Random drug testing rate going back up to 50 percent

By: Tom Bray

Publication: Transportation Safety Management Today

Date Posted: 12/30/2019

On December 27, 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced in a Federal Register Notice that carriers will need to test 50 percent of their drivers for drugs in calendar year 2020. This is an increase from 2019, when carriers were required to randomly test 25 percent of their drivers for drugs.

The reason for the random drug testing change

Under §382.305, the FMCSA Administrator can drop the random drug testing percentage to 25 percent if the industry is below a one percent positive test rate for two consecutive years (this is based on the reports that certain carriers are required to file). However, if the rate goes above one percent for one year, the percentage must be raised to 50 percent. For calendar year 2018 (the most-recent year full data is available), the industry exceeded the one percent, leading to the change to back to 50 percent for 2020.

Nothing new

The testing percentage for the industry was 50 percent for many years. FMCSA dropped the required percentage to 25 percent in 2015 for calendar year 2016, and it remained there until now. Before 2016, the testing rate was 50 percent.

No change in alcohol testing

The percentage of drivers a carrier must test randomly for alcohol has not changed. For calendar year 2020, carriers must test 10 percent of their drivers randomly for alcohol.

How many drug tests are required?

FMCSA requires a carrier to base their random testing percentage on its number of driver positions. If a carrier has a constant driver count, this is not hard to determine. However, if there are fluctuations throughout the year, a commonly accepted method is to average the number of drivers you had for the last few random drawings. Once you have the driver count averaged, just multiply by the testing rate (50 percent) and round up to the nearest whole number. That’s the number of drivers you’d need to test for the year. To determine how many drivers need to be drawn in each drawing, simply divide that number by how many drawings you conduct during the year.

Here is an example: For your first quarter you had 80 drivers, for the second quarter drawing you had 95 drivers, and for the third quarter drawing you have 91 drivers. The average is 80 + 95 + 91 divided by 3, or 88.6, which rounds up to 89. This is then multiplied by .5 to determine how many random drug tests you need to do this year (44.5, which rounds up to 45) and .1 to determine how many random alcohol tests you have to do this year (8.9, or 9). The process is detailed in Interpretation Question 20 to §382.305.

It’s all about tests, not how many were drawn

At the end of the calendar year, you must have randomly tested the proper number of drivers for drug and alcohol. How many you drew is not what you are judged on. If you drew enough, but were short on the number tested due to terminations, layoff, or injuries, you are not in compliance.

If you find you are running short due to any of the above reasons, the interpretations state that you are allowed to draw alternates to achieve the correct number of tests in the calendar year. However, you need to remember that the alternates must be drawn using the same scientific selection method used for the regular drawing. No walking out to the drivers’ room and selecting alternates based on who’s available the day you realize you are running short!


Key to remember: For 2020, you will need to double the number of drivers drawn for random drug tests, so remember to double the money budgeted for drug testing and to double the manhours allotted for notifications, filing, and other administrative tasks.

About the author
Tom Bray - Transportation Editor

Tom has been with J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. since 2005. He brought with him an extensive background that includes years of experience in DOT compliance, policy development, driver human resources, driver training, training program development, CDL testing, claims management, and accident and injury prevention.

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