Just when you thought the FMCSA was done regulating, they toss on even more regulations. This time it’s with the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. The website is loaded with information on the new database, and you really should go there if you want to obtain a full understanding of the program. For those who got into the profession for the love of trucking rather than reading scrupulous regulations, here is our concentrated version of the most important aspects of the Clearinghouse.
What is the Clearinghouse?
The Clearinghouse website says that “an act of Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to establish the Clearinghouse.” Which congressional act did this is never directly stated.
Official as of January 6th, 2020, the Clearinghouse is a database of CDL drivers to track their history of alcohol and drug use violations. These include driving with a blood alcohol content above .04 or drinking within eight hours of an accident. Employers will be required to report their drivers’ violations into the database when they happen, with which future employers must view before hiring a prospective employee.
The purpose is to promote safety by further deterring the use of commercial vehicles while under the influence of mind-altering substances.
How the Clearinghouse Impacts the Driver
Now that you know what the Clearinghouse is and does, how will these changes impact you as a driver? Here is a list of facts compiled from the FAQ:
- It is the responsibility of the employer to update the violation records in the Clearinghouse for its drivers on an annual basis. If you are a driver and are hearing of the Clearinghouse for the first time today, you are not breaking any laws or regulations.
- The Clearinghouse reporting rule does not apply retroactively. If you have had a drug use violation before January 6th, 2020, it will not be in the Clearinghouse’s records.
- For the first three years of database operation, employers will need to consult both previous employers and the database for information regarding driver violations, as the database alone will not have enough information to cover driver history. If an employer checked the database on January 6th, 2020, everyone would have a completely clean record!
- Come January 6th, 2023, employers both current and prospective will not need to contact previous employers for driver information, they will only use Clearinghouse as their source of required violation information.
- If you obtain a violation, it stays within the records for five years AND until you complete the Department of Transportation Return to Duty process.
- Drivers can view their own records in the database and petition to have the information corrected if it is false, but it is the employer who submits the information to the database. An employer or service agent who knowingly submits false information is breaking the law and may be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties.
- There are two types of data retrieval from the database that current or future employers can do: a limited query and a full query. A limited query only answers as to whether or not there are currently violations on a person’s record, whereas a full query goes further into detail about the violations, such as the drug in question and the date the violation occurred.
- Employers are required to full query the Clearinghouse for information about prospective employees before hiring them and must at least perform a limited query for information about current employees once a year. Whether they utilize the information in the Clearinghouse to influence future employment decisions is up to them, but they are legally obligated to be informed.
- A current employer needs the general consent of a driver in order to do a limited query, which can be obtained from the driver outside of the Clearinghouse and lasts for a specified amount of time that can be longer than a year. If a driver plans to stay with an employer for their entire career, the general consent agreement can be defined to last for thirty years. A limited query is of no use or purpose to a prospective employer, who instead deals only in full queries.
- A potential or current employer needs the express consent of the driver to full query, and this express consent must be obtained every time a full query is planned to be done. For express consent to be given, the driver needs to register with the Clearinghouse and provide the consent electronically through their personal driver account.
If you are a safe driver who avoids mind-altering substances completely or only partakes during weekends when operating a commercial vehicle is far into the future, the most impact the Clearinghouse will probably do is require you to sign a sheet of paper for your employer to check the database annually for any changes in your records. If you want to take a more active approach and check for false information, if you are changing employers after 2019, or if your current employer wants to take greater safety precautions and would prefer a full query over a limited query, you will need to create an account on the Clearinghouse website. The impacts of the new regulations is essentially a slight nuisance on behalf of the driver. A prospective employer would have otherwise asked for past substance abuse violations regardless, and this database streamlines the process in a way intended to reduce fraud. Instead of asking the driver to list all violations in the past five years and asking previous employers to verify, the employer will just need a signature, electronic or written (depending on the scope of the query), to check the database.
The system is an investment in headaches. Until 2023, there will be more headaches as everyone adjusts to the new regulations and the database fills, but come 2023 and beyond, when the Clearinghouse becomes the only standard for checking substance use violations, there will be fewer headaches for everyone involved!