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FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse: Answers to Common Questions

FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Answers to Common Questions

In the first week of operation, the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse identified nearly 8,000 substance abuse violations in professional drivers. That’s a scary thought.

The good news is that the Clearinghouse seems to be working. It was launched in January 2020 with the goal of reducing accidents by giving carriers the ability to identify drivers who pose a risk of driving under the influence. Of course, there is a lot of confusion around the carriers’ responsibility.

Many carriers are left in the dark on the specifics of how they can comply with the Clearinghouse. This puts you at risk of fines. Worse yet, it puts you at risk of putting one of those 8,000 professional drivers out on the road.

Check out our answers to these common questions so you can make the most of the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Questions & Answers

Based on our experience in the industry, feedback from our clients, and research into the FMCSA, these are the most common questions. Even if you think you know it all, it’s worth a quick read. It could save you a big fine.

Why Should You Register for the Clearinghouse?

In short, you can protect yourself from hiring drivers who will drive under the influence.

By registering with the clearinghouse, you’re able to:

  • Screen candidates and current employees for DOT drug and alcohol violations
  • Identify drivers with drug and alcohol violations who did not disclose this information to you
  • Confirm that drivers who have previous violations have gone through the necessary evaluations and treatments

The Clearinghouse will protect you from accidents, injuries, fines, and nuclear verdicts that can happen when you have someone out on the road who shouldn’t be.

Who Is Required to Register for the Clearinghouse?

The following people are required to register:

  • Companies that are regulated by the FMCSA
  • Owner-operators who are regulated by the FMCSA
  • Medical review officers
  • Substance abuse professionals
  • Consortia/Third-party administrators

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. You’ll want to contact your state’s FMCSA representative to confirm. 

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How Do You Register for the Clearinghouse?

The FMCSA offers help with this question at this link

Luckily, registration is a fairly simple process. You just need to apply at the FMCSA website.

However, it’s important to point out that a company cannot outsource this job to a third party. This needs to be handled internally.

What Are a Carrier’s Requirements for the Clearinghouse?

The Clearinghouse requires FMCSA-regulated employers, medical review officers, substance abuse professionals, consortia/third-party administrators, and other related professionals to report certain information to the FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Essentially, as a carrier, you need to report any violations of the drug and alcohol regulations in 49 Code of Federal Regulations, parts 40 and 382 by current and prospective employees. 

Additionally, as a carrier, you have two major responsibilities to fulfill:

  • You must query the Clearinghouse for prospective and current drivers before allowing them to operate a CMV on the road.
  • You must query the Clearinghouse annually for all current drivers.

If you fail to comply with these requirements, you can face legal and financial penalties.

How Do You Access a Driver’s Violations?

Once you log into the clearinghouse, you’ll be able to submit what’s called a query. A query is a request for information on a particular driver. There are two types of queries: limited and full.

According to the FMCSA, “a limited query allows an employer to determine if an individual driver’s Clearinghouse record has any information about resolved or unresolved drug and alcohol program violations, but does not release any specific violation information contained in the driver’s Clearinghouse record."

On the other hand, “a full query allows the employer to see detailed information about any drug and alcohol program violations in a driver’s Clearinghouse record.”

In order to make a query, you will need to complete a consent form.

Limited query consent forms are done outside of the Clearinghouse database. You can find a sample form here.

Full query consent forms are done within the Clearinghouse. Employers log in and send the consent request form to drivers electronically.

Drivers will give you consent for full queries by logging into the Clearinghouse under their username and password.

What Is a Bulk Query?

A bulk query is how you initiate a query on a large number of drivers without entering them into the system one at a time.

You’ll need to upload the drivers in an approved format, which the FMCSA gives you here.

Once you send in the bulk query, it’s processed in batches between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The FMCSA offers query plans that can save you some time and money in processing these. 

What Is a Medical Review Officer? Are You Required to Use One?

A Medical Review Officer (MRO) is a medical professional who reviews non-negative drug tests to determine the cause. They are unbiased third-party administrators who are able to provide reliable information to employers about a driver’s drug test information.

As an FMCSA-regulated company, you are required to use an MRO for your drug testing procedures.

You can find an MRO near you at this website or in the Clearinghouse. 

What Is a Consortium/Third-Party Administrator?

Carriers can hire Consortium/Third-Party Administrators (C/TPAs) to manage all, or part, of their DOT drug and alcohol testing program. They can even hire a C/TPA to maintain required testing records.

Most carriers are not required to hire a C/TPA, but owner-operators are required to engage a C/TPA for random drug testing.

How Do You Report a Violation to the Clearinghouse?

According to the FMCSA you must, “Visit https://clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov. Click Log In and access the Clearinghouse using your login.gov username and password. Under My Dashboard, go to Violations and click Report a Violation. Enter the information of the driver who incurred the violation, and click Verify Driver Information.”

There are certain violations that you are required to report as a carrier. However, you may not report violations that are not required.

As a carrier, you are responsible for reporting the following by the close of the third business day following the date on which you obtained the information:

  • An alcohol confirmation test with a concentration of 0.04 or higher
  • Refusal to test (alcohol) as specified in 49 CFR § 40.261
  • Refusal to test (drug) not requiring a determination by the MRO as specified in 49 CFR § 40.191 
  • Actual knowledge of a drug or alcohol violation, as defined in 49 CFR § 382.107

What Do You Do if a Current Driver Has a Violation?

Once you have reported a violation of a current employee, you need to get that employee off the road and keep them off the road.

Then, that driver will need to go through the Return to Duty process with a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).  The SAP will clear the driver to return to duty with a required return to duty test and a schedule of follow-up testing. You’re also required to report the following:

  • The negative result of a return to duty test 
  • The date of the final Follow Up test as part of the return to duty process.

Keep in mind, you’re not required to keep a driver who fails a drug test.

Make Smart Hiring Decisions

With the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, you’re able to make informed decisions on who you hire and who you keep driving for you.

You can sleep well at night knowing you only have safe drivers behind the wheel for you.

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