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What the National Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Means for Expediters

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Jan 16th 2017 9:00AM

In early December, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a final rule that establishes a National Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse for commercial truck drivers. So, what does this mean for you as an expedite owner-operator or fleet owner?

EO has combed through the ruling to pull together the most relevant highlights to help answer some of the key questions you might have about the rule.

What exactly is the rule?
The clearinghouse rule requires stakeholders--motor carriers, medical review officers (or their designated representatives) and substance abuse professionals--to report the following to FMCSA:

  • A driver's positive drug and alcohol test results
  • A driver's refusal to be tested
  • A driver's traffic citations for impaired driving
  • Any drivers who have undergone the "return-to-duty" drug and alcohol rehabilitation process
  • Actual knowledge of a driver's drug or alcohol use.

Why is the rule necessary?
The purpose of the Clearinghouse database is to create a central, nationwide repository of records of violations of FMCSA's drug and alcohol testing program by commercial driver's license (CDL) holders. This will help prevent a CDL driver from "job-hopping" after a failed test because the new prospective employer will have immediate access to drug test records before deciding whether to hire a driver. In other words, it helps ensure that failed drug tests don't fall through the cracks, keeping those drivers off the public roads until they have gone through the proper "return-to-duty" process.

"The clearinghouse will allow carriers across the country to identify current and prospective drivers who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol, and employ those who drive drug- and alcohol-free. Drivers who test positive for drugs or alcohol will no longer be able to conceal those test results from employers and continue to drive while posing a safety risk to the driving public," said FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling in a statement.

When must all stakeholders be in compliance?
Although the rule took effect on January 4, 2017, the full compliance date for FMCSA-regulated employers is January 6, 2020.

How is the Clearinghouse to be used?
Employers will be required to query the Clearinghouse for current and prospective employees' drug and alcohol violations before permitting those employees to operate a commercial motor vehicle on public roads.

Employers will also be required to query the Clearinghouse each year for all drivers they currently employ.

All state driver's licensing agencies will be required to query the Clearinghouse whenever a CDL is issued, renewed, transferred, or upgraded.

Does this rule cover non-CDL drivers?
No. It applies to CDL holders only.

What about CDL drivers who fail a drug and alcohol test and then seek employment with a non-CDL carrier?
J.B. Hunt posed a question like this in a comment within the ruling, concerned that "many drivers who fail a test and can't 'job-hop' due to the Clearinghouse will downgrade to an operator's license and migrate to carriers not required to conduct testing or check for past test failures."

The agency's response: "at this time, it would not be appropriate to require that motor carriers who employ individuals (either non-CDL holders or CDL holders) to operate [commercial motor vehicles (CMVs)] with GVWRs between 10,001 and 26,000 pounds to query the Clearinghouse. Such a requirement would expand the reach of this rulemaking to employers and drivers who are not required to participate in FMCSA's drug and alcohol testing program."

What is the impact on driver privacy rights?
Here's how FMCSA puts it: "In accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a), a driver must grant consent before an employer can request access to that driver's Clearinghouse record and before FMCSA can release the driver's Clearinghouse record to an employer. After registering with the Clearinghouse a driver can review his or her information at no cost."

What has been the industry's response?
Both American Trucking Associations (ATA) and Alliance for Driver Safety & Security have welcomed the rule.

"[The December 2nd] announcement provides the trucking industry with a powerful tool to keep drivers who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol out from behind the wheel of our trucks," said Bill Sullivan, ATA executive vice president of advocacy in a statement.

ATA research analyst Abigail Potter added: "In addition to the benefits of keeping potentially risky drivers out of the trucking industry, the final clearinghouse rule will also improve the efficiency of the hiring process by ending the so-called 'three-year lookback.' The Clearinghouse, after its first three years of operation, will take the place of carriers querying drivers about their last three years of employment history. Relieving the industry of this burden will provide tremendous time and cost savings."

Said Steve Williams, president of the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security: "[The] publication by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to create a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse marks a long awaited milestone to take drug users out of large trucks and off our nation's highways, for the safety of all Americans."

The Bottom Line
What does the Clearinghouse rule mean for you as an expediter? If you're an owner-operator with a clean record, you'll have greater peace of mind that the roads will be safer as you deliver freight. And if you're a fleet owner, you'll gain a more efficient way to screen drivers, ensuring that only qualified, sober drivers get behind the wheel of your trucks.

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