FMCSA CDL CLEARINGHOUSE 3 Things That All Motor Carriers & Drivers Should Know
FMCSA Commercial Driver’s License Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse
3 Things That All Motor Carriers & Drivers Should Know
FMCSA Commercial Driver’s License Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse is more than a mouthful to say; it represents the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration’s push toward a government regulated standard of safety & accountability. Affecting nearly every aspect of the trucking industry, the Clearinghouse will continue the trend toward a fully electronic world.
The definition found at clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov is:
“The Clearinghouse is a secure online database that will give employers, the 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. “
In other words, the Clearinghouse will be a real-time, or “always current” government system which will store a driver’s drug & alcohol violations. The goal is to keep CDL drivers with alcohol & substance abuse violations off the road until they complete the RTD process. All those involved with the Clearinghouse will each play a particular role in it use and transfer of information. One thing for certain is that change is coming.
As you read this you may notice that some information is repeated in 2 or 3 places. This is on purpose in an attempt to demonstrate how each area of responsibility interacts with the others.
Now let’s look at 3 things that anyone who is involved in a Motor Carrier business needs to know about FMCSA’s Clearinghouse!
1. Who Is Affected?
As the snippet above states, “Employers, FMCSA, SDLA’s, Law Enforcement, CDL & CLP holders…” but also affected will be C/TPA’s (Consortia or Third party administrators), MRO’s (Medical Review Officers, and SAP (Substance Abuse Professionals)… basically anyone directly or indirectly involved in the operation of commercial vehicles. As drivers and motor carriers will see the most change in their day to day activities, this will be the focus of this article. Also, when the Clearinghouse speaks of “drivers” they are only speaking of those who hold CDL’s or CLP’s.
2. Roles & Responsibilities?
There will be two main functions of the Clearinghouse, reporting information & requesting information; however the FMCSA Clearinghouse will work differently for each party involved; thus we have broken it down by roles.
Before diving into motor carrier responsibilities, note that the Clearinghouse will in no way change/affect 49 CFR Part 40, which outlines transportation workplace drug testing. Also, if you are a motor carrier that is subject to more than FMCSA commerce, you will still need to abide by other modal commerce restrictions/responsibilities. i.e. You operate a rail-yard that moves freight via tracks & roads, you will need to comply with both FMCSA & the FRA.
Motor Carrier/Employer Responsibilities
- Registering the Company in the Clearinghouse & assigning users and third-party administrators. Each company will be responsible to create its own profile with Login.gov & the Clearinghouse. As well as, assigning its office staff, Consortium, and third party administrators, this will allow those assisting your business the access that is needed. In fact, “No C/TPA or other service agent may enter information into the Clearinghouse on an employer’s behalf unless the employer designates the C/TPA or other service agent.” All motor carriers in the US are required to register with the Clearinghouse before the official effective date of January 6, 2020.
- Reporting drug and alcohol violations within three business days of receiving that information. The FMCSA is very clear on this point, ” Employers must report the following information about a driver to the Clearinghouse by the close of the third business day following the date on which they obtained that information:
- An alcohol confirmation test result with an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater
- A negative return-to-duty test result
- A refusal to take an alcohol test pursuant to 49 CFR 40.261
- A refusal to test determination made in accordance with 49 CFR 40.191
- A report that the driver has successfully completed all follow-up tests as prescribed in the SAP report in accordance with 49 CFR 40.307, 40.309, and 40.311″
This will be an area to watch closely, as the MRO will also update the Clearinghouse with any DOT testing information; meaning that an audit officer can review who uploaded information and easily see if an employer was negligent in this! (A best practice would be to verify what supplemental documentation is needed to retain and upload; The regulations concerning the clearinghouse start at 49 CFR 382.701: Reporting regs.)
- Employers are required to obtain written consent from each of their current drivers and retain this form in the Driver Qualification file. This written consent must be date specific (but can include the language “For the duration of my employment”). This written consent can only be used for the employer to run a “Limited Query”.
- Employers are required to make Queries with the Clearinghouse- An employer will be required to conduct full queries for potential drivers before hiring them! “Employers must not employ a driver subject to controlled substances and alcohol testing under this part to perform a safety-sensitive function without first conducting a pre-employment query…. the employer must conduct a full query under this section.”
- Employers will need to make sure each applicant is registered with the Clearinghouse. The process of running a Full Query on each applicant requires the applicant to receive an email notification asking for his/her consent to the prospective employer to run the Full Query. (Additional note- The following information only applies to Pre-employment Full Queries: In the event information is entered into the applicants Clearinghouse profile within 30 days of a Pre-employment Full Query, each motor carrier who has made a request regarding that driver will receive notification of additional information updated on the applicants profile. The purpose is to identify an applicant who may have tested positive and then applied with another carrier before the Clearinghouse was updated.
- Employers are require to perform at least a limited query annually for each driver they employ.
- Required Recordkeeping: Employers need to retain their queries for 3 years, Employers must retain a record of each query and all information received in response to each query made for 3 years. As of January 6, 2023, an employer who maintains a valid Clearinghouse registration fulfills this requirement. Clarification: employers are responsible to retain proof of their queries until January 6, 2023, at which time all further queries will be retained for the required three-year period within the Clearinghouse.
- Register with the Clearinghouse. There is an additional step to register with the Clearinghouse. Each driver and any other authorized user must have a login.gov account in order to register with the Clearinghouse. For the link to register with both Login.gov & the Clearinghouse, see the bottom of this article.
- Providing consent to current or prospective employers to access details about any drug and alcohol violations. We will break this down further along but suffice to say for now, there are TWO types of queries or searches that will be accessible through the Clearinghouse. The two variants are full queries & limited queries, and both involve a different level of consent from the driver.
