A matter of discretion

FMCSA is allowing flexibility in random drug test requirements because of the pandemic.

August-September 2020

Greg Grisolano


With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt America’s supply chain over the summer, federal regulators said they will exercise discretion in enforcing the minimum annual percentage rate for random drug and alcohol testing among motor carriers.

In a Notice of Enforcement Discretion Determination issued July 7, the acting head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wrote that the ongoing effects of COVID-19 continue to cause operational disruptions to motor carriers.

“As the nation engages in a phased reopening, the pace of return to normal operations will vary across the country,” FMCSA acting Administrator Jim Mullen wrote in the notice. “In some regions of the United States, motor carrier employers subject to controlled substance and alcohol testing … may be unable to comply with certain testing requirements due to the ongoing impacts of the emergency.

“In recognition of these barriers to full compliance in some locations, the agency may exercise discretion to determine not to enforce the minimum annual percentage random testing rates for drugs and alcohol and the requirement that each employer ensure that the dates for administering random drug and alcohol tests are spread reasonably throughout the calendar year, as set forth in 49 CFR 382.305(b)(1) and (2) and 49 CFR 382.305(k), respectively.”

The notice does not suspend FMCSA’s current random testing requirements.

It also emphasizes that “employers capable of meeting these requirements must continue to do so.” If a test is unable to be completed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the motor carrier must maintain written documentation of the specific reasons for noncompliance.

In December, FMCSA announced it would increase the annual minimum percentage rate for random controlled-substances testing for truck drivers from 25% to 50% of the average number of driver positions.

Those reasons might include closures or restricted use of testing facilities or the unavailability of testing personnel. Other COVID-19 related factors could include prolonged or intermittent driver furloughs. The notice recommends employers “document actions taken to identify alternative testing sites or other testing resources.”

Reason for the increase

A provision in the 2001 final rule titled “Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing” requires the FMCSA administrator to increase the minimum annual random testing percentage rate when the data received under the reporting requirements for any calendar year indicate that the reported positive rate is equal to or greater than 1%.

Based on the results of the 2018 FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Testing Survey, the positive rate for controlled substances random testing increased to 1%, up from 0.8% in 2017. In 2016, the testing rate was reduced from 50% to 25% because the number of positive tests fell below 1%.

FMCSA estimates there are 3.2 million CDL holders operating in interstate commerce and 1 million CDL holders operating in intrastate commerce. Based off these numbers, the 25% rate would have required at least 1.05 million random drug tests to be conducted. Now at 50%, about 2.1 million random controlled substance tests will need to be conducted during the 2020 calendar year.

While the rate changed, Rachel Aycock, of OOIDA’s CMCI Drug Consortium, said last year that the drug testing process for drivers would not change. However, but it would be more likely for them to be selected.

“The process remains the same,” Aycock told Land Line Now. “Once you have been selected for a random test, a driver must go immediately to the facility and have the testing completed. So in actuality it’s just a lot of change internally, not so much externally for the drivers.” LL

TA Fleetguard
Greg Grisolano

Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.