Drug and Alcohol Testing

The DOT vs. Non-DOT Drug Test: What Are The Differences?

  • February 22, 2024
  • Jessica McDonald
  • Approx. Read Time: 8 Minutes
  • Updated on February 22, 2024
4 Key Differences of D.O.T. & Non-D.O.T. Drug Tests

No matter how many employees you have, you're responsible for keeping them safe. Employers also have a duty to protect vendors, customers, and other stakeholders. Here's why it's so important to understand DOT vs. non-DOT drug test requirements: 

    • If your company is subject to DOT testing regulations, you must follow detailed guidelines regarding specimen collection and test frequency. DOT agencies also require covered employers to conduct random testing. If you don't adhere to these requirements, your company may face fines and other serious penalties. 
    • Implementing a drug testing program has several potential benefits, such as increased safety and reduced operating costs. Drug testing may also deter employees from using illicit substances. 
    • The non-DOT testing guidelines are less strict than the DOT requirements, giving you more flexibility when it comes to setting up a testing program and determining how often to perform drug tests. If you aren't subject to the DOT requirements, you don't even have to conduct random tests. 
    • Under the DOT guidelines, urine is the only acceptable specimen type. If you don't have to follow the DOT rules, however, you may choose to use saliva or hair samples instead. 

As an employer, you're responsible for keeping employees, customers, and community members safe from harm. One way to satisfy this obligation is to implement a workplace drug testing program. 

Some businesses have to comply with Department of Transportation test regulations, while others are free to create their own guidelines. Protect your business by learning more about DOT vs. non-DOT drug test requirements. 



Key Takeaways 

Here are the key things you should know about DOT vs. non-DOT drug tests: 

        • DOT has strict regulations regarding sample collection and processing. 
        • DOT requires a designated panel based on federal guidelines.  
        • The rules for DOT drug testing are outlined in Title 40 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. 
        • Non-DOT testing programs typically follow state laws regarding workplace safety. 
        • Both types of testing may help you reduce the risk of workplace accidents. 


Table of Contents 

  1. What is a DOT Drug Test? 
  2. What is a Non-DOT Drug Test? 
  3. Key Differences 
  4. Which is Better? 


What Is a DOT Drug Test? 

A DOT drug test is a specific type of drug screen that complies with U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. If your company is subject to DOT regulations, you must administer a preemployment drug test before hiring CDL drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles. 

You must also administer a DOT drug test in the following circumstances: 

    • Following a motor vehicle accident resulting in a human fatality 
    • Any time you have reasonable suspicion that an employee in a safety-sensitive position is under the influence of drugs or alcohol 
    • After a motor vehicle accident resulting in bodily injury with immediate medical treatment required 
    • When a driver completes the return-to-duty process following a positive drug screen or refuses to undergo a DOT drug test 
    • Following the initial return-to-duty test 
    • After a motor vehicle accident resulting in disabling damage to a motor vehicle (i.e. damage severe enough to require vehicle towing) 

Finally, employers subject to DOT regulations must perform random drug testing. The required testing rate varies by DOT agency. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are allowed to set different testing rates based on their needs. 


Recommended Reading: Motor Carrier Guide to DOT-CDL Drug Testing 


Testing rate refers to the number of random tests you must conduct in a calendar year. For example, if you manage a company with 200 employees and have a required drug testing rate of 50%, you'd have to perform at least 100 random drug tests per year to comply with the law. 

A DOT drug test checks for the following drug classes

    • Amphetamines and methamphetamines 
    • Cocaine 
    • Marijuana 
    • Opioids 
    • Phencyclidine (PCP) 


Benefits of DOT Drug Testing 

    • A formal testing program may help you avoid fines or other sanctions from a DOT agency. 
    • Adhering to DOT standards deters employees from using prohibited substances. 
    • Regular testing helps identify employees who aren't taking safety seriously, giving you a chance to address the problem before an accident occurs. 
    • Performing regular drug tests shows community members that your company cares about their well-being. 
    • You have the opportunity to reduce costs associated with absenteeism, low productivity, and other harmful effects of substance abuse. 

Every DOT agency has a target drug testing rate of at least 25%, so this type of testing is extremely common. 


Recommended Reading: Most Common DOT Clearinghouse Violations 


Screen smarter, hire safer. Get the right talent to drive your success. Speak to an expert.


What Is a Non-DOT Drug Test? 

A non-DOT drug test is a drug screen that doesn't comply with DOT requirements. If you aren't subject to DOT regulations, you have a lot more freedom when it comes to structuring your drug screening program. 

Although non-DOT testing is more flexible than DOT testing, you still need to follow all relevant laws in your jurisdiction. Some states have no restrictions on workplace drug testing, while others prohibit employers from testing workers who aren't in safety-sensitive positions. 

You also need to be aware of laws related to marijuana use in your state. In some states, it's illegal to discriminate against candidates or current employees simply because they use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. 

