The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced that the rate for random drug testing of truck drivers has increased from 25% of a motor carrier’s average number of driver positions to 50%. The same rate increase applies to random tests conducted within a drug testing consortium’s driver pool, which are used by some owner-operator truckers.

FMCSA estimated that approximately 2.1 million random controlled substances tests will need to be conducted in 2020, compared to 1.05 million done in 2019. This will result in a cost increase to the trucking industry of $50 to $75 million, according to the agency.

The increase in the random drug testing rate is not just a figure pulled out of thin air. Rather, the “Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing” final rule of 2001 dictates the testing rate be increased whenever the FMCSA annual survey of motor carrier test results shows a positive rate of 1% or more.

In the early years of the FMCSA drug testing program the random testing rate was set at 50% but was dropped to 25% in 2016 and 2017 when FMCSA survey results indicated positive test results of only 0.8% and 0.7%, respectively. For 2018, FMCSA surveyed 4,480 randomly selected motor carriers, receiving usable results from 1,552 carriers representing 300,635 drivers holding commercial driver’s licenses. The positive drug tests indicted by that survey came in at 1%, requiring an increase in the mandated random testing rate.

Safety experts point to possible reasons for the uptick in positive drug test results. Beginning January 2018, certain synthetic opioids – hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone – were added to the drug panel checked by these tests, perhaps snaring some users. Also, the spreading legalization of medical and recreational marijuana can capture those who ignore that marijuana remains illegal for commercial licensed drivers.

The 50% random drug testing rate for 2020 is a mandated minimum testing rate, however, motor carriers may choose to test at a higher rate than mandated or to supplement the FMCSA-prescribed urinalysis procedure, such as with hair testing. On the drug testing horizon may be FMCSA rulemakings to allow oral fluids or hair testing as approved procedures.

Random drug testing remains only one of several occasions motor carriers must conduct drug tests. Motor carriers must continue to conduct pre-employment drug tests, reasonable suspicion tests and post-accident tests in addition to random tests. Drivers who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol must themselves successfully complete return-to-duty tests and follow-up testing in order to legally resume driving a commercial motor vehicle. All of these test results are now required to be reported by motor carriers, third-party administrators, medical review officers, and substance abuse professionals to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. In the future, it could well become the data source for the annual FMCSA review of the random drug testing rate.

You can read the full FMCSA notice about increased random drug testing in the Federal Register.

In the meantime, there are other changes taking shape when it comes to federally mandated substance testing in the trucking workplace. You can get details by downloading the free PrePass whitepaper entitled “FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Greatly Changes the Truck Driver Qualification Landscape.”