Image: FMCSA

Image: FMCSA

The long-anticipated final rule to establish a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse for commercial truck and bus drivers has at last been released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The rule goes into effect on January 4, 2017, with a compliance date of January 2020. 

The agency said on Dec. 2 that the clearinghouse database will serve as a central repository containing records of violations of FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program by CDL holders.   

Once the clearinghouse is established, motor carrier employers will be required to query the system for information concerning current or prospective employees who have “unresolved violations” of the federal drug and alcohol testing regulations that prohibit them from operating a commercial motor vehicle. The rule also requires employers and medical review officers to report drug and alcohol testing program violations. 

The final rule requires motor carriers, medical review officers, third-party administrators, and substance abuse professionals to report information about drivers who: 

  • Test positive for drugs or alcohol
  • Refuse drug and alcohol testing
  • Undergo the return-to-duty drug and alcohol rehabilitation process 

Motor carriers will also be required to annually search the clearinghouse for current employees as well as during the pre-employment process for prospective employees to determine whether a driver violated drug or alcohol testing requirements with a different employer that would prohibit them from operating a CMV. 

However, in accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974, a driver must grant consent before an employer can request access to that driver’s clearinghouse record and before FMCSA can release the driver’s clearinghouse record to an employer. After registering with the clearinghouse, a driver can review his or her information at no cost. 

FMCSA pegged the rule’s annual net benefits at an estimated $42 million, given the crash reductions expected to result from annual and pre-employment queries by motor carriers.

Reacting to the news, David Heller, vice president of Government Affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, told HDT that, "While we are still reviewing the rule that was released this morning, as an association whose members support a zero tolerance position regarding drugs and alcohol, we applaud the agency in its efforts to continue making our roadways safer."

The American Trucking Associations also welcomed word of the final rule on Dec. 2.“Today’s announcement provides the trucking industry with a powerful tool to keep drivers who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol out from behind the wheel of our trucks,” Bill Sullivan, ATA executive vice president of advocacy, said in a statement.

Trucking's biggest lobby pointed out that the rule’s rolloutmarks the end of nearly two decades of advocacy by ATA” to create a national repository for drug and alcohol test results “to close a loophole” that could enable a driver with drug or alcohol problems to be hired without a carrier being informed of that history.

“Having information about a driver’s history is important to carriers when we make hiring decisions,” said ATA Chairman Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express Inc., Dayton, Ohio. “This clearinghouse will give carriers like mine peace of mind to know we are putting safe– and sober– drivers behind the wheel and on the road.”

ATA Research Analyst Abigail Potter noted that the final rule will also end what’s known as the “three-year lookback” during the hiring process. “The clearinghouse, after its first three years of operation, will take the place of carriers querying drivers about their last three years of employment history,” she explained. “Relieving the industry of this burden will provide tremendous time and cost savings.”

The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security applauded the rule’s rollout as well. Steve Williams, president of the Trucking Alliance, called the action “a long awaited milestone to take drug users out of large trucks and off our nation’s highways, for the safety of all Americans.” 

Williams pointed out that when the Trucking Alliance was formed in 2011 “two of our major objectives were to persuade Congress to mandate electronic logging devices in all commercial trucks and to create a drug and alcohol clearinghouse for truck drivers.” 

He also was quick to credit the bipartisan efforts of five current and former Senators with legislating the clearinghouse mandate. “Former Senator Mark Pryor and current Senator John Boozman, both from Arkansas, introduced those bills and they were both included in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. So, on the day when a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse is announced, I want to make a special point of thanking Mark Pryor and John Boozman for leading this effort.” 

Williams noted that current Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and former Senator David Vitter (R-LA) were co-sponsors with Pryor and Boozman of the drug and alcohol clearinghouse legislation. “Without these five Senators working together in a bipartisan manner, we might never have a fail-safe way to identify drug users and keep them out of our trucks,” he said. “All motorists have these current and former Senators to thank for reducing risk on our highways.”

Congress directed FMCSA to establish such a clearinghouse via the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) highway bill of 2012. 

“This is a major safety win for the general public and the entire commercial motor vehicle industry,” said FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling in a statement. “Drivers who test positive for drugs or alcohol will no longer be able to conceal those test results from employers and continue to drive while posing a safety risk to the driving public.” 

Click here to view the final drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule.

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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