Last updated: September 25, 2023
Always looking for ways to improve highway safety, the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) rolls out a new program for employers soon. It officially begins January 6, 2020. The FMCSA designed the Clearinghouse to enable employers and others to identify drivers who have drug and alcohol violations.
Those that have access to the Clearinghouse are:
- State Driver Licensing Agencies
- State law enforcement
With the ability to access real-time information, employers and others accessing the secure online database can discover any undisclosed drug or alcohol violations. This eliminates the possibility of mistakenly allowing drivers who have unreported violations on the road and forces them to complete the proper steps necessary to climb back up in that rig.
The FMCSA ruled back in December 2016 to establish the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Employers purchase plans based on the number of employees in service easily adding more when needed. Enrollment opens up sometime in October.
When hiring a driver, employers will access the Clearinghouse database to search for drug and alcohol violations. If something pops, the employer can’t hire them. Furthermore, the employee becomes aware they will not operate a vehicle until completing the return-to-duty process.
In addition, employers must conduct annual Clearinghouse queries for all drivers employed.
Real-time access eliminates the possibility of drivers committing a drug or alcohol violation at one job and getting another without informing their new employer of the violation. All violation records remain on file at the Clearinghouse for five years, or until the driver completes the return-to-duty process. No more will dishonest drivers simply move to another state and get a new CDL license.
Drivers tracked in the database include:
- Interstate and intrastate motor carriers — commercial and passenger
- School bus drivers
- Construction equipment operators
- Limousine drivers
- Municipal vehicle drivers, such as waste management
- Federal and state agencies that employ drivers, such as the Department of Defense or public transit
The violation documentation stored in the Clearinghouse database includes:
- Verified drug test results that report a positive, adulterated, or substituted result
- Refusal to test reports
- Verified alcohol test results above .04
- DUI citations and convictions while operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle
- Reports of actual knowledge of illicit drug or alcohol use
- Negative return-to-duty test results
- Compliance records that include follow-up testing requirements
Getting the show on the road
First things first, the Clearinghouse program is not an option. Employers need to get registered this fall and be ready to roll by January 6, 2020, if they want to remain in compliance. When enrolling, you also purchase your query plan. The flat per query rate is $1.25 for both limited and full queries. However, the FMCSA will customize bundles to meet your needs. The FMCSA offers a more cost-effective option for high volume users.
Your consortium or TPA (Third Party Agency) may access the database on your behalf. However, employers are responsible for purchasing queries. A query must be obtained as a part of any pre-employment investigation and, then, at least annually for all drivers employed.
There are two types of queries.
- Limited queries will satisfy the annual query requirement. These queries check for the presence of information. Driver consent is obtained outside the Clearinghouse.
- Full queries are necessary for all pre-employment investigations. They report full disclosure about any resolved or unresolved violations on record with the Clearinghouse. Driver consent is obtained electronically by the Clearinghouse before the release of information.
If a limited query yields a result, the initial cost covers the additional full query request as well. Also notable, employees that refuse to sign the information release won’t be getting a job.
No exceptions to the rule.
Before they get behind the wheel
Employers must register before January 6th, but there are other steps to take before putting your employees behind the wheel. We’ll mention that the driver’s CDL information (number and state origin) must be easily accessible in their file. That will be the driver’s tracking number for the database.
In addition, plan now to change your hiring process. Include documentation that obtains consent from drivers to request a detailed query. Also, explain within the consent that you report any results to the Clearinghouse.
Moreover, make sure your drug-free policies include the new regulations. As a matter of fact, the Drug Screening Compliance Institute reported last month that employers need to make a change to how they record information on their Federal Drug Testing Custody and Control Form (CCF) and Alcohol Testing Form (ATF). Rather than accepting either the driver’s social security number (SSN) or employee identification number (EIN), the employee’s commercial driver’s license number (CDL) will be the only accepted identification number.
Finally, train your DER (Designated Employer Representative) and safety officers so they understand how to document “actual knowledge” of drug and alcohol use while operating a CMV.
One more thing
Employers are mandated to report specific drug and alcohol violations to the Clearinghouse beginning on January 6, 2020.
While the process is getting up and running, it makes sense that not all driver information will be on file at the database. As a matter of fact, no violations prior to January 6th of next year will be entered. For the time being, employers must contact previous employers to look for any violations for 3 years prior to applying with their company.
Beginning January 6, 2023, employers will only need to query the Clearinghouse database to investigate prior alcohol or drug violations.
The FCMSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse doesn’t change anything regarding the DOT procedures for drug and alcohol testing. Everything remains the same with the exception of:
- adding the Clearinghouse requirements to existing policies
- acquiring driver consent to query and report findings — a driver’s refusal to provide consent prohibits the employer’s ability to hire them to fill a safety-sensitive position
- training to keep DER’s and other management personnel
Things might get a little congested in the beginning if it’s discovered that a wrench got left in the works. All in all, though, it appears that the FMCSA has everything all mapped out.
Giving employers the ability to query as to whether drivers have drug or alcohol violations will definitely be an advantage. Finding out that someone has misrepresented themselves in order to get a job strongly indicates that they are hiding a substance abuse problem.
Putting them behind the wheel is not a risk that an employer should be forced to take due to their dishonesty.