Introduction

There is the saying that rules are made for people and not people for rules. This is the same reason why a lot of the existent laws are often changed over time to allow for adjustments. New rules are also created in a bid to create a more harmonious environment where businesses can thrive and prosper.

The rise of these policies should be seen in good light and understanding what they stand for and seek to achieve should be sought. It is in the place of these understanding that compliance can be worked towards.

This is what the document wants to achieve. Once everyone understands the gap the FMCSA clearinghouse is filling, all hands will be on deck to ensure that the lofty objective is achieved. That said, change is a force we all need but run the most away from. We must all learn to change and make the best of these policies.

*Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is otherwise referred to in this document as FMCSA clearinghouse.

Understanding the FMCSA Clearing House

In 2012, Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to establish a national Clearinghouse containing CMV operators’ violations of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s drug and alcohol testing program in Section 32402 of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). This rule implements that mandate and also responds to earlier recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board.

This information collection supports the Department Of Transport Strategic Goal of Safety by ensuring that drivers are qualified to operate trucks and buses on our nation’s highways. The directive led to the creation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, more commonly referred to as the clearinghouse.

The Concept of Clearinghouse

The Clearinghouse is an online database that has real-time information about the drug and alcohol violations of CDL and CLP holders. It is the driver’s responsibility to register in the database, and then before they can be hired with a CDL position, the employer has to check the database to see if they have any failed or refused drug tests. It can be looked at by employers, the FMCSA, State Drivers Licensing Agencies, and state law enforcement. That is what it is in a nutshell, but of course, it is a little more complicated than that.

Clearinghouses in themselves are not new, banks and financial houses, in general, have always had clearinghouses. This serves as a form of intermediary between the buyer and seller of any given asset or the exchange of say a banking cheque. In this role as a mediator, the clearinghouse is unbiased in its operation. All it is about is the ultimate satisfaction of both parties that are involved in the transaction.

It is also a place of inquiry on any given transaction that has passed through at any time. Transactions can be recalled, and the buyers and sellers indicated. This is the aim of the clearinghouse and it is the same process that the FMCSA clearinghouse follows.

Functions of a Clearinghouse

As mentioned, a clearinghouse is basically the mediator between two transacting parties. However, there is also more to what clearinghouses do. Let us take a look at some of their functions in more detail.

  1. The clearinghouse guarantees that the transactions will occur smoothly and that both parties will receive what is due to them. This is done by checking the financial capabilities of both parties to enter into a legal transaction, regardless of whether they are an individual or an organization.
  2. The clearing firm makes sure that the parties involved respect the system and follow the proper procedures for a successful transaction. The facilitation of smooth transactions leads to a more liquid market.
  3. It is the clearinghouse firm that provides a level playing field for both parties, where they can agree on the terms of their negotiation. This includes having the responsibility for setting the price, quality, quantity, and maturity of the contract.
  4. The clearinghouse makes sure that the right goods are delivered to the buyer, in terms of both quantity and quality, so that at the end of the transaction there are no complaints nor arbitration necessary.

These are the functions of a financial clearinghouse. It is upon this same model that the FMCSA clearing house operates. It aims to do the following:

  1. The FMCSA clearinghouse will provide the infrastructure that will allow for the results of truck drivers to be uploaded to the clearinghouse.
  2. The FMCSA clearinghouse will review the results of the truck drivers uploaded and check for compliance.
  3. The FMCSA clearinghouse will provide FMCSA and employers the necessary tools to identify drivers who are prohibited from operating a CMV based on DOT drug and alcohol program violations and ensure that such drivers receive the required evaluation and treatment before operating a CMV on public roads.
  4. The Clearinghouse enables employers to identify drivers who commit a drug or alcohol program violation while working for one employer, but who fail to subsequently inform another employer (as required by current regulations).

Records of drug and alcohol program violations will remain in the Clearinghouse for five years, or until the driver has completed the return-to-duty process, whichever is later. Allowing for the recall of transaction and effective tracing.

What Will the Clearinghouse Contain?

There’s a lot of information that’s going to go into the Clearinghouse. It’s going to have the records of violations of drug and alcohol prohibitions in 49 CFR Part 382, Subpart B. It will have information about:

  • Positive drug tests
  • Positive alcohol tests
  • Drivers completing the return-to-duty process and follow-up testing plan

The FMCSA clearinghouse is the equivalent of a financial clearinghouse, only that this time, instead of clearing cheques and wall street assets, it will be clearing truck drivers and issuing them licenses based on their level of compliance.