- Review their own records on the Clearinghouse for accuracy and filing disputes for inaccurate records. Registered drivers will have the ability to view their own records and to also dispute “the accuracy of information reported, not the accuracy or validity of test results or refusals.” Source (Clearinghouse official FAQ’s) This is a crucial aspect as a violation can put a driver off the road and into the lengthly return-to-duty process. Driver access to Clearinghouse records are free.
- Assigning a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) . In the event of a drug or alcohol violation, the driver is required to identify a SAP within the Clearinghouse. The SAP is required update the Clearinghouse with information for the “Return-To-Duty” (RTD) process of the driver.
- Drivers do NOT need to be registered for only a Limited Query – For the Limited Query a currently employed driver will not need to be registered with the FMCSA’s Clearinghouse, as long as the driver’s written consent has been given and the Limited Query doesn’t reveal any violations.
- When is a driver required to register with the Clearinghouse? In the event a motor carrier runs a Limited Query and is returned with information stating a drug and/or alcohol violation exists, then the driver will have to register with the Clearinghouse and provide electronic consent for that motor carrier to run a Full Query. This must be done within 24 hours of the motor carrier receiving the Limited Query which prompted the request for the Full Query.
- Reasons why a driver should register with the Clearinghouse if he/she is not yet “required” to.
- In the event erroneous information is entered into the Clearinghouse – The driver will only have 24 hours to get the login.gov profile, Clearinghouse registration, and electronic consent finalized. If this doesn’t happen the driver is not legal to drive until the subsequent Full Query is returned with a “clear record.”
- There are many drivers who currently do not have an email account nor are proficient with using the internet/a computer – The ONLY method for getting a driver profile in the Clearinghouse is for each driver to have a private email account and use that to register. The motor carrier may “help” the driver with the registration process but the driver will be responsible to check his email for notifications.
- This will eliminate added layers of stress in the event of having to run a Full Query – It will save time and headache by being prepared; best case the driver can pull into a rest stop and provide consent from his phone. Worst case, your driver is pulled off the road, another driver has to pick up the slack and your employee is frustrated that he has to find a public library/coffeeshop with free internet and a computer to use while you walk him through it at 8pm.
- From an HR Perspective – If you require anything from one driver, you better have documentation to show that it is company policy enforced on all drivers. If you require all drivers to register now, but don’t make those “3 or 4 favorites,” it could cause heartburn or even legal trouble down the road.
Those motor carriers who are owner-operators are required to work with at least one Consortium/Third-Party Administrator (C/TPA). You are required to assign your C/TPA(s) in the Clearinghouse before they can access the Clearinghouse on your behalf.
3. What is a ‘Query’?
This will be the employer’s mandatory inquiry as to their current and potential employees. There are two differing levels to the query, a full inquiry and a limited or partial inquiry, and both will have the same fee of $1.25 as a flat rate, but will be purchased in bulk plans.
Now let’s deal with the specifics of each type of query.
- Requires one-time consent – A signed consent release is all that is needed to run any number of limited queries per driver. The FMCSA has put out this form for editing and free use but allows employers to create their own. Sample Form The consent form can include the language, “For the duration of my employment”.
- Satisfies the once-a-year minimum requirement – The FMCSA has stated that all drivers are to be queried no less than once every 365 days.
- Only reveals a violation – The limited query will only indicate the presence of a violation not the details. If a violation is discovered, then a Full Query has to be ran within 24 hours, if the full query isn’t run by this time then the driver is to be placed out of a safety-sensitive function immediately and remain so until the issue is resolved.
- Driver does Not need to be registered – For the limited query a current driver will not need to be registered with the FMCSA’s Clearinghouse, as long as the written consent has been given and the limited query doesn’t reveal any violations.
- Requires single-use consent – Consent will need to be provided each time that a full query is made. Additionally, consent can only be done via the driver’s Clearinghouse account, which again is created through Login.gov.
- Must be done for each potential driver – Any applicant applying for a safety-sensitive position with a motor carrier must have a full query completed and on file before being hired! (see point #4 under Motor Carrier/Employer responsibilities)
- Must be done if a limited query reveals violation – If a limited query is returned which shows a violation, the employer has 24 hours to run a Full Query.
- Running the Full Query – The driver can only give consent through the Clearinghouse. To do so He/she must have a login.gov profile and be registered in the Clearinghouse. In the event the driver does not consent to the Full Query and it is not ran within 24 hours of the limited query, he/she must be removed from all safety-sensitive functions until the full query is ran and demonstrates that a RTD process has been completed.
Clearinghouse Final Thoughts
The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) is officially requiring the Clearinghouse to be in use on January 6,2020. Registration is now open for drivers, motor carriers, owner-operators, SAP’s, and MRO’s to create their accounts and be ready for this change.
We would recommend all motor carrier employer’s take the time to inform their drivers to register; as there are operations of the Clearinghouse that may affect their livelihood! The last thing that anyone would like when facing not being able to work or be hired is technical difficulty or inaccurate information, which can only be combated by a registered driver!
It is critical that each driver checks the Clearinghouse and also ensures the address of record on his/her CDL or CLP is current. If the FMCSA cannot obtain an electronic response from the driver (for consent), they will send a letter to the record of address which may take some time to arrive, even if the address is correct. Meanwhile, the driver is not legal to perform any safety-sensitive functions, and the motor carrier can face penalties for allowing the driver to do so.
Finally, though the Clearinghouse represents the sometimes frustrating or confusing shift to a fully digital world, the FMCSA has taken lengths to provide information that is clear and easy to access, see the resources and links below!
CLEARINGHOUSE REGISTRATION (Select ‘go to login.gov’, note – each instance receives a new URL for security purposes)
OFFICIAL CLEARINGHOUSE HOMEPAGE (See additional resources*)
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