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What Fleets Should Know About Clearinghouse Changes for 2023

SHzoom’s Monthly Minute

What Fleets Should Know About Clearinghouse Changes for 2023

Dec 1, 2022 | This article was originally published on FleetOwner

As of Jan. 6, 2023, regulated motor carriers will no longer have to manually reach out to previous employers for drug-and-alcohol-related information about prospective drivers.

New changes that aim to streamline how trucking companies comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse are around the corner.

Come Jan. 6, 2023—three years since the clearinghouse’s inception and the date the U.S. Department of Transportation deems the clearinghouse fully implemented—carriers will no longer have to manually reach out to previous employers for drug-and-alcohol-related information about prospective drivers.

When the DOT first implemented the clearinghouse in 2020, the system was devoid of data. Now, the clearinghouse has enough information that fleets could leverage to query new drivers, Brandon Wiseman, president of Trucksafe Consulting, pointed out during a recent DriverReach webinar.

Until that data was built up in the clearinghouse, FMCSA put a dual obligation on carriers to manually reach out to previous employers and ask drug-and-alcohol-related questions for prospective drivers. This has been in addition to carriers having to run queries through the clearinghouse.

“That was to make sure that there weren’t any gaps in the data,” Wiseman explained. “The issue with running those previous employment queries manually was not all that fruitful. When sending out these manual queries to the previous employers, you may get a 50% response rate if you’re lucky. It was a big problem because we just weren’t getting all the information we needed about the drivers that we’re hiring to make sure that they aren’t prohibited from operating.”

One caveat, however, is that carriers still will be required to reach out to previous employers for non-drug-and-alcohol-related questions under regulation 49 CFR 391.23. This rule says that prospective motor carriers engaging CDL holders must, at minimum, request information about general driver identification and employment verification from all previous employers within a three-year period of the prospective driver’s application date.

Commercial fleets also must ask previous employers if, while working for that company, drivers were involved in any DOT-recordable accidents—those that involve a fatality, injury to a party that requires immediate legal attention away from the scene of the accident, and an accident that involves disabling damage to any vehicle.

After that point, the hiring carrier would then use the clearinghouse to determine whether the driver had violated drug-and-alcohol testing rules, failed to undergo the federal return-to-duty process, and had successfully completed a rehabilitation process with a substance abuse professional.

Even after Jan. 6, commercial carriers that run a clearinghouse query on a driver who has previously tested positive still will be required to contact that driver’s previous employer. “If you’re going to hire a driver who has tested positive for drugs or alcohol in the past, it’s now going to be your responsibility to make sure that driver follows through with follow-up tests,” Wiseman said.

When it comes to hiring drivers who were previously employed by a non-motor carrier, or an employer regulated under a different modal agency than FMCSA, carriers are obligated to continue the manual process of reaching out to previous employers about any drug or alcohol violations.

Moving forward, FMCSA intends to further streamline the process for regulated carriers. By Nov. 18, 2024, phase two changes will require that all state driver licensing agencies to query the clearinghouse before issuing, renewing, or upgrading a CDL. Further, those agencies will be tasked with suspending or downgrading a CDL if the driver is in prohibitive status.

“This is ultimately where we want to get with the clearinghouse,” Wiseman added. “Right now, we have a situation where a driver could be in prohibitive status and he or she could still have a valid CDL. If you run a [motor vehicle record] on the driver, that MVR might be showing that the driver has a valid CDL and is good to operate, but they are actually in prohibited status in the clearinghouse. We want to link those two systems so that eventually, when a driver is in prohibited status in the clearinghouse, it automatically negatively impacts their CDL status.”

Clearinghouse Numbers to Date

Today, there are more than 3 million CDL drivers and more than 420,000 motor carriers registered in FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

As of October 2022 data, over the last three years, there have been a total of 171,957 drug-related violations reported to the clearinghouse, including positive drug tests, refusals to test, and actual knowledge of a drug violation. Over three years, only around 4,000 total alcohol violations have been reported to the clearinghouse.

According to the data, marijuana is the most common positive drug test result that’s being reported to the clearinghouse.

“Some of that could be some confusion among drivers with legalization of marijuana in various states either for medicinal use or recreational use or both,” Wiseman noted. “But I think most of it is just the reality of drivers using marijuana when they know that it’s prohibited. We ended up with 95,076 positive marijuana drug tests reported to the clearinghouse over that three-year period. The runner-up here is cocaine use, which is particularly scary.”

According to the most recent data, 113,995 drivers are in prohibited status, while 86,500 of them have not started the return-to-duty process, meaning they haven’t visited a substance abuse professional or started treatment as required.

“These drivers are just gone for all we know,” Wiseman said. “It’s a huge number. It’s almost mirroring ATA estimates that we’re about 80,000 drivers short.”

Thus far, 42,515 drivers have progressed through the return-to-duty process and are now out of prohibited status regardless of a previous positive test result or a violation over the past three years.

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