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Drug & Alcohol Testing for Commercial Drivers: Driver & Company Responsibilities

By: Allan M. Siegel

In a recent blog, we discussed federally mandated medical exams that are designed to ensure truck and bus drivers with Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) are fit and healthy enough to operate commercial vehicles. As we mentioned, ensuring drivers do not have medical conditions that impact their ability to safely control large vehicles, which can transport both cargo and people, is critical to public safety. In the same vein, ensuring those drivers do not have substance abuse problems or take medications that increase their crash risks is equally important.

Both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) require CDL holders and employers to abide by drug and alcohol testing regulations. These rules establish procedures for testing, how often tests must be performed, and the substances tested for. The following are all subject to these rules:

  • Employers of CDL holders
  • CDL drivers who operate on public roads
  • Interstate and intrastate commercial vehicles
  • Local, state, and federal governments (i.e. public transit)
  • Civic organizations

What do tests identify?

Under drug and alcohol testing rules, drivers are tested for substances that can negatively impact their ability to safely operate motor vehicles, including:

  • Alcohol (.04 BAC or greater)
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Amphetamines and methamphetamine
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

CDL drivers are generally allowed to use prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs provided that they meet requirements, including having a valid prescription, using the prescribed dosage, and using them reasonably in relation to their duties. There are exceptions, however, where the type of medication may be prohibited. Ultimately, drivers have a duty to ensure that if and when they do take medications, they do so lawfully, reasonably, and in a way that does not endanger others.

When are tests performed?

Employers, including trucking companies and commercial bus operators, have a duty to appropriately test drivers as conditions of hiring and continued employment, as well as during other various times:

  • Hiring – Employers may only hire and allow a CDL driver to operate commercial vehicles when they receive negative drug tests prior to employment.
  • After an accident – Commercial drivers must be tested for drugs and alcohol after accidents involving death, injuries resulting in immediate medical treatment, and vehicle damage that requires a vehicle to be towed.
  • Random testing – Employers must randomly test CDL drivers for drugs and alcohol periodically throughout the year from a random testing selection pool.
  • Reasonable suspicion – Employers have a duty to immediately test CDL drivers who appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Returning to duty – Drivers who have previously tested positive, refused a test, or committed other testing violations must be tested, while observed, before they resume driving duties. These drivers must also be tested regularly during observed follow-ups, at a minimum of 6 times per year, for as many as four years.

As accident lawyers who have handled numerous truck accident, bus accident, and commercial vehicle accident cases across the DC metro area, our legal team understands that drug and alcohol issues should always be explored following injury-causing accidents. When there is evidence to support a driver was under the influence, that employers failed in some way to adequately monitor and test drivers using controlled substances or medications, or that they failed to respond appropriately when required by law, we work diligently to highlight negligence and hold the appropriate parties accountable for their failures.

Assessing drug and alcohol issues, as well as any other safety violations, is a critical part of handling personal injury and wrongful death claims arising from commercial vehicle wrecks. It is also a task that demands meticulous investigation, an understanding of rules and regulations, and the insight needed to establish when negligence takes place.

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is readily available to help victims explore their rights, the cause of their accidents, and potential liability after being harmed through no fault of their own. If you have questions about a possible case, contact us for a FREE consultation.