Industry Insight
Drug and alcohol clearinghouse

It’s now tougher for truckers to get the all-clear, thanks to the Clearinghouse.

January 28, 2020

“We have a huge drug abuse problem in the trucking industry, and should actually purge an estimated 300,000 commercial drivers to clean it up,” says Lane Kidd, Managing Director of the Trucking Alliance. “No wonder truck accidents are on the rise.”

Sobering estimate, huh? 

Enter the US DOT Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

Earlier this month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) officially rolled out the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, a secure online database that standardizes and provides authorized users with the records of professional drivers.

With access to The Clearinghouse, employers, the FMCSA, State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLAs), and State law enforcement personnel will have information about any drug or alcohol program violations on the records of commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders.

This means it will no longer be possible for drivers who have committed a drug and alcohol program violation while working for one employer to get hired by another employer by failing to report the violation. Instead, the Clearinghouse will keep detailed records on each driver (including limo drivers, school bus drivers, construction equipment operators and sanitation drivers, too, not just truckers) that potential employers can access to improve hiring practices. It also makes it possible for prospective employers to obtain substance abuse history from companies that have gone out of business, or obtaining information from companies that do not cooperate timely with background check requests.

“The Clearinghouse will identify drivers who move frequently and obtain CDLs in different states and link those CDLs,” says the FMCSA, “in order to maintain complete and accurate information on such drivers.”

Its database will retain records of drivers with reported violations of the current regulations including:

  • Reporting for duty or remain on duty for safety-sensitive functions with an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater
  • Reporting for duty or remaining on duty for safety-sensitive functions while using any drug specified in Part 40 of the regulations, other than those prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner 
  • Using alcohol while performing, or within four hours of performing, a safety-sensitive function
  • Using alcohol within eight hours of an accident, or before submitting a post-accident test, whichever occurs first 
  • Testing positive for use of Clearinghouse-specified drugs 
  • Refusing to submit to a required alcohol or drug test (which automatically registers as a failure)

These driver consent records will be retained in the database for five years.The Clearinghouse was created by an act of Congress directive to the Secretary of Transportation, with the primary intent of improving highway safety. Once it’s fully operational, the Clearinghouse will:

  • Make it easier for employers to investigate and report on potential drivers
  • Make it harder for drivers to hide drug and alcohol violations from current or prospective employers
  • Provide roadside inspectors and other enforcement personnel with the means to ensure that drivers receive required evaluation and treatment before performing safety-sensitive functions
  • Make it easier for FMCSA to determine employer compliance with testing, investigation, and reporting requirements

“The Clearinghouse provides FMCSA and employers the necessary tools to identify drivers who are prohibited from operating a CMV based on U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) drug and alcohol program violations,” the FMCSA says, “and ensures that such drivers receive the required evaluation and treatment before operating a CMV on public roads.”

When do Clearinghouse rules apply?

As of this month, “employers will be required to conduct both electronic queries and traditional manual inquiries with previous employers to meet the three-year timeframe … for checking CDL driver violation histories,” says the FMCSA. “Drivers may also view their own records for information recorded on or after January 6, 2020.”  Once three years of violation data are stored in the Clearinghouse, employers will no longer be required to obtain the traditional manual inquiries from previous employers.

However, the FMCSA recently extended the compliance date for state agencies by three years, to give state motor vehicle agencies more time to configure their IT systems to interact securely and accurately with the Clearinghouse. 

“The compliance date extension allows FMCSA the time needed to complete its work on a forthcoming rulemaking to address the states’ use of driver-specific information from the clearinghouse and time to develop the information technology platform through which states will electronically request and receive clearinghouse information,” the agency said.

The Clearinghouse regulations require FMCSA-regulated employers, Medical Review Officers, Substance Abuse Professionals, consortia/third party administrators, and other service agents to report violations of the substance abuse regulations for current and prospective employees. The Clearinghouse regulations also require employees to query the Clearinghouse for prospective employees’ drug and alcohol violations before permitting those employees to operate a commercial motor vehicle AND to annually query the Clearinghouse for each driver they currently employ.

What does this mean for the logistics industry? 

Cracking down on drug and alcohol program violations does mean that the shortage of truck drivers will become even more severe. And once upcoming federal regulations enforce hair testing of drivers rather than just urinalysis, the gap will continue to widen. 

Draft guidelines for government-wide hair testing “have been distributed to all federal agencies for a second round of comment and review, and the length of time for review will be determined by the Office of Management and Budget,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed in early December.

A recent study by the Trucking Alliance, based on 3.5 million commercial drivers and projecting a 99% confidence level, says that more than 300,000 truck drivers currently on the road would fail or refuse a hair analysis. 

“The test results indicated a major discrepancy between the number of drivers who failed a urinalysis drug screen and those who failed a hair test,” The Trucking Alliance said. “While 949 (0.6%) applicants failed the urine test, 12,824 (8.5%) either failed or refused to submit to a hair test. The US Department of Transportation classifies refusals to submit to a drug or alcohol screening as a failure. This yielded a hair test failure rate 14.2 times greater than urine.”

Not only will these enforcements cut down on the pool of truckers driving today, they may also affect the pool of new drivers willing to fill the resulting demand. 

“I think a 3% capacity reduction within the first six months of the year is realistic and will have a material impact on what the supply-demand dynamic looks like in 2020,” Derek Leathers, president and CEO of Werner Enterprises told FreightWaves.

Looking on the bright side

Sure, the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse is likely to result in some short-term demand for drivers, which may slow some of your shipments. But for Agforce, this means we’ll ultimately have even more confidence in the drivers we work with … and you can have more confidence in them, too. 

If you have any questions about the Clearinghouse, how it works, how it’s used, when it goes into effect or how it will affect your business, reach out. We’re happy to talk you through it. Call us at 877.367.2324 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

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