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FMCSA Clearinghouse Guide: What is it?

October 3, 2021
October 18, 2023

We will share answers to the most common questions we get around the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program.

In this article

The FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse is an online database where you and your drivers’ drug and alcohol testing violations and return-to-duty information are stored and searched, using the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) as the link identifier.

In this article below, we will share answers to the most common questions we get around the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program.

What is the DOT Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program?

Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse is the national database of commercial driver substance violations and contain records of violations of drug and alcohol prohibitions in the Code of Federal Regulations, including positive drug or alcohol test results and test refusals.

It is designed to improve compliance when it comes to company drug and alcohol use and testing program requirements. This is important for the safety of everyone driving on the road as well as pedestrians, as driving under the influence is not tolerated and can create very unsafe conditions for those around them.

How does it work?

Since the Clearinghouse stores every single commercial drivers’ drug and alcohol violations, as well as their return-to-work documentation, employers have been required to report to and search for information from the database as of Jan. 6, 2020 when looking to hire new drivers.

Previously, in the hiring process, employers were required to contact the drivers’ previous employers and request information from them including any violations around drug and alcohol usage. However with the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program, by 2023, once three years of violation data has been accumulated, employers will no longer be required to do so, and can simply look for that information in the Clearinghouse database - with the exception of those who have not completed all follow-up tests.

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Who does the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse impact?

If you and/or your carrier operates in the US, you will need to comply with the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse rules. As such, if your carrier has to abide by any FMCSA rules, it is mandatory for you to comply with these rules. All safety sensitive drivers need to participate in the program. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Interstate and intrastate motor carriers, including passenger carriers
  • School bus drivers
  • Construction equipment operators
  • Limousine drivers
  • Municipal vehicle drivers

What information is collected with the FMCSA Clearinghouse, and how is it collected?

While not all driver information will be posted in the Clearinghouse, the most crucial components in the FMCSA Clearinghouse database will include:

  • Positive drug and alcohol test results
  • Any refusals to test, and/or
  • Information on CDL driver’s return-to-duty process

This information is collected through carriers, medical review officers (MROs), third-party administrators (TPA) and substance abuse professionals (SAPs), who are mandated by the FMCSA to report the above.

  • MROs must report positive, adulterated, or substituted drug test results within two business days.
  • Employers must report positive alcohol, knowledge violations, and negative return-to-work tests, and successful completion of all follow-up tests.
  • SAPs are required to submit driver IDs and the date of initial assessment, and the driver’s successful completion of treatment and eligibility for return-to-work.
  • TPAs must report as if they were the employer.
  • Owner-operators must use a TPA to report to the Clearinghouse.

How does Clearinghouse affect privacy for drivers?

Because the DOT Clearinghouse is protected by both the Privacy Act and Fair Credit Reporting, your drivers must provide consent to you (as their employer) before accessing their Clearinghouse record.

But if a driver refuses to cooperate with what is called a ’full query’ which is essentially a full Clearinghouse record search, you as their employer must remove that driver from any safety-sensitive DOT functions, including driving their vehicle.

Who has access to the Clearinghouse data?

Employers, third-party administrators, drivers, state authorities, the National Transportation Board, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will all have access to the Clearinghouse.

Who needs to register for the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse?

If you fall under one of the categories below, FMCSA Clearinghouse registration is mandatory - this is so that you are able to access the Clearinghouse database and the information mentioned above.

Authorized users include:

  • Drivers holding a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLP)
  • Employers of CDL drivers; this includes owner-operators (those who employ themselves as CDL drivers)
  • Consortia/Third-Party Administrators (C/TPAs)
  • Medical Review Officers (MROs)
  • Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs)

If you are a driver, you need to register in order to provide your consent when employers run a query on you in the database for pre-employment screening.

How do I register for the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse?

Before you register for the FMCSA Clearinghouse, make sure that the person in your company who is in charge of managing the reporting and background check functions is the one who registers, as they will be assigned as the Clearinghouse Administrator. In this role, they’ll be able to manage users on behalf of the company.

One thing to note is that registration is only available online, which given that you’re reading this blog, shouldn’t be a problem.

Click the following link to register:

Clearinghouse Queries

In the DOT Clearinghouse, employers will be able to run queries (searches) on their drivers’ records to check for drug and alcohol violations. There are two types of queries available:

Limited Queries

These only confirm whether a record exists for a driver – it doesn’t share what the details of that driver’s record is. If an employer runs a limited query and it results in a “hit,” they will be required to get consent from the driver to run a full query within 24 hours.

Full Queries

These queries provide all of the details of a driver’s record in the Clearinghouse, including the type of violation that occured as well as when it occurred.

How to run a Clearinghouse query

To run a query, you must first login to your account and purchase a query plan.

Each limited and full query costs $1.25, and you will need to determine at the beginning how many queries you think you will need for the year.

However, if you are a large employer that plans to run a large volume of queries each year, there is an unlimited option as well for $24,500 annually.

Once you have paid for a query plan, you will need to provide the following information of the driver to run the queries:

  • First and last name
  • Date of birth
  • Commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLP) number, and its state & country of issuance

Once you have filled out the information, it will automatically send the driver a request for their consent to the full query (more details below).

Are carriers/employers required to run queries on the drivers?

Employers are required to run queries on CDL drivers at two times:

  • A full, pre-employment query must be run prior to hiring a new driver
  • A limited query must be run on all drivers at least once every 12 months for the duration of each driver’s employment

What type of consent is needed to run Clearinghouse Queries?

Limited Queries require a consent form. Employers can have drivers sign a blanket consent form that enables you to run limited queries throughout their employment.

Full Queries, on the other hand, require electronic consent within the Clearinghouse every time a full query is run. Drivers must login to their Clearinghouse account to give consent within 24 hours or they’ll be pulled from safety sensitive functions.

What happens if a driver gets a drug and alcohol violation?

Drivers must login to their Clearinghouse account to give consent within 24 hours or they’ll be pulled from safety sensitive functions. For a driver to return to work in a safety-sensitive function, primarily driving, they must follow and complete the steps outlined in the Return-to-Duty Process and Testing guidelines below.

  • They must be evaluated by a substance abuse professional (SAP)
  • They need to participate in the treatment program prescribed by the SAP
  • They must pass a drug and/or alcohol return-to-duty test with the following results:
  • A result indicating an alcohol concentration of less than 0.02; and/or A verified negative result for drug use in terms of controlled substances.
  • They must have a documented follow-up testing schedule to ensure compliance

If you are an employer, you are obligated to report negative return-to-duty test results to the Clearinghouse before the end of the third business day from when you received the results. Additionally, the SAP will be required to report the date for when they completed the assessment, as well as the date when they’ve determined the driver is eligible for return-to-duty testing.

Too much to handle?

As an employer, you would be required to have all your processes in order around the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse rules. This can quickly get overwhelming especially if you have a larger fleet, as you need to ensure that you follow all the steps required, including:

  • Pre-employment screening and documentation before hiring new drivers
  • Reporting when your current drivers have a drug & alcohol violation
  • Managing the return-to-duty follow up processes (the most tedious)

If you are interested in working with a professional safety and compliance expert who will take care of the end-to-end paperwork and management around the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, check out our partners over at Frontline Safety & Compliance. They help fleets of all sizes, who operate in both the US and Canada, successfully manage their safety & compliance functions, so that the carriers can focus their efforts on growing their business.

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