DOT Drug Test: Complete Guide including Cutoff Levels

09/17/2023 12:22 AM By renezawale
Image of drug testing sample box

What is a DOT Drug Test? 

A DOT Drug Test is conducted by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for employees in safety-sensitive positions mainly drivers. A DOT drug test is performed for the safety of the public from potential mishaps that occur due to errors by employees under the influence of alcohol or drug substances. Generally, a DOT drug test is a standard 5-panel drug test but can be updated based on the needs. 

What does a DOT Drug Test test for? 

As mentioned, a DOT test is a standard 5-panel drug test which means it tests for the following substances: 
  1. Marijuana (THC) 
  2. Cocaine (COC) 
  3. Amphetamines (AMP) 
  4. Opiates (OPI) 
  5. Phencyclidine (PCP) 

Who is Required to Take a DOT Drug Test? 

The following is a list of safety-sensitive employees and job applicants for these positions who must take DOT drug tests:
  • Air Traffic Controllers 
  • Aircraft Dispatchers 
  • Airline Flight Crew Members 
  • Airline Pilots 
  • Flight Attendants 
  • Flight Instructors 
  • Flight Operations Control Specialists 
  • Bus Drivers 
  • Commercial Truck Drivers 
  • Pipeline Materials Emergency Responders 
  • Pipeline Materials Maintenance Workers 
  • Pipeline Materials Operators 
  • Train Conductors 
  • Train Dispatchers 
  • Train Engineers 
  • Train Operators 
  • Train Signalmen 
  • Train Utility Employees 
  • U.S. Coast Guard service members 

DOT Drug test for CDL 

CDL (for Commercial Driver’s License) is a license issued only for drivers qualified to operate large vehicles. Operating large vehicles requires skills and experience to operate safely. Only high-standard verified drivers are allowed to use CMVs (Commercial Motor Vehicles) in California. 

An employer is supposed to receive and verify a negative drug test result before allowing a CDL driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Additionally, an alcohol and drug test may also required if any crash or accident occurs. 

Testing Procedures 

The DOT drug test is a 5-panel urine drug test. The candidate is provided with a sample collection container where the s/he can submit the sample and the collector then verifies it. 

There are some rules you need to follow when you are submitting the urine sample. You are not allowed to take anything else with you into the sample collection room and you cannot flush when you come out of the room. Read more about the rules here.

From 1st June 2023, employers will have the option to choose from a urine test or an oral test for DOT drug testing. Oral Saliva testing is considered less evasive to employees’ privacy. 

DOT Drug Testing Requirements 

As an employer, you need to verify certain requirements before proceeding with the candidate or an existing employee to a DOT drug test. You should follow one of these requirements for a DOT drug test: 

1. Pre-employment Drug Test 

Candidates who are applying for safety-sensitive jobs are required to take a pre-employment DOT drug test before starting the job. Pre-employment DOT drug test is done after a job is offered and before starting the job. It is important to pass the test to accept the job. If you fail the test, you lose the job opportunity and can re-apply based on various requirements. 

2. Random Drug Testing 

As an employer, you should be testing your employees on a random basis unbiasedly to make sure employees are not involved in drug abuse. Drivers with CDL are strictly checked throughout the year. 

3. Post-Accident Drug Test 

Employees working under the aforementioned DOT agencies must conduct post-accident drug testing if such conditions arise: 
  • Property damage only accidents that required towing in which the driver was cited 
  • Injury accidents that required emergency medical treatment in which the driver was cited 
  • Fatal accidents regardless of which driver was cited for the accident 

4. Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing 

If an employee is suspected of using drugs, employers can conduct a reasonable suspicion drug testing on the concerned employee. The suspicion should be confidentially dealt with and the testing should be done privately to protect the professional and emotional health of the employee. Such employees who are under suspicion should not be allowed to drive to the testing centers. 

