Last updated: March 20, 2023
The Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees the trucking industry by regulating the way it operates at every level. That said, if you own a trucking company, you know it’s important to hire safe drivers. And, if you’re an owner-operator it’s likely that you have an impeccable driving record.
The DOT mandates that employers randomly drug test all drivers throughout the year. It reduces the possibility of having impaired truckers out on the road.
Don’t use throwing darts or drawing names out of a hat as your method to choose the names though. It’s not allowed because it could easily be rigged. Instead, many companies implement random drug testing by using either a third-party administrator (TPA) or a consortium.
The thinking behind random drug testing is two-fold. It presents the opportunity to weed out the drivers who have alcohol or substance abuse problems. That’s the most likely reason that someone would risk driving while under the influence of something.
It also works as a deterrent. The possibility of being called off the road at any given moment to take a drug test is enough to stop most people from ever considering using an option.
TPA or consortium
Most large trucking companies prefer to use a third-party administrator to handle their drug testing programs. The TPA conducts all of the company’s drug testing and handles the documentation process following guidelines presented to them by the individual company.
Employers have the option of using a TPA or joining a consortium so they may use a TPA for pre-employment, post-accident, or reasonable suspicion drug testing and register with a consortium for random drug testing.
A consortium is a group of business owners that submit the name of their employees who must be randomly drug tested. Consortiums use software to hold the pool of names and periodically draw a predetermined number of them. The consortium notifies those employees that they have a drug test to take.
How does random testing work?
Currently, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that 50% of a consortium pool be tested for drugs and 10% for alcohol annually. The same ratio applies to companies that use TPAs.
It’s important to keep the list of names current. If your C/TPA doesn’t reach out periodically to check to see if they have changed, it would be wise to get in the habit of notifying them monthly or even as someone leaves or comes onboard.
All eligible drivers are entered into the drawing—even if their name had just come up for the last drawing. Potentially, there is the possibility that someone will have to test consecutively, but it’s not likely. Still, it does seem like some names are drawn more frequently than others. And, of course, the flip side of that is that some names may never come up at all.
It’s called “the luck of the draw.”
You’re responsible for their work
There aren’t any DOT qualifications for a consortium or TPA to become a part of the drug testing process. You should document your specific requirements and provide them for the entity you choose to handle random drug testing.
It’s understood that a consortium or TPA is aware of DOT drug testing regulations and complies with them, however, it’s your responsibility as the employer to assure that fact. Again, it’s the employer’s responsibility for seeing that you remain in compliance.
It’s important to do your research and hire a reputable agent. Errors made by C/TPAs can result in civil penalty actions being taken against your company for noncompliance.
C/TPAs are responsible for knowing the following information according to FMCSA guidelines:
- Service agents must comply with DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements
- Tasks performed by service agents for an employer
- When a C/TPA may act as an intermediary in the transmission of drug and alcohol testing information to employers
- The functions C/TPAs must perform when administering testing
- The records that C/TPAs can receive and maintain
- Confidentiality requirements
- Governing principles between Medical Review Officers (MROs) and other service agents
- Limitations concerning:
- Transmission of Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) reports
- Reasonable suspicion, post-accident, return-to-duty, and follow up testing
- Driver refusals for owner-operators and other self-employed individuals who fail to test after being notified to report
There isn’t a regulation requiring that employers and C/TPAs have a written contract between them. Still, it’s a good idea to draw one up. There are so many regulations pertaining to DOT drug testing that having some type of agreement in place ensures that each party understands who is responsible for each requirement.
It also provides a record of compliance.
Choosing a consortium
The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) issues a national accreditation for the administration of drug and alcohol testing programs. All things considered, it is the gold standard for consortiums.
Maybe you’d rather ask a friend in the industry which consortium they use and follow suit.
However you determine where to start, it’s a good idea to ask a few questions before signing on the dotted line.
- What experience do you have administering drug testing programs?
- How do you check the quality of your service?
- Who do I contact if I need help?
- Do you have a collection site near me?
Is a consortium the choice for you?
Drug testing is a mandated task for employers operating under the DOT and failing to do so puts you in line to receive fines that begin at the rate of $1,000 per day.
Lots of trucking companies simply don’t have the resources, knowledge, or experience to implement and maintain a strong drug testing program that meets the DOT guidelines. If you fall into this mix, using a TPA or consortium is an affordable way to avoid costly fines, endangering the public, and—should a tragedy occur—a ruined reputation.
Whether you are an owner-operator or the owner of a small trucking business, participating in a consortium to handle your random drug testing program is an effective way to ensure that you remain in compliance.