Last updated: October 2, 2023
DOT drug testing is federally mandated for any safety-sensitive employees in roles that are regulated by the Department of Transportation.
The standard 5 panel DOT drug screen looks for the most commonly found drugs in the workplace. They are: amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana (THC), methamphetamines, PCP (Phencyclidine), and opioids. This panel also detects Ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, and the synthetic opioids hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone.
The DOT’s only accepted method for drug testing, at the moment, is the urine test. The department submitted a request to switch to hair follicle drug testing back in 2015. Currently, it’s still making its way through the chain of command due to concerns regarding possible discrimination. Apparently, certain hair textures may be adversely affected, thereby, putting some people groups at a disadvantage.
Advocates are pushing for the test to be approved, though. In fact, some employers are requiring their drivers to submit to the DOT’s urine test and incurring the added expense of hair follicle testing, as well. The hair follicle test is more costly than the urine test, but the benefits outweigh that fact in the eyes of many advocates. This method offers a much longer window of detection—up to 90 days no matter the drug used. This is substantially longer than the detection window of up to 30 days—depending on the drug being tested for—as offered by the current urine drug test.
*Updated 2023 DOT oral fluid drug testing regulations
In October 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) approved the use of oral fluid testing as an alternative employee drug testing method for government entities. However, each government entity is responsible for approving the use of this drug test. The DOT published its final ruling authorizing the oral fluid test as an alternative test method on May 2, 2023. Employers of the safety-sensitive workforce who plan to take advantage of the change, can’t implement the test into drug testing policies and procedures yet though.
The new CCF forms contain a check box for DOT oral fluid drug testing, however, currently, there aren’t any SAMHSA laboratories qualified to analyze specimens. That puts oral fluid drug testing on hold until there are at least two laboratories approved to receive those types of tests.
*Updated 2020 DOT random drug testing regulations
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association and the United States Coast Guard now require random testing to include at least 50% of your employee pool (up from 25% in 2019), in addition to pre-employment, post-accident, reasonable cause/reasonable suspicion, and return to duty drug testing.
*Updated 2020 DOT drug testing regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Clearinghouse launches on January 6, 2020. Employers of the safety-sensitive workforce must be registered and ready to go by then as well. Registration opens in October, although the exact date hasn’t been released, you can sign up for news and updates at the FMCSA Clearinghouse website to be notified when registration opens.
The main focus of the database is to accurately maintain driver records of drug and alcohol violations on a nationwide level. Currently, a driver who receives a violation can apply for jobs without acknowledging that they received a violation, making it easy for drivers to lie about drug and alcohol test history. Learn More »
*Updated 2018 and 2020 DOT drug testing regulations
The most recent revisions to the Custody and Control Form become effective on August 30, 2021.
There were several critical updates to the 2018 DOT drug testing regulations that employers need to be aware of in order to avoid receiving fines, out-of-service notices, and potentially even being shut down.
Revisions and updates include:
- Expanded opioids will impact your drivers and all safety-sensitive employees negatively. Learn more »
- DOT requires your drug testing policy to be updated to include changes made to 49 CFR Part 40 (effective Jan 1 2018) Learn more »
- New DOT Chain of Custody Form (CCF) form is required as of August 30 2021 Learn more »
- Safety concerns will stop your drivers from driving for a 5-day period at a minimum. Learn more »
- Random rates have gone up for PHMSA to 50% of your employee pool for 2018 Learn more »
Expanded opiate testing impact on drivers and all safety-sensitive employees
As of January 1, 2018, all employees regulated by Part 40 regulations will also be subject to drug testing for the presence of four additional semi-synthetic opioids that are frequently abused. These substances include:
These opiates are marketed under a variety of brand names, including Dilaudid®, Exalgo®, Lortab®, Norco®, OxyContin®, Percocet®, Percodan®, and Vicodin®. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of names. Testing will no longer measure the presence of MDEA.
*Note: This expanded opioid panel is in addition to all of the drugs that were previously included in the DOT drug testing panel.
DOT requires drug testing policies to be updated to include changes made to 49 CFR Part 40
The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) rule, 49 CFR Part 40, describes required procedures for conducting workplace drug and alcohol testing for the Federally regulated transportation industry. Your drug testing policy must be updated to reflect these changes and you must notify all affected employees of the specific changes.
New DOT Chain of Custody Form (CCF) form is required as of August 30, 2021
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved a revised Federal Drug Testing Custody and Control Form (CCF). Failure to use the new form may result in an invalidated test, potential fines for your company, and an out of service notice for your driver.
