CDL Drug Test Failure & Return-to-Duty Process

Last Updated: Jun 6, 2017

What New Truck Drivers Need To Know About Failing A Drug Or Alcohol Test & The Return-to-Duty Process:

As a condition of being an interstate driver, all CDL holders will be subject to regular DOT drug and alcohol testing.

Any driver failing a drug or alcohol test will be required to complete a return-to-duty process with a DOT-qualified substance abuse professional (SAP).

Having a failed drug or alcohol test on your record will make getting another driving job very, very difficult for at least a year, and probably longer. It cannot be stressed enough that having a failed drug test on your record could make you completely unhireable and ruin your truck driving career.

Failing a drug or alcohol test requires that a driver be removed immediately from performing safety-sensitive functions.

Refusing to submit to a drug or alcohol test, not showing up for a test, or otherwise not being able to produce a sample for testing is usually counted as a failure.

Completion of the return-to-duty process does not obligate any company to hire you back, or hire you at all. Hiring decisions are still solely given to the employers. You will still face an uphill battle to find employment even after jumping through all the hoops, and many companies won't touch you for at least a year or more.

What happens if you fail or refuse a DOT drug or alcohol test?

  1. You will immediately be removed from any DOT-related safety-sensitive functions.
  2. You will not be allowed to return to those duties until you have:
    1. Been evaluated by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP);
    2. Completed any treatment, counseling, or education directed by the SAP; and
    3. Provided a negative drug or alcohol test.
  3. When you do return to a DOT-related safety-sensitive position, you will be subject to unannounced testing for drugs and/or alcohol at LEAST 6 times during the next 12 months and, depending on the evaluation of the SAP , could be subject to this testing for up to 60 months.

See Also: Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs)

If I fail a drug test, how do I get back into truck driving, and what do I need to know about the return-to-duty process?

  • For our purposes, "employee" will also refer to "new employee", and "applicant".
  • After failing a drug or alcohol test and being removed from service, the employer must provide the employee or applicant a list of readily available SAP's at no charge, with names, addresses, and phone numbers. You MUST go through the process with a bonafide, qualified, actual SAP.
  • Employers are not required to provide the SAP evaluation or subsequent treatment. Payment of such is left solely up to the decisions of employers and employees. If you can't afford to pay for the process, and your employer, if any, is not willing to fund it, your only alternatives really are to find a way to finance it, or find another line of work in the meantime until you can.
  • Once an employee chooses a SAP and begins the process, they must complete the process with that SAP. They cannot seek a second opinion or re-start the process, and the SAP's evaluations, decisions, and recommendations are final.
  • The SAP's responsibility is to protect the public interest in safety through professional evaluation, treatment, and follow-up of the employee.

What Does The SAP do?

  • Conduct a face-to-face clinical evaluation to determine what help an employee needs to deal with any problems they are having with drugs or alcohol use.
  • Refer the employee to the right treatment or education program.
  • Conduct face-to-face follow-ups to make sure that the employee is following the treatment or education program and is complying with the recommendations of the SAP.
  • Provide the employer or representative with a follow-up drug and alcohol testing plan.
  • Provide recommendations to the employer and employee for continued treatment and education.

Initial evaluation by SAP:

When you go to a SAP after a DOT drug or alcohol violation:
  • The SAP will conduct a face-to-face clinical evaluation and assessment of each individual.
  • The SAP will recommend a course of action including education and/or treatment which must be successfully completed before an employee is allowed to return to safety-sensitive functions.
  • The SAP is required to assume that the employee has committed a DOT drug or alcohol violation, and is not allowed to take into consideration: In other words, the SAP has only his duties to consider, which don't allow for his or her personal opinions or an employees protests and excuses.
    • Any claim that a test was inaccurate or unjustified;
    • Any employees attempt to downplay the serious of the offense, i.e. medical marijuana; or
    • Any personal opinion that a SAP has about the rationale or justifications for drug testing.
  • It is the driver's responsibility to pay for the SAP's services, and is between the driver and the SAP. Again, if you can't afford it, you'll have to find a way. There really is no other option to get back in.

SAP referral for education and treatment:

The SAP is required to make treatment or education recommendations that will, as much as possible protect the public safety, for every individual who has violated a DOT drug or alcohol regulation and is entering the return-to-duty process in order to return to safety-sensitive functions.

Examples of appropriate education options include self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, community meetings and lectures with verifiable attendance, and actual drug and alcohol education courses.

Treatment options could include in-patient hospitalization, partial in-patient treatment (daytime treatment, not 24hr supervision), and outpatient programs (periodic counseling and support, 1 to 3 times per week).

The employee must follow the SAP's recommendation regarding treatment and education, rather than enter themselves into the program of their choosing, if they are following the return-to-duty process.

