMCSA drug and alcohol regulations for owner-operators:

  1. 49 CFR Part 382.601 - Draft a policy on the misuse of alcohol and use of controlled substances.
  2. 49 CFR Part 382.603 - Training for supervisors.

Since you don't manage other employees, it’s unnecessary for you to have a drug and alcohol policy. Since you don’t supervise any employees, you don’t have to go through supervisor training. Be careful of scammers trying to scare you into taking their training course. Keep in mind, the DOT will never endorse any type of training program.

How do owner-operator's conduct drug testing?

As an owner-operator, you’re required to contract with a random drug testing consortium. A consortium manages all, or part, of your DOT drug and alcohol testing program. They're an intermediary between you and other service agents. Other service agents include laboratories, collection centers, and Medical Review Officers (MRO).

Owner-operators cannot select themselves randomly so, the DOT started recognizing consortia as the solution. A random consortium is a participant pool combined with several companies. The consortium must meet the random testing rates for the year as a whole.

The consortium will replace the role as the Designated Employer Representative for an employer. "DER" for short. The consortium can only do this for owner-operators. These duties include removing owner-operators from safety-sensitive work after a violation. They must also help return them to work after a violation.

How do you choose a random drug testing consortium?

A good place to find a consortium is the DATIA directory. DATIA stands for the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association. DATIA issues a national accreditation for the administration of drug and alcohol testing programs. This is the gold standard for consortiums.

No consortium is the same and many offer impressive service portfolios besides drug testing. If you have a friend in the industry, referrals are helpful.  The right consortium is going to give you the care and support that your business needs.

Here are a few questions you should ask to qualify a random drug testing consortium:

  • What’s your experience administering drug testing programs?
  • How do you check the quality of your service?
  • If I need help, who do I contact?
  • Do you have a collection site near my location?

When are owner-operators drug and alcohol tested?

Pre-employment 

Before performing safety-sensitive duties, an owner-operator must have a verified negative drug test result. 

Post-accident 

You're required to take a post-accident test under certain conditions. If an accident involves the loss of human life, always conduct a drug and alcohol test. There are other conditions.

If a moving traffic violation issued from the accident involving:

  • Injury to anyone who receives treatment away from the scene.
  • Damage to vehicles requiring towing away from the scene.

Violations issued must be within 8 hours of the accident for alcohol testing. Also, within 32 hours of drug testing. If you weren't able to test within the time frames, document why. 

Table for §382.303 Post Accident Testing
Type of accident involved Citation issued to the CMV driver Test must be performed
i. Human fatality

YES

NO

YES

YES

ii. Bodily injury with immediate medical treatment away from the scene

YES

NO

YES 

NO

iii. Disabling damage to any motor vehicle requiring tow away

YES

NO

YES 

NO

 

Random 

The random testing rates are set for each year by the FMCSA. The FMCSA random testing rates may change based on the DOT/MIS positivity rates. The random selection process must be an unbiased and valid method. For a consortium, this is the rate for the entire pool. You can see the random rates for all DOT agencies on the ODAPC site. 

Reasonable Suspicion 

A reasonable suspicion drug or alcohol test for owner-operators is not likely to happen. This is because it requires physical observations. A representative for a consortium may have a reasonable suspicion to believe that an owner-operator is using drugs or alcohol. They may make a determination to conduct a drug and alcohol test. The determination is specific, contemporaneous, and articulable observations of the driver. This includes the appearance, behavior, or speech of the driver. Anyone who makes these determinations must have undergone the supervisory training requirements.

Return-to-Duty and Follow-Up 

These are for owner-operators to return to work after they have had a drug or alcohol violation. We’ll cover this in the next section.

What happens if an owner-operator has a drug or alcohol violation?

Did someone you know have a positive drug or alcohol test? The simple rule is to avoid all drug and alcohol use but, substance abuse is a harsh reality and people can fall victim.

When an owner-operator has a drug or alcohol violation they should be removed from safety-sensitive duties immediately. Now, you may be asking, "Who's going to know?". Well, in this case, it's the consortia's obligation to report you to the FMCSA. Sooner or later, an official will come to see you. If you want to keep your business going, start the return to duty process. 

How can you return to work after a violation?

For an owner-operator, the consortia should always refer you to get back in operation. To return to work, a driver must complete an SAP evaluation, referral, and treatment process. "SAP" is short for Substance Abuse Professional. Find an SAP and have a face-to-face evaluation. The consortium may already have preferred SAPs available. Pass your return-to-duty test and you can get back to work. The SAP will also recommend follow-up tests that you have to complete. These will be overseen by the consortia. 

To find an SAP near you go to http://www.saplist.com/  

You should have a much better understanding of drug testing for owner-operators. A consortium can be very helpful. They will make sure that you don’t have any drug and alcohol compliance risk. It's important for owner-operators to understand their responsibilities. Stay safe and drug-free on the road. 

If you need help joining a consortium, Contact us. We'll be glad to help.

16224 Last modified on Monday, 02 July 2018
Hagen DeRouen

Co-founder & CEO at Screensoft. 10+ years of experience with employment screening program management and guidance. Certifications including FCRA basic, MRO assistant, and professional collector trainer. 

2 comments

  • Monday, 14 January 2019 16:10 posted by daneil Comment Link

    Where is the exemption located in the regulations that says an owner operator is exempted from having a D&A policy. Please help. Thank you

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  • Wednesday, 06 February 2019 21:45 posted by Jenny Lucas Comment Link

    Thank you! for this useful article. keep it up.

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