What is the Return To Duty Protocol?

After failing a drug or alcohol test, many CDL truckers will look to Return to Duty (RTD) and the position they once held. What does the process called “Returning to Duty” involve and how can you get back to work in the position you once held? 


Let’s examine the process of returning to duty and review how the Clearinghouse Navigator and eLearning courses could help in this undertaking. 

When Testing Occurs 

Before we take a look at how to get back to driving again, let’s back up a moment and assess the testing protocols in the first place. There are several circumstances that dictate when a CDL driver should be tested. 


  • Pre-employment - prior to being hired there is usually a required negative drug test. 
  • Post-accident - After an accident a drug test can be completed up to 32 hours after an accident and alcohol test up to 8 hours. 
  • Random - To be in compliance the DOT requires that the minimum annual rate for random drug testing is 25%. The minimum annual rate for random alcohol testing is 10%. 
  • Return-to-duty - This drug test takes place after a driver has received a violation. This could include refusing to take a drug test or receiving a positive test result. 
  • Follow-up - is the second part of the return-to-duty process. This also takes place after a driver has a violation.
  • Reasonable Suspicion/Cause - This can occur when there is reasonable and articulable belief that the employee is using a prohibited drug.

Completing Returning to Duty 

Once an employer, or consortia/third-party administrator (C/TPA) enters the drug and alcohol program violation information into the Clearinghouse database, the driver is prohibited from driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) until the Return to Duty process has been successfully completed. These C/TPA individuals are required to report the violation information by the close of the third business day following the date on which they obtained the information.

Once the violation has been entered into the database, a substance abuse professional (SAP) is assigned to the case and completes an initial assessment. This designated person must report the date of completion of an initial SAP assessment and the date of determination of eligibility for RTD testing, by the close of the business day following the assessment or determination. 

The SAP provides the employer with recommendations for education/treatment for the employee who failed the drug or alcohol test. After the driver completes the education or treatment plan, the SAP re-evaluates the driver to determine compliance and establish a follow-up testing plan.

Once the driver completes the entire RTD program and receives a negative drug test they are no longer prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions. 

The return-to-duty (RTD) process is outlined in Part 40 Subpart O and also includes a follow up testing plan. For more information check out the Clearinghouse Navigator