DOT Drug-Free Workplace Regulations

Every year in the United States, thousands of people are seriously injured or killed in transportation-related accidents. Alcohol and other drugs are involved in a significant number of these accidents, especially motor vehicle accidents.

Due to the rising rate of substance abuse in America and out of concern for the safety of all Americans who travel, the U.S. Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991. The Act requires transportation industry employers who have covered employees (i.e. employees in "safety-sensitive" positions) to have drug-free workplace programs that include both drug and alcohol testing.

The 1991 Act requirements went into effect January 1, 1995, for employers with 50 or more covered employees. Employers with fewer than 50 covered workers, who comprise the bulk of businesses affected by the regulations, were required to be in compliance with the DOT regulations by January 1, 1996.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for implementing and enforcing regulations which cover five modes of transportation represented by five agencies within the DOT: aviation (Federal Aviation Administration - FAA), motor carriers/highways (Federal Highway Administration - FHWA), mass transit (Federal Transit Administration - FTA), railroads (Federal Railroad Administration - FRA), and maritime (U.S. Coast Guard - USCG). Additionally, the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) covers the pipeline industry.

Over 8 million workers throughout the country are covered by DOT regulations, the vast majority being truck and bus drivers. The definition of who is covered under FHWA is an individual with a commercial driver's license (CDL), and who operates a commercial vehicle as defined by FHWA. Commercial motor vehicle means a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property if the motor vehicle—

  1. Has a gross combination weight rating of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 or more pounds) inclusive of a towed unite with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 4.536 kilograms (10,000 pounds); or
  2. Has a gross vehicle weight rating of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 or more pounds); or
  3. Is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or
  4. Is of any size and is used in the transportation of materials found to be hazardous for the purposes of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and which require the motor vehicle to be placarded under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR part 172, subpart F.)

The job of informing employers about the existence of the DOT regulations has been enormous. Both DOT and the private sector, including many trade associations and transportation industry groups, have worked to inform, educate, and otherwise help employers, especially those with smaller firms, comply with the regulations.

Most employers covered by the regulations can identify drug testing as a requirement. However, many employers may be unaware of the other requirements and unsure of exactly what they must do to be in compliance with the regulations. The DOT-mandated program has five basic components:

  1. A policy statement which must include many DOT-specific elements.
  2. Two hours of supervisor training annually on the effects of drugs and alcohol and on the responsibilities of supervisors of DOT-covered workers.
  3. Employer certification that employees have received drug and alcohol education.
  4. Drug testing.
  5. Alcohol testing.

Within the motor carrier industry, owner/operators are required by FHWA rules to join a consortium for purposes of random drug and alcohol testing.

Full compliance with the regulations is certainly more complex than this list would imply. For example, employers must follow specific procedures for the collection and testing of urine samples. The testing of the specimens for the required list of illicit drugs must be conducted by a laboratory certified for that purpose by the Federal government. And, the results of the tests must be reviewed by a physician and reported in accordance with specific rules. Alcohol testing requirements and procedures are just as rigorous.

DOT requires employers to submit annual reports on all testing activities and specific reports on post-accident testing. Additionally, DOT conducts audits and compliance reviews nationwide. Using this information, DOT can monitor compliance, track trends, identify changes in the regulations that may need to be made, and develop additional guidance.

For the employer, the DOT drug and alcohol testing regulations involve the cost of implementing and maintaining a testing program. Substance abuse in America poses a real threat to companies' productivity and profitability, as well as to transportation safety. The latest government figures estimate that there are nearly 13 million current illegal drug and alcohol users in the United States (use within the past 30 days).

Regarding employers' efforts to prevent workplace substance abuse, employees in the transportation industry reported that 76.1 percent of their employers provide their workers with information about alcohol and drugs; 73.6 percent have written substance abuse policies; and 52.9 percent provide access to employee assistance programs for employees who have drug or alcohol problems.

The workplace, like all other sectors of society, is affected by substance abuse—71 percent of all illegal drug and alcohol users are employed. From larger corporations to relatively small contractors, transportation companies are implementing programs to ensure their work forces are productive, their workplaces are safe, and the success of their businesses are not hindered by substance abuse.

Contact Information

There are numerous sources of assistance available to employers as they implement programs to comply with the regulations. DOT has a central Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance as well as offices for each transportation mode to answer employers' questions.

Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
Research and Special Projects Administration (RSPA)
Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
United States Coast Guard (USCG)
Fax-On-Demand (automated information)


U.S. Department of Labor
Last Updated: November 6, 1998
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