Changes include the addition of the employee’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) number and listing of the state in which it was issued. There has also been a check box added for oral fluid drug test submissions. The department published its final ruling approving the test in May 2023, however, the box is to be ignored at this time. There are no SAMHSA laboratories who have qualified to receive the tests at this time.
Safety concerns will stop your drivers from driving for a 5-day period at a minimum
Employees with a legitimate prescription for a listed opiate/opioid who test positive will be required to be pulled from their safety-sensitive duties (including driving) for a 5-day period.
Before returning to their duties, they must provide the Medical Review Officer (MRO) with a medical release from their doctor stating that they can safely perform their safety-sensitive duties while taking the medication* or that they have been prescribed a different medication, in which case, they will be required to take a follow-up test to ensure they are in compliance.
*Note: This is merely a technicality because from a liability standpoint, no doctor will risk their career by stating someone poses no risk while under the influence of opiate/opioid medications as there is no way to guarantee that.
Random rates have gone up for PHMSA to 50% of your employee pool for 2018
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) now requires random testing to include at least 50% of your employee pool (up from 25% in 2017), in addition to pre-employment, after-accident, reasonable cause/reasonable suspicion, and return to duty drug testing. (Note: as of January 1st, 2019, this will apply to the Federal Transit Authority as well.)
DOT drug testing programs
USA Mobile Drug Testing’s comprehensive program ensures full compliance with DOT regulations, while helping to make your workplace safer and more productive. Your customized DOT drug testing program will include:
- Designated Employer Representative (DER)
- Written drug testing policy
- DOT regulations on file
- Previous employer checks
- Employee education
- Supervisor training
- Removal of covered employees
- Pre-employment drug testing
- Correct Federal Custody & Control forms (CCF)
- Random pool generation
- Random drug testing
- Reasonable cause/reasonable suspicion drug testing
- Post-accident drug testing
- Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) Process
- DOT compliance record keeping
Who needs DOT compliance?
All motor carriers (trucks, buses, etc.) are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Safety sensitive duties
Any Commercial Drivecense (CDL) holders who operate a commercial motor vehicle. Any person who operates (i.e., drives) any commercial motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or greater; or is designed to transport 16 or more occupants (to include the driver); or is of any size and is used for transportation of hazardous materials requiring the vehicle to be placarded.
Air Carriers, Operations Control Specialists, operators, and certain contract air traffic control towers regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Safety sensitive duties
Any person who performs flight crewmember duties, flight attendant duties, flight instruction duties, aircraft dispatch duties, aircraft maintenance or preventive maintenance duties; ground security coordinator duties; aviation screening duties; and air traffic control duties. * Note: Anyone who performs the above duties directly or by contract for a part 119 certificate holder authorized to operate under parts 121 and/or 135, air tour operators defined in 14 CFR part 91.147, and air traffic control facilities not operated by the Government are considered covered employees.
Regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
Safety sensitive duties
Any person who performs duties subject to the Hours of Service laws; such as, locomotive engineers, trainmen, conductors, switchmen, locomotive hostlers/helpers, utility employees, signalmen, operators and train dispatchers.
Regulated by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
Safety sensitive duties
Operators of revenue service vehicles, CDL-holding operators of non-revenue service vehicles, vehicle controllers, revenue service vehicle mechanics, and firearm-carrying security personnel.
Regulated by Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
Safety sensitive duties
Any person who performs operations, maintenance, or emergency response function on a pipeline or LNG facility regulated under part 192, 193, or 195.
Regulated by the United States Coast Guard (USCG).
Safety sensitive duties
Any person operating US flagged vessels in commercial service, a person who is on board a vessel acting under the authority of a license, certificate of registry, or merchant mariner’s document.
DOT drug testing regulations
Employers are responsible for meeting all applicable requirements and procedures under DOT Rule 49 CFR Part 40, to include all activity of their officials, representatives, and agents in executing all requirements of the DOT agency regulations.
Drug and alcohol testing conditions
Under the current DOT regulations, drug testing is required under the following conditions:
- Prior to hiring
- Immediately following an accident
- Upon reasonable suspicion of impairment
- Prior to returning to duty
It’s important to note that failure to follow these regulations to the letter can result in DOT fines as well as HR-related lawsuits.
For example, an employer cannot simply re-run a random pool repeatedly until the employees’ names they want to test come up—that would give employees grounds to sue for discrimination. Rather, if they suspect an employee is using and/or impaired by drugs, they must follow the proper reasonable cause/reasonable suspicion drug testing protocol.
