Understanding FMCSA’s Return-to-Duty Process for Commercial Truck Drivers

  • July 26, 2023
  • Jenni Gray
  • Approx. Read Time: 4 Minutes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a crucial agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). It is responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).

The FMCSA’s primary mission is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses on our nation’s highways. This is accomplished through the development and enforcement of data-driven regulations that balance motor carrier safety with industry efficiency.


FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

These regulations include what to do when a driver uses a prohibited substance. The FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse plays a vital role in the safety regulation of commercial drivers. From inception through May 2023, 211,136 drug & alcohol violations have been reported to the Clearinghouse.

The Clearinghouse allows the FMCSA, CMV employers, State Driver Licensing Agencies, and law enforcement officials to track and manage any records of violations.

It helps ensure drivers with certain drug and alcohol program violations are not able to conceal them from employers and continue operating CMVs. It also helps ensure that such drivers receive the necessary evaluation and treatment before operating CMVs on public roads.

Using a prohibited substance doesn’t have to be the end of a driver’s career. That’s why the FMCSA developed the Return-to-Duty process.


What is Return-to-Duty (RTD) Process?

The Return-to-Duty process is a way for truck drivers of CMVs who carry a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and have violated the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program to return to safety-sensitive duties.

Essentially, if a driver has tested positive, refused to test, or violated drug or alcohol regulations prescribed by the FMCSA, they would need to complete the RTD process before getting back on the road.


Why do we need a Return-to-Duty process?

The United States Congress recognized the need for a drug and alcohol-free transportation industry, and in 1991 passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act.

This act required DOT agencies to implement drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive transportation employees. The RTD process ensures that those who have violated drug and alcohol regulations prescribed by the FMCSA have taken necessary steps towards rehabilitation and are deemed fit to perform their duties.


What are the steps to complete the Return-to-Duty Process?

1. Evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP): Once a driver has violated FMCSA’s drug and alcohol regulations, they enter “prohibited” status and they must immediately cease safety-sensitive duties and begin the RTD process. This starts with an evaluation by a DOT-qualified SAP. This professional will evaluate the driver, determine the extent of their substance abuse issues, and recommend an appropriate education or treatment plan.

Note: Starting November 18, 2024, drivers in “prohibited” status will be denied or lose their state-issued commercial driving privileges.

2. Completion of SAP-Recommended Treatment or Education: The driver must complete the treatment or education program recommended by the SAP. This could include substance abuse treatment, counseling, or education programs. The driver is responsible for the cost of these services.

3. Follow-Up Evaluation by SAP: After the driver completes the recommended treatment or education program, they must undergo a follow-up evaluation by the SAP. This evaluation will determine whether the driver has complied with the recommended treatment or education, and is ready to undergo a RTD drug or alcohol test.

4. Pass the Return-to-Duty Test: The driver must pass a RTD drug or alcohol test administered by a qualified Medical Review Officer (MRO). The test results must be negative, and the MRO informs the employer about the result.

5. Follow-Up Testing: After passing the RTD test, the driver must undergo a series of unannounced follow-up tests for a period of 1 to 5 years, as determined by the SAP. This is to ensure continued compliance with FMCSA’s drug and alcohol regulations.


How long does the Return-to-Duty process take?

The RTD program is a comprehensive process that can take several weeks to several months to complete, depending on how quickly a driver completes each stage and the recommended counseling or treatment programs from the SAP.

After the driver completes the recommended programs and demonstrates they are sober and have cleared their RTD test, they can return to safety-sensitive operations, and the process is considered complete.

Note: FMCSA’s Clearinghouse tracks the RTD status of drivers with violations, and publishes a monthly report showing the number of drivers in prohibited status, and where they are in the RTD process.

Since the Clearinghouse launched:

  • 191,138 drivers have had at least one violation
  • 135,682 drivers remain in prohibited status as of June 1, 2023
  • 102,805 drivers have not begun the RTD process


Does a completed Return-to-Duty process appear on a driver’s record, and if so, for how long?

Yes, the RTD process does appear on a driver’s record. As per FMCSA regulations, the RTD records are maintained until the process is completed, and for five years from the date of the violation. If the driver has completed the RTD process successfully, their record will reflect the same.

The FMCSA’s RTD process is an important mechanism that ensures commercial truck drivers, who violated the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program, return to safety-sensitive duties only after completing necessary rehabilitation programs and clearing RTD tests. The process might take some time, but it exists to safeguard the public’s well-being and safety on the road.

Are you required to use FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse? Cisive can handle the process for you. By acting as your C/TPA, Cisive can manage your full and limited queries. Contact us to learn more today.


Share on:

Related posts