The clearinghouse is entirely digital and while the groundwork of the FMCSA clearinghouse has been on since 2017, the mandatory enrollment kicked off in January of 2020. The aim of the clearinghouse is to improve safety on the highway while helping to quickly identify drivers who violate alcohol laws and by such standards will be ineligible to operate a truck.

What this Means for You

Every policy, act or bill has a way of impacting humans and their way of life, this can be either positively or negatively. It is part of the process that opines that laws are made for people and that people are not made for laws. If you carry a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), you drive a truck, or own a trucking business, the FMCSA Drugs and Alcohol clearinghouse rules will affect you.

This section will be dedicated to how the new FMCSA rules can affect you, either as a driver or as a business owner.

How Do the Rules Affect Drivers?

Digital literacy is key: Knowing that you have to register on the database and that you have to carry out routine checks and queries on the FMCSA clearinghouse, it is key that digital literacy capacity must be developed. You will be mailed if any information is uploaded, updated, or removed about you. This can help you dispute claims and have an idea of what is going within your space in the FMCSA clearinghouse.

Stringent measures: If the Motor carrier business you drive for holds drug and alcohol tests every now and then, as a matter of necessity, those tests will become even more thorough and the time frame will come closer together. This is in a bid to comply with the FMCSA requirements and to upload the very best of results. This good thinking, however, means a substantially reduced time doing what is important – trucking and by effect, a reduced pay. The stringent measures are however necessary if any motor carrier intends to comply with the new rules.

It is all getting digital: You might not be driving a Tesla cyber truck yet, you might not have seen the wonders that come with an electronic vehicle but things are going digital around you by the day. One of such is your alcohol and drug testing policies. With the FMCSA policies, you can say goodbye to paper shuffling and all the stress that comes with it. The FMCSA is an entirely digital database, all the uploads and exchanges happen digitally. This does have a draw-back though, data cost.

It is a multifaceted approach: If you think you only have your trucking business Alcohol and drug testing profile to deal with, you might be in for a rude shock. The FMCSA clearinghouse procedures are so thorough and multifaceted that it includes FMCSA-regulated employers, Medical Review Officers (MROs), Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs), consortia/third party administrators (C/TPAs), and other service agents to report to the Clearinghouse information related to violations of the drug and alcohol regulations in 49 Code of Federal Regulations, parts 40 and 382 by current and prospective employees. You are going to be dealing with a lot more than your employers and it is time to tread carefully.

The wrong record could be damning: Under the new rules, FMCSA accredited employers are to track down their prospects drug and alcohol results using the FMCSA’s clearinghouse. A lot of employers will usually do this towards the tail end of the entire recruitment process. Should they find anything unpleasant on the result, you can be sure that the employment opportunity might not come through any longer.

Data Storage Protection: One thing the FMCSA has going for it is that the data on the clearinghouse interface is safe and instead of being linked to the usual Social Security Number, it is instead linked to the data on individual driver’s license. This makes it even more secured.

It is all working for you: Owing to the deep distrust that people have for anything administered by the government, some drivers may be led to believe that the FMCSA’s new rules are stacked against them. This cannot be farther away from the truth. The new rules are on your side of the struggle. They are out there to protect you and ensure that the entire road is free of drivers who are under the influence of alcohol when they are driving. That is only fair. So long as you are not breaking any laws or ethical standards, the laws and even the new FMCSA rules will work out just fine for you.

How Do These Rules Affect Employees?

Employers of labor within the trucking business are going to also be impacted by the new rules that accompany the new FMCSA clearinghouse. How exactly will these rules affect employers and what is their role within the grand scheme of things?

Conduct testing and report accordingly: As one of the fundamental tipping points in the entire FMCSA clearinghouse set up, employers are expected to regularly conduct testing and to upload the result of the same to the FMCSA database. These tests will include routine tests as well as return-to-duty tests. Whatever the result, they are expected to record the results on the FMCSA clearinghouse. When a result is negative, the employer is to report when follow-up testing will commence and also communicate the result of the same.

Do annual limited queries for the drivers in their employ: Employers are expected to check the records of drivers under their employ at least once a year. This is to keep abreast of whatever is happening with their drivers and to instill accountability within the entire establishment.

Use the FMCSA robust resources during employment screening: One of the key things that employers look out for during the process of recruitment is the drug and alcohol abuse profile of the prospective employee. In times past, some employers have had to expend resources to conduct individual substance abuse tests. All that is over, the FMCSA clearinghouse database can be accessed to get the full query on any driver on the purchase of a required bundle. This bundle grants the opportunity to receive electronic consent from the driver in a bid to access his or her profile.