For example, Arizona forbids employers from taking adverse action against medical marijuana patients. The only exception is if an employee possessed, used, or was impaired by marijuana while working. 

Your city may have even stricter laws than your state does, so make sure your HR team is aware of differences from one city to the next. In Philadelphia, employers aren't allowed to require preemployment cannabis testing unless one of the following exceptions applies: 

    • The federal government requires drug testing as a condition of a grant or contract. 
    • Testing is necessary to comply with state or federal safety regulations. 
    • Testing is included in the terms of a union contract. 

As of March 2022, about 16% of private-sector companies relied on drug tests to make employment-related decisions. Testing is more common in large companies than in small companies. 

Since non-DOT drug tests are more flexible, you can use them to test for a much wider range of substances. For example, it's possible to screen for barbiturates, methadone, and benzodiazepines in addition to the five drug classes included in a DOT test. 

Non-DOT testing may produce the following benefits: 

    • Lower risk of workplace accidents 
    • Improved reputation in the community 
    • Lower rates of substance use among employees 
    • Reduced absenteeism 
    • Increased productivity 


DOT vs Non-DOT 1


DOT vs. Non-DOT Drug Test: Key Differences 

When you compare the DOT vs. non-DOT drug test requirements, a few key differences stand out. These differences relate to specimen collection, testing frequency, and substances included in each screen. 


1. Collection Guidelines 

If you're bound by DOT regulations, your testing program must comply with all relevant collection guidelines. These guidelines exist to ensure the accuracy and validity of each test result. 

Before an employee provides a specimen, the collector must verify their ID and make sure there's nothing in the test area that could be used to alter the results. For example, employees aren't allowed to have access to water, as they might use the water to dilute their urine. 

DOT only requires observed collection in the following circumstances: 

    • The test subject tampers with the sample. 
    • The medical review officer orders an observed collection due to abnormal test results that have no legitimate medical cause. 
    • The specimen temperature isn't within the acceptable range. 
    • You need a return-to-duty test or a follow-up test after an employee completes the return-to-duty process. 

You have more flexibility when it comes to non-DOT tests. For example, you're not required to have someone observe the collection process for each return-to-duty test. 

Additionally, DOT tests require split specimens. Once the test subject voids their bladder, the collector or another laboratory employee must split the specimen into two containers. 

If the first half of the specimen produces a non-negative result, the lab runs another test on the second sample. You don't have to use split specimens when performing non-DOT drug tests. 


2. Specimen Types 

Urine is the only acceptable specimen type for a DOT drug test. In contrast, labs may use urine, saliva, or hair to screen for drug use. 


Recommended Reading: 6 Common Methods for Employee Drug Testing 


3. Testing Frequency 

Testing frequency is another major difference between DOT and non-DOT drug testing requirements. For example, DOT agencies require employers to perform random testing at a specific rate each year. 

If you aren't subject to DOT regulations, you don't have to do any random testing at all. Therefore, you may decide to test only after an accident or when a manager suspects that an employee has been using drugs or alcohol on the job. 

Reducing testing frequency may help you reduce the cost of maintaining a workplace drug testing program. Your employees may also be more receptive to testing. 


4. Substances Tested 

As noted previously, a DOT drug test only checks for five types of drugs. If you aren't subject to the DOT regulations, you're free to test for additional substances. 

For example, if you're concerned about safety issues related to benzodiazepines, you can test for drugs such as diazepam, alprazolam, and clonazepam. 

DOT agencies require alcohol testing in addition to drug testing. You don't have to perform alcohol testing if you aren't subject to the DOT requirements. 


DOT vs. Non-DOT Drug Test: Which Is Better? 

The right choice for your company depends on several factors, such as what type of work your employees do and what type of business you operate. If you're subject to the testing regulations outlined in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, it's best to follow the DOT testing requirements and avoid penalties for noncompliance. 

If you don't hire employees in safety-sensitive positions, or your company isn't involved in a DOT-regulated industry, you have a little more freedom. You can eliminate random testing, test at a lower rate than federal law requires, or test for additional substances. 


Get Reliable Drug Testing Services From Driver iQ 

Even if you don't have to follow the DOT testing requirements, your company can benefit from having a strong workplace drug testing program. Preemployment tests, post-accident tests, and random tests may help you reduce your operating costs and maintain a positive reputation in the community. 

Now that you understand DOT vs. non-DOT drug test requirements, it's time to apply what you learned. If you aren't already testing your employees, consider starting a formal drug screening program. 

Driver iQ, a Cisive company, is a trusted partner in employment screening and verification. We know how important it is to conduct accurate background checks, especially for safety-sensitive positions, so we take care of everything from employment verifications to DOT drug testing. 

Our solutions are tailored to the transportation industry, ensuring that you receive accurate results without delay. Speak with an expert to learn more about how Driver iQ can help you streamline your hiring processes and minimize risk. 

Screen smarter, hire safer. Get the right talent to drive your success. Speak to an expert.


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