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What is the FMCSA's Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse?

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

On January 6, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rolled out its Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, which it describes as an "online database [that] helps keep roads safer for all drivers by identifying, in real time, drivers prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions, such as operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), due to a drug and alcohol program violation."



In essence, the Clearinghouse is a central repository administered by the FMCSA for drug & alcohol testing violation data on all commercial drivers who are subject to the agency's drug & alcohol testing rules. Motor carriers, law enforcement, and state drivers' licensing agencies consult the Clearinghouse to determine whether commercial drivers are qualified to operate CMVs.


In this article, we will explore how the Clearinghouse functions, who must use it, how to register, how and when to conduct Clearinghouse queries, and what information gets reported.


Clearinghouse Home Page
Clearinghouse Home Page

How does it work?

In practice, the Clearinghouse works similarly to state and federal driver licensing databases, except, of course that the Clearinghouse is focused on drug & alcohol testing violations. What I mean is that the Clearinghouse is meant to be checked by motor carriers, law enforcement, and state drivers' licensing agencies to determine whether a particular driver has committed a violation of the drug & alcohol testing regulations that render him/her disqualified to operate a CMV and, if so, whether he/she has successfully completed the required return-to-duty process to get back to work. In that sense, the system is similar to the longstanding Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) process, whereby motor carriers must periodically run MVRs on all drivers to ensure they are properly licensed to operate a CMV.


The Clearinghouse functions through regulatory reporting and querying obligations. Information concerning a commercial driver's positive test result, refusal to test, or other violation gets reported to the Clearinghouse and associated with the driver's CDL number. That information then appears in any queries run by subsequent employers during the hiring process, by law enforcement during roadside inspections, and by state drivers' licensing agencies when issuing or renewing the driver's CDL.


The FMCSA's motivation was for the Clearinghouse to replace the historically-manual process that required motor carriers to contact all CDL driver-applicants' previous DOT-regulated employers from the three years preceding their application date and ask specific questions concerning those applicants' drug & alcohol testing histories.


Who must use the Clearinghouse?

The Clearinghouse has several different users, each with their own respective regulatory obligations. As a preliminary matter, it's important to know that the Clearinghouse obligations only apply with respect to drivers who are subject to the FMCSA's drug & alcohol testing rules in 49 C.F.R. Part 382. Generally speaking, this includes drivers who operate commercial vehicles that require a CDL, including the following:

  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more;

  • Combinations (e.g., truck/trailer) with a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 26,001 pounds or more, inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more;

  • Vehicles used to haul placardable quantities of hazardous material, regardless of the weight of the vehicle; and

  • Vehicles designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver).

The various Clearinghouse users and their respective obligations are as follows:

  • CDL Drivers - Must register with the Clearinghouse to review their own drug & alcohol testing information, provide consent to employers to run full Clearinghouse queries, and select a Substance Abuse Professional, if applicable.

  • Employers of CDL Drivers - Must register with the Clearinghouse to report certain types of drug & alcohol violations, run queries to ensure that no current or prospective employee has had a violation that prohibits him/her from performing safety-sensitive functions, and appoint third-party administrators to help them comply with these obligations if they choose to do so.

  • Third-Party Administrators (TPAs) - Must register with the Clearinghouse in order to make reports and run queries on behalf of any employer that appoints them to do so.

  • Medical Review Officers (MROs) - Must register with the Clearinghouse to report verified positive drug test results and test refusals.

  • Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs) - Must register with the Clearinghouse to report return-to-duty assessments and eligibility status for return-to-duty testing.

  • Law Enforcement - Utilizes the Clearinghouse to obtain real-time information about a CDL driver's qualifications to operate.

  • State Drivers' Licensing Agencies (SDLAs) - Utilize the Clearinghouse to run queries prior to completing certain licensing transactions.

Clearinghouse User Role Card
Clearinghouse User Role Card

How do I register for the Clearinghouse?

