TCA Vice President of Government Affairs, Dave Heller and TCA Manager of Government Affairs, Kathryn Sanner
For years, truckload carriers have voiced the need for a centralized repository for the drug testing history of prospective drivers. Without this information, hiring managers have been unable to determine whether the driver failed a drug test just the day before at the neighboring carrier down the street, only to try again at their facility the next day. This lack of easily-accessible information has led to great uncertainty in the hiring process and the possibility that drug users are making their way into the driver’s seats of 18-wheelers.
Fortunately, we now have an answer to these cries for help. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse will go live on January 6, 2020. The Clearinghouse will provide an online database for carriers to obtain nearly real-time information about prospective drivers’ and current employees’ drug and alcohol program violations.
FMCSA and TCA are encouraging carriers to register for the Clearinghouse now in advance of the January 6 deadline. On January 6, employers must begin conducting queries of all prospective employees to see if they are prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions due to a positive test result or unresolved drug and alcohol program violation. Employers must also begin reporting drug and alcohol violations and negative return-to-duty test results on that date – information which must be reported by the close of the third business day after the employer is informed.
Some carriers have questioned the true need to conduct queries starting on January 6 in order to be compliant, as FMCSA has reported that it will take three years for the data in the Clearinghouse to be fully updated. It is true that until January 6, 2023, employers will need to conduct both the online electronic Clearinghouse queries and the traditional manual inquiries with previous employers. However, because new information can be uploaded into the Clearinghouse at any time on or after the January 6 date, employers must do the electronic queries in order to be compliant with the FMCSA regulation.
In addition to registering in the Clearinghouse, FMCSA is encouraging carriers to purchase their query plans before January 6 in order to be fully prepared. The price for an individual query is $1.25. Several plan bundle options are provided, ranging from two queries up to 7,500. For these plans, it is important to note that the queries never expire, so if an employer overestimates how many queries they will need and purchases a larger bundle, those additional queries can be indefinitely rolled over year-to-year. Additionally, an unlimited annual query plan can be purchased for $24,500. For the unlimited plan, the queries expire 12 months after date of purchase.
The overarching goal of the Clearinghouse is to improve safety by eliminating drug-using drivers from our nation’s roadways. Through access to accurate historic information, carriers will be able to make better-informed decisions about the likely safety performance of an employee. TCA is in full support of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, and we look forward to the safety strides that will result because of it. For more detailed information, please visit the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse FAQ page and the Learning Center, which provide extensive answers to a wide range of potential carrier questions.