It has been almost a year since the FMCSA instituted the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, which means that the deadline for running a limited query for all fleets in the nation is rapidly approaching. Here are the details of the regulations and why you should have the query done for your fleet, whether it’s a fleet size of 1 or 100, as soon as it can be done.
Every truck fleet is required to, once a year, fulfill a limited query within the Clearinghouse database. A limited query will not detail the circumstances of any violations, but will say if there is a violation of any sort for a driver within the database. Failure to complete a limited query can result in a demerit on any future FMCSA compliance audits, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
The most recent version of an FMCSA monthly report (September) detailing Clearinghouse use shows that only 145,000 of the approximately 500,000 motor carriers that need to fulfill a query even have an account on the website, let alone have done the limited query. Furthermore, it says only approximately 50,000 of those registered are owner-operators, which is disheartening since the Department of Transportation lists two-thirds of all fleets as owner-operators: a discrepancy of around 283,000 accounts not created yet.
The query requirement has a deadline of a full calendar year from the last time the required limited query was accomplished. This means that if you elect to do the query on November 15th rather than January 5th, you will have to do it again by November 15th, 2021. So why follow the title of this article and do it now when you can keep two months of grace for yourself? The answer is something all truckers might be familiar with: traffic.
Traffic and Crashes
When the Clearinghouse first opened for business, many of the larger motor carriers as well as diligent owner-operators logged on to create an account (and possibly fulfill the limited query requirement) as soon as possible. The website crashed on launch day, and was unstable for weeks afterward, with pages loading slowly.
The FMCSA says it has updated its Clearinghouse website architecture, but it very well may still not be enough. The website collapsed on itself with the traffic of fewer than 145,000 fleets trying to get their work done. It is highly unlikely that even with some upgrades that the website will handle a tidal wave of 355,000 motor carriers trying to create an account on the last day, and it is hard to tell how merciful the FMCSA will be regarding fines on a deadline that fleets had a year to finish.
By doing the query process now (or at least before January), not only are you more likely to have a smoother and less stressful experience, but there is one fewer load on the system for all of the other fleets trying to register in January before the deadline hits.
At the very least, the sooner a fleet starts, the more time they will have to go through the process, ask clarifying questions regarding the rules, and make sure they are doing everything properly.
Being ahead of the curve may make the next query come earlier, but by running a tight ship, the benefits of starting early and taking things steadily outweigh those of trying to do everything at the last minute.