It is up to the employee to pay for whatever treatment or education is necessary. The employer, or potential employer, is not obligated to pay for it.

SAP follow-up evaluation:

After the employee completes the prescribed treatment or education program, the SAP will re-evaluate the employee to verify this. This could include obtaining official documentation as well as conferring with the education or treatment program professionals.

The SAP will also conduct a face-to-face interview with the employee to determine that he or she has complied with the SAP's recommendations.

After the SAP has determined that you have complied with the recommendations, he or she will prepare a report of compliance. This will need to be furnished to your employer, and the SAP will usually keep it pending your finding new employment.

The employee cannot be returned to safety-sensitive functions without the SAP verifying compliance and completing a compliance report.

In order to complete the process, you must have a clean return-to-duty drug/alcohol test. This will also usually serve as your DOT-mandated pre-employment test.

Failing a return-to-duty drug test will require you to start the process all over again.

SAP Follow-up Testing Recommendations:

Upon returning to a safety-sensitive position, whether at your old employer or a new one, the SAP will have prescribed follow-up drug testing.

Follow-up testing will require at least 6 unannounced tests in the first 12 months, and the SAP can prescribe additional follow-up testing for up to 48 additional months if it is deemed necessary.

The scheduling and dates of the follow-up testing is up to the discretion of the employer, rather than the SAP.

The required follow-up testing will be directly observed by testing officials to make sure that the employee is not using a prosthetic, substituting samples, or otherwise trying to cheat the test.

An employer cannot require additional testing requirements beyond what the SAP has prescribed.

See Also: DOT’s Direct Observation Procedures

See Also: Subpart O - Substance Abuse Professionals and the Return-to-Duty Process

When is a CDL driver required to submit to drug or alcohol testing?

All employees in the transportation industry who are working in safety-sensitive positions will be subject to drug and/or alcohol testing:

  • Pre-employment
  • Post-accident
  • Randomly
  • For reasonable suspicion
  • Return-to-duty after a failed test
  • Follow-up after return-to-duty

See Also: DOT Drug and Alcohol Policies & Testing

What happens after I give a sample for my drug or alcohol test?

  • Sample will be split into 2 parts, "A" & "B".
  • Laboratory staff will make sure that the sample is not flawed in any way.
  • Only the "A" bottle will be opened and tested. Positive tests will be screened again using a different method.
  • The findings will be reported to the Medical Review Officer (MRO).
  • Samples will be stored for at least 12 months.
  • The MRO will review the paperwork, and in the case of a negative result, will inform the employer.
  • In the case of a positive result, the MRO will conduct an interview with the employee to determine if a legitimate medical reason exists for the positive result.
  • If it is determined that a legitimate medical reason exists for a positive test, the MOR will report a "negative" result to the employer. Otherwise, you will have 72 hours to request a test on the "B" sample from another certified lab.

Do I need to tell my employer about the failed drug or alcohol test and return-to-duty?

You will only need to inform a new employer about the failed test and return-to-duty if you will be performing safety-sensitive duties.

CDL drivers are therefore required to inform their new or potential employer of the failed test. They're going to ask, and they will find out, anyways. Omitting or lying will just get your application thrown in the trash.

Will a failed drug test show up on my DAC report? How will a new employer know that I failed a test?

From HireRight, regarding DAC reports: "Drug and alcohol history and pre-employment drug test results for commercial drivers can be accessed instantly from our database of more than 4 million records." If the company reports employment information to HireRight, and most do, it will show up.

All employers, including potential employers, are required to report failed DOT drug and alcohol testing information yearly. Potential employers are required to request drug and alcohol testing information from previous employers.

You will also be asked on your application about previous failed tests or return-to-duty obligations.

The bottom line is that your new employer WILL find out about your previous test failures.


Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.


Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.


Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.


Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).


Body mass index (BMI)

BMI is a formula that uses weight and height to estimate body fat. For most people, BMI provides a reasonable estimate of body fat. The BMI's biggest weakness is that it doesn't consider individual factors such as bone or muscle mass. BMI may:

  • Underestimate body fat for older adults or other people with low muscle mass
  • Overestimate body fat for people who are very muscular and physically fit

It's quite common, especially for men, to fall into the "overweight" category if you happen to be stronger than average. If you're pretty strong but in good shape then pay no attention.


Drive-A-Check Report

A truck drivers DAC report will contain detailed information about their job history of the last 10 years as a CDL driver (as required by the DOT).

It may also contain your criminal history, drug test results, DOT infractions and accident history. The program is strictly voluntary from a company standpoint, but most of the medium-to-large carriers will participate.

Most trucking companies use DAC reports as part of their hiring and background check process. It is extremely important that drivers verify that the information contained in it is correct, and have it fixed if it's not.


Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.


Operating While Intoxicated


When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

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