When the FMCSA first implemented the Clearinghouse in January, 2020, the registration process got off to a rocky start, but the agency has since rectified the majority of the initial issues. Detailed instructions for registration based on user-type are available on the Clearinghouse's registration page, but generally speaking, the steps for employers are:

  1. Unless you already have one, request an FMCSA portal account

  2. Have your designated Clearinghouse representative create an account through login.gov (which involves two-factor authentication)

  3. Once the login.gov account is created, proceed through the Clearinghouse's registration page, selecting the "employer" role, entering your portal user ID and password, confirming basic contact information for yourself and your company, and (if applicable) designating a previously-registered TPA to run queries or make reports on your behalf.

For CDL drivers, the registration process is similar, except that drivers do not need an FMCSA portal account. However, they must create a login.gov account and then proceed through the Clearinghouse's registration page, selecting the "driver" role, entering contact information, and entering CDL information.


Employer Registration Screen
Employer Registration Screen

What are Clearinghouse queries?

Employers of CDL drivers are required to run queries on existing and prospective drivers in specific circumstances. There are two types of queries that you can run through the Clearinghouse: full and limited.

  • Full Queries - Reveal the nature of any prior drug or alcohol testing violations for a particular driver and whether the driver has completed the return-to-duty process. Employers are obligated to run full queries as part of the onboarding process for prospective CDL drivers, as well as in situations where a limited query on a particular driver reveals that information exists in the Clearinghouse. Drivers and prospective drivers must grant the employer specific consent to run a full query, which consent must be given by the driver through his/her Clearinghouse account. If a full query reveals that a driver has a prior drug or alcohol testing violation and the driver has not completed the return-to-duty process, the driver must not be used to perform any safety-sensitive functions.

  • Limited Queries - Reveal only if information about a particular CDL driver exists in the Clearinghouse, not the substance of that information. Employers are obligated to run limited queries on all existing CDL drivers at least once every 12 months. Drivers must provide the employer their written consent to run limited queries, which consent is obtained outside the Clearinghouse and can take the form of a general consent to all limited queries run throughout the course of the drivers' employment. If a limited query reveals that information about a particular driver exists within the Clearinghouse, the employer must then run a full query on that driver within 24 hours. If that full query is not run within that time frame, the driver must be removed from safety-sensitive functions.


Clearinghouse Query Chart
Clearinghouse Query Chart

Employers must purchase query plans through the Clearinghouse in order to run the required queries. Queries (both full and limited) cost a flat $1.25 per query. Employers that anticipate performing a high volume of queries each year have the option of purchasing an unlimited query plan for $24,500 per year.


What must be reported to the Clearinghouse?

The types of reports that must be made to the Clearinghouse depend on the user who is making the report. Employers of CDL drivers (or TPAs acting on their behalf) have an obligation to report certain types of violations, whereas MROs have an obligation to report other types of violations. The specific reporting obligations are as follows:


Employer are obligated to report:

  • Alcohol confirmation test with a concentration of 0.04 or higher;

  • Refusal to test (alcohol) as specified in 49 C.F.R. 40.261;

  • Refusal to test (drug) not requiring a determination by the MRO as specified in 49 C.F.R. 40.191;

  • Actual knowledge of a drug or alcohol violation, as defined in 49 C.F.R. 382.107.

MROs are obligated to report:

  • Verified positive, adulterated, or substituted drug test result;

  • Refusal to test (drug) requiring a determination by the MRO as specified in 49 C.F.R. 40.191.

Clearinghouse Reporting Obligations
Clearinghouse Reporting Obligations

Conclusion

The FMCSA's Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse has a lot of moving parts, and motor carriers should take care to ensure they understand their regulatory obligations and how to use the system. If you are in need of a sample driver consent form for limited Clearinghouse queries, be sure to check out our resource library. For even more in-depth training on the Clearinghouse and other aspects of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, look no further than our Trucksafe Academy. And you have specific questions regarding the Clearinghouse or your obligations to use it, please contact us.

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