5. Return-to-Duty and Follow-up Drug Testing 

After an employee has been found positive on a drug test or refused a drug test and served their time at an alcohol and drug education and treatment program, they can return to their job after passing a Return-to-Duty (RTD) drug test. The employee needs approval from a DOT-approved substance abuse professional (SAP) before the Return-to-Duty drug test. If the test is positive, the employee will not be allowed to return to work and subjected to further rehab programs. 

It is important to note that employers are not required to keep the job position open for the employee under case during the rehab and RTD testing time. 

After RTD testing, the employee must pass a minimum of 6 follow-up tests in the next 12 months for uninterrupted continuation of the employment. 

Non-DOT Drug Test 

Any drug tests conducted by employers outside the DOT agencies are called non-DOT drug tests. DOT drug tests are usually more strict and regular as the risks and consequences are higher. 

Differences between DOT and non-DOT Drug Tests 

Sample Collection: DOT drug tests use urine samples and oral samples only while a non-DOT drug test can use urine samples, oral samples, blood samples, or hair samples. 
Objectives: The primary objective of DOT drug tests is to maintain the safety of the public on the road. The primary objective of a non-DOT drug test would be to make sure the workplace is drug-free enabling further benefits and increased efficiency. 
Form-Usage: In a non-DOT drug test, an employer, a drug screening company or the state can develop their own forms for drug testing. A DOT test uses a specific form called the Federal Drug Testing Control and Custody Form (CCF). 

DOT Drug Testing Cutoff Levels 

The cutoff levels for DOT drug testing based on the DOT Rules 49 CFR Part 40 Section 40.85 are as follows: 

Initial Test Analyte Initial Test Cut-offConfirmatory Test Cut-off
 Marijuana (THCA)50ng/mL15ng/mL
Cocaine Metabolites (Benzoylecgonine)150ng/mL100ng/mL
Hydrocodone/Hydromorphone 300ng/mL100ng/mL
  Initial Test Analyte   Initial Test Cut-off  Confirmatory Test Cut-off
  Marijuana (THCA)4ng/mL2 ng/mL
 Cocaine Metabolites (Benzoylecgonine)15ng/mL8ng/mL


What will happen if I fail a pre-employment DOT drug test?

If you fail a pre-employment DOT drug test, the job offer will be lost. The positive drug test report will be sent to the clearinghouse database. 

What will happen if I fail a DOT drug test?

In case of random, reasonable suspicion, or post-accident tests, you will have to get rehab from DOT-approved substance abuse professionals and pass a Return to Duty before you can resume work. It is not mandatory for the employer to keep the employment position open for you throughout this process. Based on the employer’s wishes, you might or might not get the chance to rejoin the company. 

If you pass the RTD test and resume work, you will also have to pass follow-up drug tests for the next 12 months. 

What will happen if I fail an RTD or a Follow-Up test?
If you fail a Return to Duty test, a Follow-Up test, or any other process with the SAP, you will lose the job and the record can go to the clearing house which can affect further employment opportunities.
How far back does a DOT drug test go?
Every drug substance affects our bodies in different ways and leaves the body in different time frames as well. They have different detention windows for different testing methods: 
For Urine Test
  • Marijuana: 48-72 hours for one-time use and 30 days for regular users 
  • Amphetamines: 48-72 hours
  • Cocaine: 24-36 hours for one-time use and 72 hours for regular users
  • Opioids: Up to a week based on the substance used 
  • Phencyclidine: Eight days 

For Oral Test 
  • Marijuana: 24-48 hours
  • Amphetamines: 24-48 hours
  • Cocaine: 3-4 days
  • Opioids: 3-4 days
  • Phencyclidine: 3 days 
Does Kratom show up on a DOT drug test?
No. Kratom does not show up on a standard DOT drug test. 

However, It can be tested for if an employer has suspicion of Kratom usage.
How long will it take to get the result?

It takes 24-48 hours to process a negative DOT drug test while it can take 3 to 5 days for a positive test.