«  View All Posts

I Failed a Random DOT Drug Test…Now What? The SAP Program

March 10th, 2022

Kelli Bloom

Kelli Bloom

Kelli has been in the trucking industry since 2003. She got her start working in compliance for a trucking carrier that specialized in government freight. She has been the compliance manager with ATS since 2017.

So you’ve failed a random Department of Transportation (DOT) drug test or alcohol screening and you’re trying to figure out what to do next. You’ve come to the right place. 

Maybe you feel like you’ve made a terrible mistake. Maybe you know you need to get help. Maybe you’re scared that you’ve ruined your chance in the trucking industry. Regardless of how you’re feeling, your focus shifts to your next step and figuring out if there’s anything you can do to stay in the trucking industry. 

I’ve been the compliance manager here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) since 2017. It’s my job to make sure we stay compliant with regulations set forth by the Department of Transportation (DOT). I am familiar with the protocols trucking companies must follow to maintain compliance.

It’s a taboo subject, but I’m here to talk about it and help you understand your next steps a little better. In this article, you’ll learn about: 

  • Random drug tests and other forms of drug testing
  • What constitutes a positive drug test or a refusal 
  • What a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) Program is
  • Your next steps if you fail a drug/alcohol test

By the time you finish reading, you’ll have clarity on your next steps. 


When Can I Be Drug Tested by the DOT? 

As a truck driver, you may be subjected to alcohol and drug screenings for a variety of reasons. That includes pre-employment screenings, random screenings, reasonable suspicion screenings, return to duty screenings and post-accident testing. Pre-employment screenings and return to duty screenings are to be expected, but you may not know when and why other drug screenings happen. 

Reasonable suspicion screenings can only be administered by company employees if a driver is suspected of being under the influence. Only trained employees can report this behavior and request a screening. Post-accident testing is only required if it is classified as a DOT accident and there is a fatality or you receive a citation for a moving violation.  

Per DOT regulations, trucking companies are required to test 50 percent of drivers annually for drugs and 10 percent of drivers annually for alcohol. 

Each company rolls this out differently. They may test quarterly or monthly, but drivers are randomly selected. Once a driver is selected for a random test, their dispatcher is notified and they schedule the driver for the test. Drivers do not get more than an hour’s notice; they’re required to get the test done immediately; it should be the next thing they do.

Failing to go to the clinic for immediate testing can be treated as a refusal. Refusal to take a drug or alcohol test is treated the same way as a positive test.

Because there is a zero-tolerance policy for drugs, a random drug test can be required even when drivers are off-duty. An alcohol screening, on the other hand, cannot be administered unless a driver is on-duty.

Tests are truly random. One driver may be randomly selected for a test month after month. Another driver may only get selected once per year.

The testing program is overseen by a third-party administrator and drivers are tested at a clinic. Lab tests are released to medical release officers (MRO) who release the results to the trucking company if the results are negative. If the results are positive, the MRO is required to contact the driver. 

The MRO is required to make reasonable efforts to reach the driver. Reasonable effort is defined as a minimum of three attempts over a 24-hour period. If the MRO cannot reach the driver, they will contact the trucking company for assistance in reaching the driver.

Once the company gets in touch with the driver, a 72-hour clock starts. Drivers must call the MRO within 72 hours or the results will be reported as-is. 

In some cases, a positive drug test result can be overturned. For instance, a driver may have a specific prescription that triggered a positive test. If that’s the case, the driver needs to provide a legitimate medical explanation and proof of a valid prescription. 

As far as the company is concerned while this is happening, they only know that the results are taking a long time. They don’t know that the driver had a negative test until it’s finalized with the MRO. Once your carrier finds out you had a positive drug test, you’ll be taken off the road and next steps will be discussed. 

What Constitutes a Positive Test or a Refusal? 

Alcohol screening is done via a breathalyzer. Urine analysis is completed to test for drugs. Hair follicle testing is not approved by the DOT yet. 

Testing is efficient and accurate. Drug tests can pinpoint the precise drug in an individual’s system. If any drugs categorized as prohibited show up on your drug screening, this will result in a positive test. An alcohol test with a result of 0.04 or higher will result in a positive test. 

