What You Need to Know About FMCSA's Clearinghouse

If you work in the trucking industry or commercial motor vehicle sector, no doubt you have heard of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Clearinghouse. Slated to begin on January 6, 2020, the Clearinghouse is a secure online database that will give employers, FMCSA, State Driver Licensing Agencies, and State law enforcement personnel real-time information about CDL (commercial driver's license) driver drug and alcohol program violations, thereby enhancing safety on our Nation’s roadways.

What does this mean for truckers, employers, and third party administrators? Here is a quick guide to help you understand what the Clearinghouse is, how the timeline laid out, how it will impact our roadways, and the information contained within the Clearinghouse. 

The Mission 

The main goal of the FMCSA's Clearinghouse is to save lives by reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving commercial motor vehicles. To accomplish this mission of enhancing safety on our nation's thousands of miles of highways, Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to establish the Clearinghouse. 
The Clearinghouse is merely one part of the overall program to: educate, enforce, financially assist, partner with other areas of the transportation industry, and hold drivers and employers accountable. Once the Clearinghouse is operational, authorized users will be required to request access from FMCSA by registering for the Clearinghouse.

The Timeline 

In December 2016, Congress mandated the implementation of the Clearinghouse Final Rule. This established a drug and alcohol clearinghouse and identified the roles and responsibilities of those who will be required to use the Clearinghouse. This past fall, Clearinghouse registration opened. Users will need to establish an account that will allow access to the Clearinghouse to drug and alcohol testing as mandated by the federal government. 
Last month registered employers were able to log into the Clearinghouse to purchase their query plan. Query plans may only be purchased from the FMCSA Clearinghouse by registered employers. These queries should be made during pre-employment screening as well as during annual verification of eligibility to drive. 
As of January 6, 2020, less than a month from now, mandatory use of the Clearinghouse goes into effect. At this time employers will be required to both report drug and alcohol violations as well as conduct queries of employees. At this point, manual checks of the previous three years from former employers is required as wel,l until the Clearinghouse has been operational for three years. By 2023, those manual queries will no longer be required as the Clearinghouse will have hit the three-year mark. Once three years of violation data are stored in the Clearinghouse, employers are no longer required to also request information from the driver’s previous FMCSA-regulated employers 

Impact on Our Roadways 

In our past blog on “Highway Impact,” we discussed the positive effects this new program will have on the nations’ roadways. In short, the Clearinghouse will make it easier for employers to meet their reporting obligations as well as to meet their pre-employment investigation requirements. In making the access and reporting/queries easier, it is the goal to improve the safety of our highways for the 115 millions cars that hit our roadways daily. 
In addition to ease of use for employers, roadside inspectors and other enforcement personnel will be armed with the information they need to ensure that drivers receive required evaluation and treatment before performing safety-sensitive functions, such as driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).

Information Held on the Clearinghouse 

Not just “anyone” can access the private information held on the Clearinghouse database. Authorized users must register and create an account to access the Clearinghouse. From there, authorized users can gain access to current drug and alcohol testing completed for all commercial motor vehicle drivers. Employers, owners, third party administrators, medical review officers, substance abuse professionals, and of course, the commercial drivers themselves will have access to the test results. 

Testing Types 

Testing types and time frames for illicit drugs include: pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, post-accident, return- to-duty, and follow-up. The testing for alcohol includes: pre-employment (optional), random, reasonable suspicion, post- accident, return-to-duty, and follow-up.
What exactly is determined as a violation of the testing? Tests for alcohol use four hours prior to operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration (blood alcohol content) of .04 or above. Drug testing is completed to determine if the operator has tested positive for use of specified drugs. Another area where a violation exists is refusal to submit to a drug or alcohol test. In addition, Alcohol use prior to post-accident alcohol testing is cause for a violation of the Clearinghouse Rule. 
As the program continues to progress in order to keep our roads safe, Clearinghouse Navigator will continue to supply updates on testing, digital registrations, and education for those involved in this federally required drug and alcohol testing program. Stay tuned for further educational resources so that you and your team can be trained on what to expect from the Clearinghouse rule.