DOT random rates
|DOT agency||2018 Random Drug
|2018 Random Alcohol
|Federal Aviation Admin (FAA)||25%||10%|
|Federal Motor Carrier
Safety Admin (FMCSA)
|Federal Railroad Admin (FRA)||25% – Covered Service||10% – Covered Service|
|50% – Maintenance of Way||25% – Maintenance of Way|
|Federal Transit Admin (FTA)||50%||10%|
|Pipeline & Hazardous Materials
Safety Administrationn (PHMSA)
|United States Coast Guard (USCG)||50%||N/A|
Urine drug test
Currently, the only DOT approved drug test is the urine test.
After the specimen amount (about one and a half ounces) is collected and returned to the testing technician, the temperature is measured to assure it is within regulation, and the container is sealed. It is then the technician’s responsibility to follow the chain of custody protocol in transporting all specimens to the lab for testing.
All tests are submitted to an immunoassay test and if a positive result is obtained, a confirmatory test is given called a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (MS/GS). This test rules out any false positives to confirm drug use.
Mouth swab and/or breathalyzer
The mouth swab may be used for the initial alcohol test. It is a sanitary swab infused with an alcohol testing panel. A positive test result of .02 or higher indicates that a second test is necessary. This test will not be conducted with a mouth swab.
The breathalyzer is used to measure the alcohol content in a person’s breath through the breath alcohol content (BrAC). The blood alcohol content (BAC) can then be read from the BrAC specimen.
During the normal breathing process, alcohol in the blood evaporates and is expelled through the breath. A breathalyzer captures those blood levels in the expelled breath and screens them for alcohol content immediately.
This test can be used as the initial testing method instead of the mouth swab. If a positive test result is shown on either the mouth swab or breathalyzer test, a second test must be completed using a breathalyzer, regardless.
It’s noteworthy to mention that SAMHSA approved the mouth swab drug test—otherwise known as the oral fluid—test for use by government entities in late October 2019. However, each individual entity is responsible for implementing the necessary changes before this method is allowed for employee drug testing within their domain.
The DOT published its final ruling outlining regulations for submitting the oral fluid drug test, but employers can’t begin using DOT Oral Fluid Drug testing until two SAMHSA-approved laboratories are qualified to receive the specimens for analysis.
How are the tests conducted?
DOT drug testing—urinalysis
Currently, all DOT drug tests must be conducted via urinalysis. You need to ensure that once an employee enters the testing site, you begin the testing process without delay, and if that employee is also required to submit a DOT alcohol test, it’s critical that the alcohol test is completed first.
If an employee requires medical attention, as would be the case with an injured employee in an emergency medical facility who is required to have a post-accident drug test, do not delay their treatment in an attempt to collect a specimen.
During the drug test, the employee must be instructed to empty their pockets to show that the contents cannot be used to adulterate the specimen. The employee must also be instructed not to list any medications that they are currently taking on the Chain of Custody Form (CCF).
DOT alcohol testing—mouth swab/saliva and/or breath alcohol
This test may be initially conducted via a mouth swab, or saliva test, however, in the case of a non-negative result, the collector must wait no less than 15, but no more than 30 minutes to administer a breath alcohol test. During that waiting period, the employee must be informed
- Not to eat, drink, put anything (such as a cigarette, chewing gum, etc.) into their mouth, or belch.
That the waiting period is to prevent an accumulation of mouth alcohol from leading to an artificially high reading.
That following your instructions concerning the waiting period is for their benefit.
That the confirmation test will be conducted at the end of the waiting period, even if the instructions have not been followed.
*Note: Mouth swab is only applicable for DOT alcohol testing—the Department of Transportation will not currently accept a mouth swab drug test.
Required collection information
- Full name of the employee being tested.
- Employee SSN or ID number.
- Laboratory name and address (can be pre-printed on the CCF).
- Employer name, address, phone number, and fax number (can be pre-printed on the CCF at Step 1-A).
- DER information required at § 40.35 of this part.
- MRO name, address, phone number, and fax number (can be pre-printed on the CCF at Step 1-B).
- The DOT Agency which regulates the employee’s safety-sensitive duties (the check mark can pre-printed in the appropriate box on the CCF at Step 1-D).
- Test reason, as appropriate: Pre-employment; Random; Reasonable Suspicion/Reasonable Cause; Post-Accident; Return-to-Duty; and Follow-up.
