Jan. 6, 2020 is when use of the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse becomes mandatory to report and...

Jan. 6, 2020 is when use of the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse becomes mandatory to report and query information about driver drug and alcohol program violations by holders of commercial driver licenses.

Image: FMCSA

When to comes to dealing with federal regulations, the over-the-road trucking industry has been plenty busy over the past several years complying with the electronic logging mandate, which of course is now fully on the books, and envisioning and lobbying for reform of the hours-of-service rule, for which some notable traction has been gained of late.

But there is a third big regulation— one that has had as close to unanimous support from trucking stakeholders as any safety rule has had — going into effect just over four months from now that fleet owners and managers need to get up to speed on pronto.

The final rule, driven by a Congressional mandate, to establish a Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse was published back on Dec. 5, 2016 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Since then, the agency has been diligently preparing for Jan. 6, 2020, when use of the clearinghouse becomes mandatory to report and query information about driver drug and alcohol program violations by holders of commercial driver licenses. Employers must conduct both electronic queries within the clearinghouse and manual inquiries with previous employers to cover the preceding three years. Then beginning on Jan. 6, 2023, employers will only have to query the clearinghouse and be able to stop making manual inquiries.

The agency’s prep work for the rule’s implementation includes amassing an impressive amount of informational guidance online that can be accessed at a dedicated website built and updated as needed by FMCSA..

The good news is that by poking around in the site you will likely get an answer to any possible question you may have on the clearinghouse and how it is supposed to work.

The bad news is that it’s a government-designed website, so although it loads up plenty fast, it is not hugely intuitive. That means finding what you are looking for can take some hunting.  

So, as a public service, courtesy of yours truly, here are ten not-to-be-missed highlights pulled from the FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse information site:

  • The clearinghouse is digital— it is a secure online database that will give employers, FMCSA, State driver licensing agencies (SDLAs), and State law enforcement personnel real-time information about commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders’ drug and alcohol program violations
  • The clearinghouse will contain records of violations of drug and alcohol prohibitions in 49 CFR Part 382, Subpart B, including positive drug or alcohol test results and test refusals. When a driver completes the return-to-duty process and follow-up testing plan, this information will also be recorded in the clearinghouse.
  • Starting sometime this fall, users will be able to establish an account that will allow access to the clearinghouse once it becomes operational (as per above, on Jan. 6, 2020)
  • The rule will require that employers conduct queries of the clearinghouse as part of any pre-employment driver applicant investigation and at least annually for every CDL driver currently employed
  • Employers of CDL holders will have to purchase a “query plan” for the clearinghouse. The query plan will enable employers and their consortia/third-party administrators (C/TPAs) to conduct queries of driver clearinghouse records.
  • Beginning this fall, registered employers will be able to log into their clearinghouse accounts to purchase their query plan. Query plans may be purchased from the FMCSA Clearinghouse only
  • The “query bundle” an employer purchases from FMCSA will depend on the number of queries that need to be conducted. The flat per-query rate is $1.25, for limited and full queries. There are customized “bundles” available to help fit business requirements Purchased queries never expire and additional query plans may be purchased as needed
  • Limited queries check for the presence of information in the queried driver’s clearinghouse record. Driver consent is obtained outside the clearinghouse
  • Full queries will disclose to employers and C/TPAs (see above) detailed information about any resolved or unresolved violations in a driver’s clearinghouse record. The driver’s specific electronic consent in the clearinghouse is required How do authorized users sign up to access the Clearinghouse database and when will registration be available?
  • Employers, CDL holders, medical review officers, substance abuse professionals, and consortia/third-party administrators will have to register to access the clearinghouse database. Again, clearinghouse registration is scheduled to open this fall and one can sign up now to receive email updates from FMCSA, including a notification once registration is indeed open.
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.

View Bio