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Understanding FMCSA Alcohol Testing (Part 2)
4 mins read

NOVEMBER 7, 2017 – When a drug test result comes back positive, it’s usually pretty cut and dry…it’s a positive drug test. Alcohol tests are different due to the varying levels of alcohol that may be in one’s system.

The FMCSA considers an alcohol test to be positive if a driver has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater. But unlike controlled substances which are prohibited at all times, alcohol is not. That’s why it’s important that all motor carriers and drivers understand when alcohol can be consumed – and when it must be avoided.

On-Duty Alcohol Use

This is relatively simple:  drivers are not allowed to use alcohol at any time while performing safety-sensitive functions.

Pre-Duty Alcohol Use

The FMCSA requires that drivers cease all alcohol use at least 4 hours before going on duty.

Alcohol Use Following an Accident

FMCSA-qualifying accidents are stressful and complicated and it can be unclear for some time following an accident whether a driver must take an alcohol test. Therefore, the FMCSA requires that the driver refrain from alcohol and remain available to test for at least 8 hours following an accident or at least until an alcohol test is administered…whichever comes first.

Alcohol Concentration Levels

As indicated above, drivers may not operate with an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater. In order to understand what happens if alcohol is found to be in a driver’s system but is BELOW 0.04, let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation:  A driver spends his night off  enjoying a few drinks with his buddies. He goes into work the next morning and is told he’s been selected for a random alcohol test. He isn’t concerned because it’s been hours since his last drink. When he takes the test he comes up with a 0.02 alcohol concentration. It’s not a positive result, but it’s not negative  either. Now what?

In situations when a driver has an alcohol concentration of between 0.02 and 0.039, he or she must not operate for a minimum of 24 hours. This is not considered a positive test result and employers cannot fire an individual based solely on this alcohol concentration.

Initial Alcohol Screening Test

When a driver takes an alcohol test, as long as the alcohol concentration is 0.000, nothing else needs to be done. However, a concentration of above 0.02 requires an additional alcohol screening test.

Confirmatory Alcohol Test

After a driver has received a result of 0.02 or higher, he or she must wait 15 minutes and then take another test. The confirmatory test determines whether the alcohol concentration is going up or down. If the confirmatory test result is between 0.02 and 0.39, the driver must not operate for a minimum of 24 hours. If the confirmatory result is 0.04 or higher, this is a positive result and the driver must complete the entire Return-to-Duty process before resuming safety-sensitive functions for any company.

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