- Whether the test is to be observed or not (see § 40.67 of this part).
- (Optional) C/TPA name, address, phone, and fax number (can be pre-printed on the CCF).
Department of Transportation resources
- Department of Transportation (DOT)
- 49 CFR Part 40
- Notice: Final ruling on Federal Drug Testing Custody and Control Form
- Revised Federal Drug Testing Custody Control Form (CCF)
- Office of Drug & Alcohol Policy & Compliance
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
- Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
- Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
- Research & Special Project Administration (RSPA)
- United States Coast Guard (USCG)
Mandated drug DOT testing
- Reasonable cause/reasonable suspicion
- Return to duty
Current DOT drug screen panel (Updated 5/2018)
- Marijuana (THC)
Frequently asked questions about DOT drug testing
The Department of Transportation, for obvious reasons, views safety as a high priority, which is the reason for their drug testing program. But the complex DOT regulations can be confusing, and they frequently change. As a result, we frequently hear a lot of the same questions about DOT drug testing. Some of those questions include:
What kind of drug test does the DOT use?
The only method permissible for DOT drug testing is urinalysis.
What substances do they look for in a DOT drug test?
A DOT drug test will identify metabolites of the following drugs:
- Marijuana (THC)
These are the more commonly abused drugs, which are capable of rendering you impaired while you’re driving, flying, or performing any other safety-sensitive job function regulated by the DOT.
What are the cutoff levels for passing a DOT drug test?
Laboratories conducting DOT drug testing must adhere to certain cutoff levels for an initial drug test, as well as any confirmation tests.
DOT drug type cutoff levels
- Marijuana/THC: 50 ng/mL3 for the first screening, and 15 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- Cocaine: 150 ng/mL3 for the first screening, and 100 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- Codeine and Morphine: 2000 ng/mL for the first screening, and 2000 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- Hydrocodone and Hydromorphone: 300 ng/mL for the first screening, and 100 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- Oxycodone and Oxymorphone: 100 ng/mL for the first screening, and 100 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- 6-Acetylmorphine: 25 ng/mL for the first screening, and 25 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- Phencyclidine: 10 ng/mL for the first screening, and 10 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- Amphetamine and Methamphetamine: 500 ng/mL for the first screening, and 250 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
- MDMA and MDA: 500 ng/mL for the first screening, and 250 ng/mL for the confirmation screening
What is a non-DOT urine drug test?
A non-DOT drug test may be conducted by an employer not bound by the regulations of the DOT.
The employer can decide what testing method they conduct and what they consider acceptable cut-off levels. That means they can look for additional drugs not screened for by the DOT. They may also ask that you provide samples other than urine. So you could be asked to provide urine, hair, saliva, or even blood samples upon request.
How long does a failed drug test stay on your DOT record?
Employers governed by DOT regulations must keep records on the results of a positive drug test for five years, including follow-up tests. Any records on negative results or any test ending up being canceled must be kept for one year.
Do you have to take a drug test as part of a DOT physical?
DOT-regulated employees must submit to a drug test under the following circumstances:
- As part of pre-employment screening
- If their employer has reason to suspect they’re under the influence
- For random drug testing
- When they return to duty after an absence
- For follow-up as recommended by an SAP (Substance Abuse Professional)
- If you were involved in certain types of accidents as outlined by the DOT
What does the cutoff mean on a drug test?
The cutoff is where you’re judged to be in violation of DOT regulations. Being below qualifies as a negative result while being above it means you’re positive and subject to a follow-up test. If that result shows you above the DOT cutoff levels, you’re barred from performing sensitive DOT-regulated job functions and must receive counseling from an SAP (Substance Abuse Professional). You’re cannot return to work until they SAP has cleared you to do so.
What does the DOT drug test stand for?
It’s an acronym for the Department of Transportation drug test, which is a very specific set of regulations around drug testing for certain employers to conduct for certain employees.
How long does it take to get the results of a drug test?
DOT drug test results usually come back within 24-48 hours.
Can I refuse to take a drug test?
Everyone working at a company subject to DOT regulations must submit to mandatory drug testing. Refusing to do so means being removed from your job and undergoing evaluation by an SAP.
Who pays for the follow-up tests?
The DOT doesn’t specify who pays for these tests.
As an employer, this is a decision that you can make, but it may also be affected by labor agreements you may have. You can decide to pay for all of the follow-up tests, you may split the cost with the employee, or you may pass the entire cost along to the employee.
Whatever you decide to do, it should be included in your written drug testing policy.