DOT & Non-Dot Reasonable Suspicion Training: What it is and Why You Need It

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5 September 2023

DOT & Non-Dot Reasonable Suspicion Training: What it is and Why You Need It

According to Forbes magazine, as of late there are more trucks on the road traveling more miles and carrying more freight. Even more disturbing for the companies that employ these truckers? Accidents involving transports have risen 22% and the cost of these accidents rose 7%. Deaths from large truck accidents rose almost 9% to their highest number in 29 years.

There is no denying that it’s a dangerous industry. With 40 tonnes of steel hurtling down the highway and drivers under the unavoidable pressure to deliver their goods on time, it’s no surprise that the government and companies are taking drug and alcohol use on the job seriously. (Learn more in Drug and Alcohol Testing In The Motor Carrier Industry).

In addition to adhering to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations about random testing and other types of drug testing, supervisors are expected to immediately remove any driver who shows signs of alcohol or drug use from any safety-sensitive position and insist on additional testing. However, it can be a tricky situation. You can’t afford to take a chance on a driver who might be intoxicated or high, but you have to be sure, or at least reasonably sure, that the employee is actually exhibiting signs of drug or alcohol use. This is why reasonable suspicion training, particularly for your supervisors, is critical. (Learn more in Empowering Your Workforce With Reasonable Suspicion Training).

Reasonable Suspicion Training

While reasonable suspicion training is required for all Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) covered employees, it is can also save non-DOT employers from numerous legal liability issues. Recent studies are suggesting that the potential liability is much more significant than previously thought. In a long series of studies, researchers discovered that truckers regularly use alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis and cocaine to get through their long, gruelling and lonely hours on the road. In fact, in one study, 50% of truckers worldwide admitted to using alcohol on the job and 30% admitted to using amphetamines. The U.S. trucking industry had the highest frequency (12.5%) of alcohol tests worldwide.

Failure to Train

Failure to train your supervisors in reasonable suspicion training can have serious consequences. For an FMCSA and DOT-covered employer, it can mean fines and penalties. For all employers, regardless of whether or not they are covered by DOT, failure to properly train supervisors can also translate into an increased liability. First, there is the additional liability associated with accusing an employee incorrectly and running afoul of labor regulations. Second, there is the liability associated with allowing a driver, who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, to continue driving for you. If an intoxicated driver has an accident, your company could bear some of the very expensive liability costs related to the accident. Having supervisors who are trained to recognize and deal with acute symptoms of substance abuse in your drivers can help protect everyone.

DOT vs. non-DOT Training

Any Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and DOT covered supervisor entrusted with making a reasonable suspicion call must have a minimum of two hours of reasonable suspicion training. This training must include at least 60 minutes of alcohol training and 60 minutes of drug use training. This training requirement is waived for owner-operators, although they are expected to join a random testing consortium. While there are no rules for reasonable suspicion training for supervisors in non-DOT roles, it is highly recommended that similar care be taken in training in order to avoid costly errors or litigation. Most providers offering non-DOT reasonable suspicion training offer courses that are similar in length to DOT courses.

Reasonable Suspicion Curriculum

DOT and non-DOT reasonable suspicion training cover many of the same topics. The main focus on DOT reasonable suspicion training is to ensure supervisors are able to recognize whether or not a DOT or safety-sensitive employee should be sent for further testing prior to driving again. For non-DOT employers, the focus is on recognizing the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol use in order to protect the company from avoidable liabilities and to ensure the right recommendations are made.

When it comes to DOT governed employers, reasonable suspicion must be based on contemporaneous, or immediate, observations that are articulatable and specific while reasonable suspicion for non-DOT employers can also include ongoing, recurring or cumulative symptoms. (Learn more in What is Considered Reasonable Suspicion? A Look At The Criteria For With Cause Drug Testing in the Workplace).

Typically, reasonable suspicion training includes how to recognize the following acute symptoms of drug and alcohol use including:

  • Behavior
  • Appearance
  • Speech
  • Movement
  • Mood
  • Balance
  • Odor

Training should also include:

  • An overview of the various drugs that might be abused
  • An overview of existing and new DOT rules and regulations regarding reasonable suspicion, or in the case of non-DOT covered employers, any additional federal or state regulations that may apply
  • A review of drug and alcohol testing procedures, possible results and consequences
  • The role of the Medical Review Officer (MRO) and the Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)

It will also cover expectations following reasonable suspicion determination including employee interviews, interventions, confirmation testing, and documentation. DOT, in particular, has very strict rules regarding the documentation of reasonable suspicion. For example, any actions regarding reasonable suspicion must be documented within twenty-four hours of the incident.

Companies With DOT and Non-DOT Employees

If you’re one of the many companies who employ both DOT and non-DOT covered workers, your supervisors will have to balance two sets of very different reasonable suspicion requirements. A strong workplace drug and alcohol policy can help and ensure your supervisors receive both DOT and non-DOT reasonable suspicion training.