As mentioned earlier, refusal to take a drug or alcohol test is treated the same way as a positive test. Refusals may include: 

  • Failure to appear at a test
  • Failure to stay at the testing site until testing is complete
  • Failure to provide a urine sample
  • Failure to permit the observation of your provision of specimen or possessing/wearing a prosthetic to interfere with the collection process
  • Failure to cooperate with the collector’s directions (including failing to wash your hands after being directed to do so or refusing to empty your pockets)
  • Behaving in a confrontational manner

Per regulations, drivers should maintain at least four hours between their last drink and when they begin driving. However, most carriers have no tolerance policies. Drivers should not drink in or near their truck. If you’re under a load or on the road, don’t consume alcohol.


What Happens After a Failed DOT Drug Test? SAP Program

When a company finds out one of their drivers has failed a drug or alcohol screening, drivers are taken off the road. 

If you violate DOT drug and alcohol regulations, you’re unable to perform DOT safety-sensitive duties until you go through a SAP program. This includes the evaluation, referral and education or treatment process. 

After you are pulled off the road by your dispatcher, your company is required to send you a list of substance abuse professionals in your area along with their address and phone number. The list will be sent with a certified signature required. 

A SAP, or substance abuse professional, is appointed by the DOT and needs to have specific credentials. They’re certified to evaluate drivers who’ve violated DOT drug or alcohol regulations and they recommend education, treatment, testing and aftercare.  

This is the end of your company’s involvement with you and the SAP program. Your company will not pay for the program and they won’t talk to your SAP unless your SAP requests it. Your SAP may call the company and ask questions, and companies can send them what they need, but that’s it. 

It’s your choice to go through the SAP program. If you don’t go through the program, you’ll never be able to work in the trucking industry again. After you fail or refuse a drug or alcohol test, the DOT requires all drivers to complete a SAP program before they can perform DOT-sensitive duties again. So, if you ever want to be a truck driver again, you absolutely must go through a program. 

However, you must also consider that some carriers will accept you after you’ve undergone a SAP program and some will not. That means, even if you complete a SAP program, many carriers still won’t accept you back because they have a zero tolerance policy for failed drug and alcohol tests. Because the risk of relapse is high, many carriers don’t want the liability that can come with re-hiring or hiring drivers who’ve gone through a SAP program. 

This may color your decision. If the carriers you’d like to work with later in your career don't accept drivers even if they’ve completed their SAP program, you may decide to simply leave the trucking industry and pursue another path. 

Or, you may elect to go to a trucking company that will hire after the SAP program, including one of the following: 

Before you decide to pursue a SAP program, keep this in mind and talk to the carriers you’re interested in to see if you’d qualify to drive for them upon the program’s completion. 

The SAP program begins with an evaluation, where a SAP will determine if you have a problem and if you need treatment. If it’s determined that you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, treatment will be recommended. The SAP will closely monitor you as you go through treatment. You’ll need to complete all treatment steps required by your SAP. 

Any time a driver tests positive, refuses to test or a carrier has actual knowledge of a drug or alcohol violation, it’s reported into the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Your SAP will record your progress in the Clearinghouse. You begin in the red. As you progress and your SAP enters info, you’ll slowly move into the green until you finish the program. Any trucking company can view this record in the Clearinghouse.

Depending upon your treatment, you may be able to return to driving after a few months. However, it could take years for some drivers. Once your SAP is satisfied that you’ve completed the treatment you need and you’ve met all conditions, you’ll have to do return to duty testing. As long as you don’t fail the test, you can return to duty. 

For the next five years, you’ll essentially be “on the hook” with your SAP. You’ll be subjected to a set number of unannounced follow-up drug and alcohol screenings. This is in addition to being enrolled in a DOT regulated random drug and alcohol testing program through your carrier. 


What Else Will Disqualify Me From the Best Trucking Companies? 

If you’ve failed a DOT drug or alcohol test and you’re trying to decide if you should undergo a SAP program, carefully consider your options in the future. Which carriers don’t accept the SAP program? Which programs do? Are these companies that you’d ever like to work for? 

You must also keep in mind that regulations are always changing. A carrier that might not accept a SAP program now may accept one in the future. If you want to stay in the trucking industry, don’t give up hope. Complete your program and choose a SAP-friendly company to work for. 

There is a long list of other behaviors that can disqualify you from the trucking industry. We’ve put them together in one blog so you can understand what will disqualify you, as well as what top-paying carriers expect.