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Post-Accident Drug Testing Laws Overview

A commercial motor vehicle (CMV) includes buses, delivery vehicles, tractor trailers, and vehicles that transport hazardous materials. CMV drivers have to go through additional licensing tests to be approved for a commercial driver's license (CDL).

Owners, operators, and CMV carriers face significant liability every time they send a truck out on the road, from the safety of their drivers and other motorists, to the integrity of the cargo being transported. This is why it is so important that commercial drivers steer clear of alcohol and other impairing substances when they get behind the wheel.

When serious accidents do occur, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), requires post-accident drug and alcohol testing of drivers. Carrier vehicles travel across state lines and are subject to federal traffic laws.

The following is an overview of federal post-accident drug testing regulations applicable to CMV carriers and their drivers. Keep in mind that the same procedures also apply to post-accident alcohol testing. See FindLaw's summary of Commercial DUI Regulations for more information.

Post-Accident Drug Testing: Who Gets Tested?

CMV carriers subject to federal regulation by the FMCSA must ensure that each commercial driver passes a drug screening prior to employment. Additionally, carriers must perform random drug tests of commercial drivers throughout the course of their employment and may test drivers who show signs of impairment. CMV drivers also may be subject to post-accident drug testing under certain circumstances. These include the following:

  1. Any driver who was performing safety-sensitive functions with respect to the vehicle (if the accident resulted in a human fatality); or
  2. Any driver who receives a citation for a moving violation within 32 hours of the accident, if it involved either bodily injury (and that person receives immediate medical treatment away from the accident scene) or at least one of the vehicles involved is disabled and requires towing.

These circumstances are the same for post-accident alcohol testing as well. However, for alcohol, the test must be conducted within eight (8) hours because of how quickly alcohol is metabolized.

Post-Accident Drug Testing: Rules and Procedures

Since the presence of drugs (through the detection of metabolites) at the time of the accident diminishes with the passage of time, CMV carriers are required to conduct drug testing within 32 hours of the incident. Carriers are also required to provide their drivers with the procedures and instructions for post-accident drug testing prior to operating a vehicle for the company.

The results of urine-based drug tests conducted by federal, state, or local officials are considered to be in compliance with FMCSA's requirements as long as they conform to that jurisdiction's standards and are obtained by the employer. Carriers may allow their employee drivers subject to post-accident drug tests to continue driving while waiting for the results of the test, as long as no other restrictions have been placed on the driver by law enforcement and there is no reasonable suspicion of impaired driving.

If for some reason the carrier/employer is unable to procure a drug test within this time frame, it must maintain records indicating the reasons why it wasn't conducted. These records are to be submitted to the FMCSA upon request. Drivers who fail or refuse to take a drug test are barred from driving CMVs until the successful completion of the return-to-duty process.

CMV Accident Testing Exceptions

There are some exceptions to drug testing after an accident involving a CMV. Post-accident drug testing is not required involving:

  • Boarding or alighting (exiting) of a stationary CMV
  • Loading or unloading of cargo from a stationary CMV
  • Accident involving a passenger or multipurpose car that doesn't meet the definition of a CMV

Post-Accident Drug Testing Concerns? An Attorney Can Help

Whether you're a commercial motor vehicle carrier, a commercial driver, or were injured in a commercial vehicle accident, you should know the rules of the road with respect to drug testing after an accident. Some situations may require legal insight from a professional. Get started today by contacting a local injury attorney or if you are accused of impaired driving, talk to a CDL DUI lawyer.

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