Use the Clearinghouse to report violations of drug/alcohol use: The employers, as well as other players in the FMCSA clearinghouse set up, are required by the law to report any adverse drug and alcohol testing information to the clearinghouse. This includes any positive drug results, any alcohol results with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.04, refusals to test, and any other non-test violations of FMCSA’s drug and alcohol regulation. Employers will have to submit a report of a drug or alcohol program violation by the close of the third business day following the date on which the employer obtained the information.

Report of actual knowledge of violation: In the same legal cum safety concern range, employers will be required to report any “actual knowledge” violations along with documentation that includes the date of the violation, a detailed description of the event, an approximate time the violation occurred, the names and contact information for any corroborating witnesses and evidence to support each fact alleged in the description of the violation. If they are unable to provide tangible written, video, or audio evidence, the employer must attest to each alleged fact in an affidavit.

The Roles of the Unsung Heroes of the FMCSA Clearinghouse Set Up

The FMCSA clearinghouse is not just about employees and employers, there is more to making the system works than just that. There are Medical Review Officers, law enforcement agencies, and substance abuse professionals that all contribute their quota to ensure that the FMCSA.

The duties of the MRO includes:

  1. The MRO must report positive drug test results to the Clearinghouse database (within two business days of making a determination)
  2. Refusals to a drug test as determined by the MRO must be reported to the Clearinghouse including adulterated and substituted specimens (within two business days of making a determination)
  3. Report changes to Clearinghouse within one business day after making a change to a previously reported result

The security agencies are to work hand in glove with the FMCSA to ensure that the road is as safe as possible and that truck driver who is under influence are reported and have their FMCSA profile update.

Adjusting and Making It Work

The FMCSA clearinghouse requirements might seem too stringent, however, there are ways to adjust to it and make it work. The primary objective of the FMCSA is to have safe roads, it will go to any length to get this done.

One major development in recent years has been the habit of truck drivers to bury their drug or alcohol violation by simply moving to another trucking company. With the FMCSA clearinghouse, there will be an industry-wide database that can be cross-checked.

How then can all this work and come to fruition?

First, the objective of the FMCSA clearinghouse must be front and center. The clearinghouse was established to have safer roads and make the use of the road more tolerable for all parties involved. How are you contributing to that?

If you look closely at that, you will find that the need to subject yourself to mandatory drug and alcohol checks are just so that the big picture will be achieved. Nobody likes causality on the roads, not even you. The drug tests and constant uploads are just a means of achieving compliance.

It must be noted that the FMCSA clearinghouse operation is totally legal and strengthened by law. So long as you are in a FMCSA governed trucking business, you are obligated to be a part of the process. The main part of adjusting and making everything work falls on the employers the most.

To prepare for the full-scale compliance with the FMCSA clearinghouse requirement, employers of trucking drivers must invest in digital infrastructures that will allow for the uninterrupted upload of results by the Medical Review Officers, drivers, and other players associated with the individual trucking business.

This might involve the use of a Third-Party Administrator. A Third-party administrator is a service agency that a lot of trucking companies prefer to help handle their compliance with the FMCSA clearinghouse procedures. With a TPA, the company grants direct access to the Clearing House to the TPA and it performs all functions on behalf of the company. TPAs are particularly useful when recruiting truck drivers en-masse.

A TPA can also automatically monitor each driver’s Clearinghouse record and send you an immediate notification when a violation is found. This process is a critical step in maintaining a safe and productive workforce. If a limited query shows that a new violation exists, the TPA will request the driver’s consent to run a full query on their record immediately.

The way to make the regulations work is to have all hands on deck. Drivers should take their tests as and when due, results should be updated to the clearinghouse and everything should be in order. To behave otherwise will be to court issues.

With the right processes and technology in place, this new era of CDL driver recruiting will bring opportunity and success for recruiters. It will also empower truck drivers by making the entire recruitment process a breezy one. With the FMCSA clearinghouse data, decisions can be made faster and more transparently.

Conclusion

While it is an important step in protecting the safety of our roadways (and helping you maintain a safe trip always), the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse does come with additional compliance requirements that could put additional strain on your company’s resources. This is especially true over the next three years when employers will be required to conduct both the Clearinghouse query and prior employment verification before they hire a new driver.

It is important as a truck driver or employer of truck drivers to be prepared for the wave of this compliance. This resource is therefore a step in the right direction.

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