The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration aims to plug some holes in the regulatory net with its proposed clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results.

The clearinghouse, which has been on the safety wish list for 15 years, is designed to prevent commercial drivers from hiding drug or alcohol violations and ensure that carriers are meeting their responsibility to test for substance abuse.

The agency published the proposed rule in Thursday’s Federal Register and asked for comments by April 21. It will post a final rule after it has reviewed the comments and made adjustments if necessary.

The rule will set up a system in which everyone associated with the federal drug and alcohol testing program will have to report test results, refusals to take a test and return-to-duty results.

That includes carriers, Medical Review Officers, Substance Abuse Professionals and the consortia that offer testing services to the industry.

In addition, carriers will have to report their drivers’ traffic citations for driving under the influence.

And laboratories that provide drug-testing services will have to report summary information on their tests every year.

All of this will go into the clearinghouse, a searchable database. Carriers will be required to look at the data, with the driver’s permission, before they hire a driver. As is currently the case, the rule will require carriers that contract with owner-operators to treat those drivers as employees when it comes to reporting to and querying the database.

The clearinghouse will be administered by FMCSA, and the proposed rule establishes the terms of access.

The rule is designed to shore up weaknesses in the current system.

For instance, drivers can get away with not reporting positive tests to prospective employers. Or, after testing positive in an application, a driver might wait until the substance clears his body before applying with a different carrier.

“As a result, such drivers continue to operate (trucks) after violating the drug and alcohol regulations without completing the required return-to-duty process,” the agency says.

The agency now uses compliance reviews and new entrant safety audits to check on carrier compliance with the testing requirements. That nets only a small percentage of the 520,000 carrier employers.

“As a result, many motor carrier employers that do not have a testing program may go undetected,” the agency says.

And the new entrant audits show that as much as 86% of would-be carriers have not yet set up a testing compliance program.

The new rule is designed to plug those gaps by requiring all drug testing labs to file an annual summary report showing the carriers they serve. The agency will use that information to identify carriers that do not have a compliance program.

Oliver Patton

Oliver Patton

Former Washington Editor

Truck journalist 36 years, who joined Heavy Duty Trucking in 1998 and has retired. He was the trucking press’ leading authority on legislative and regulatory affairs.