What Truck Drivers Need to Know About the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

drug alchohol clearinghouseThe Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) has created rules designed to improve transparency about drivers who are cited with drug and alcohol issues. Although the new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse rules will not necessarily result in CDL professionals incurring new penalties, the changes will substantially impact the hiring process across the country. The Clearinghouse policy was initially published in 2016, but there are important compliance dates that truckers and trucking companies should note. 

How the Clearinghouse Program Impacts Substance Abuse Reporting

Under the new Clearinghouse rules, the FMCSA mandates that truckers participating in drug and alcohol testing programs and substance abuse oversight have their results reported to the Clearinghouse system. Such groups include the Medical Review Officers, Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs), as well as third-party testing organizations. Any trucker subject to testing who posts a positive result, fails a breathalyzer of .04 percent BAC, or refuses a roadside sobriety examination, will be reported to the Clearinghouse. The FMCSA says that the new rules are expected to reduce crashes and save an estimated $196 million annually. According to the Federal Register, industry professionals can expect the following cost increases:

The Agency estimates about $196 million in annual benefits from crash reductions resulting from the rule. The benefits consist of $55 million in safety benefits from the annual queries and $141 million in safety benefits from the pre-employment queries. FMCSA estimates that the rule would result in $154 million in total annual costs, which include:

  • $29 million that is the estimated monetized value of employees' time to prepare annual employer queries;
  • $11 million that is the estimated monetized value of employees' time to prepare pre-employment queries;
  • $3 million for employers to designate service agents, and $1 million for SAPs to report initiation of the return-to-duty Initial Assessment
  • 5 million incurred by various reporting entities to register with the Clearinghouse, verify authorization, and become familiar with the rule, plus an additional $700,000 for these entities to report positive tests;
  • $35 million of fees and consent and verification costs consisting of $24 million in Clearinghouse access fees incurred by employers for pre-employment queries, limited annual queries, and full annual queries, plus $11 million of the monetized value of drivers' time to provide consents to employers.”

Employers will be required to also report any “actual knowledge” they have of a possible drug and alcohol violation. They will be required to submit evidence and documentation of the alleged violation, as well as possible witnesses. And, trucking employers must file a signed affidavit within three business days. If this sounds a lot like a police-style investigation, the scrutiny does mirror one in many ways. The federal government is determined to stop drunk and impaired driving on America’s highways.

How the Clearinghouse Impacts Truckers Seeking Jobs

When the new rules are fully implemented, CDL drivers looking for trucking jobs will find that potential employers are mandated to conduct a Clearinghouse background check. All FMCSA-related entities and drug and alcohol oversight organizations are required to sign on to Clearinghouse. When truckers apply for a jobs, you can expect that a full drug and alcohol background screening will be conducted before you are loaded up and handed the keys. There are two specific checks worth noting.

  • Partial Inquiry: This check is to determine only if the prospective employee has been placed in the Clearinghouse database based on a drug or alcohol issue. This inquiry does not necessarily authorize the release of documents.
  • Full Inquiry: This background check is conducted with the truck driver’s full consent and covers all relevant Clearinghouse information disclosures.

Going forward, trucking companies will be required to run an online Clearinghouse search for all drivers at least once annually to ensure their CDL professionals have no safety-sensitive issues that prohibit truckers from operating a commercial motor vehicle.

Truck Driver Clearinghouse Protections

Experienced truckers have every reason to be concerned about a federal database that could incorrectly sideline you or cost you a good-paying truck driving job. Federal and state agencies sometimes make mistakes. Having a massive database in place that could wrongly take away your ability to earn a living is more than a little disconcerting. With that reality in mind, there are measures in place for truck drivers to protect themselves.

First, truck drivers are not excluded from the Clearinghouse system. You can register and search your own records to make sure they are accurate and up to date. The database will be at your disposal at no cost. Second, CDL professionals will be notified by snail mail, or electronically if you sign up for these notifications, regarding any new information or changes to existing files. Information will be organized by CDL number or your date of birth. The system is not expected to be organized by using a social security number. Truckers are urged to sign up and protect your driving rights.

Key Clearinghouse Registration and Compliance Dates

Although the final Clearinghouse rule was enacted in December 2006, the full roll-out runs until 2023. However, truck drivers and trucking companies should be aware that registration recently began.

  • Fall 2019: Query plans are available for employer purchase.
  • January 6, 2020: Clearinghouse becomes fully operational, and all stakeholders can access the database.
  • January 6, 2023: At the three-year mark, trucking industry employers must use the Clearinghouse for all background checks and identify drivers with drug or alcohol violations.

Both drivers are trucking company representatives are urged to promptly familiarize themselves with the Clearinghouse system and remain mindful of important dates. While the new regulations are designed to improve driver and highway safety, professional CDL drivers would be wise to monitor their own records in the event of a mistake or issue that could sideline you.

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