Owner-Operator Drug Test Basics

Drug testing is an important component of Department of Transportation (DOT) compliance. This is true for large and small motor carriers alike and even companies with one driver must follow these regulations. Owner-operator drug test requirements are fairly similar to other types of drivers, but there are some unique considerations to keep in mind.

Industry-Wide Drug Testing Requirements

The DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) outline the times when commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators must be tested for drug use. These are the same for owner-operators and company drivers alike.

Someone who operates a CMV must be tested under the following circumstances:

  • Pre-Employment: Before beginning safety-sensitive duties, a driver must pass a drug test. For owner-operators, the pre-employment requirement must be completed after getting a United States DOT (USDOT) number and before driving a CMV.
  • Random Testing: All commercial drivers must be part of a random testing pool. The FMCSA sets testing rates for these pools each year based on the rate of violations. The process for random testing is different for self-employed drivers, and we will discuss this in detail later in this article.
  • Post-Accident: If an accident results in a fatality and/or involves a citation, post-accident drug testing is required.
  • Reasonable Suspicion: For company drivers, the reasonable suspicion requirement applies if a trained supervisor notices signs of drug use. Owner-operators are still subject to the reasonable suspicion requirement, but the process does look different since there is not a supervisor.
  • Return-to-Duty and Follow-Up Testing: If a self-employed driver has a positive drug test result, they must complete the return-to-duty process.

Differences for Owner-Operators

Registering and Querying in the FMCSA Clearinghouse

The FMCSA Clearinghouse is a system that tracks drug and alcohol program violations. Unlike company drivers, owner-operators are required to register as employers, even if they only employ themselves. These individuals also have to perform annual queries for themselves, in addition to meeting all other requirements for both motor carriers and drivers.

Drug Testing Consortium Requirement

A consortium/third-party administrator (C/TPA) is an association that combines the testing pools of several motor carriers for the purpose of random selection. Since an owner-operator cannot randomly select themselves, self-employed drivers are required to appoint a C/TPA to meet FMCSA requirements.

Reasonable Suspicion

The FMCSA requires supervisors to complete reasonable suspicion training and to drug test employees who are displaying signs of drug use. If an owner-operator does not have any employees besides themselves, this requirement would not make sense. As a result, owner-operators do not have to undergo this training unless they employ other drivers. However, this does not mean owner-operators are completely exempt from this type of testing. For larger motor carriers, C/TPAs are not permitted to order reasonable suspicion testing, but they can do so for owner-operators. This must be based on physical observation so it is rarer compared to other types of owner-operator drug testing, but it is still a possibility.

Compliance Services for Owner-Operators

HDS Safety Services can help you stay compliant with DOT regulations whether you manage a large fleet or are self-employed. For owner-operators, we can handle all aspects of your drug testing and safety program so you can focus on driving.

To learn more about our drug testing consortium, contact us today.

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