With the FMCSA’s final approval to establish a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse for commercial truck and bus drivers, the trucking industry has been given the tool necessary to help make our roads and highways safer.
Having anyone behind the wheel of any vehicle while under the influence endangers us all; but having a driver under the influence while driving a fully-loaded tractor-trailer with a potential gross weight of 40 tons is especially dangerous. That’s why this new ruling that has drawn bipartisan support and the support of the trucking industry is so very important.
It has created an effective way to close the loophole of drivers hopping from employer to employer and state to state in an effort to keep positive drug and/or alcohol tests hidden from potential employers. Employers and medical review officers will be required to report any drug and alcohol testing violations which will then be available for future prospective employers to view. The final rule which is a 183-page document covers a wide range of issues including how to dispute a reported positive drug test, refusal to test, and how the Clearinghouse will be administrated.
According to the FMCSA, the Clearinghouse also sets the following requirements:
- Employers will be required to query the Clearinghouse for current and prospective employees’ drug and alcohol violations before permitting those employees to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) on public roads.
- Employers will be required to annually query the Clearinghouse for each driver they currently employ.
- State Driver Licensing Agencies will be required to query the Clearinghouse whenever a CDL is issued, renewed, transferred, or upgraded.
- However, nothing is perfect and there are a couple of still unresolved issues that remain. Among them:
- Transportation providers were very involved during the comment period and, based on their insight and expertise, the final ruling included tweaks based on those comments. Even the issue of cross-border drivers has been addressed with the requirement that Mexican and Canadian Based CDL drivers who cross in and out of the US will be required to obtain a USDOT number, keep it active, and report any drug or alcohol violations to the Clearing house.
- CDL holders that are in violation of the drug rule could downgrade their CDL to an operator’s license to enable them to avoid drug testing and continue driving non-CDL CMV equipment. At this point, the Clearinghouse rule will not apply to drivers operating equipment that hauls 10,000 to 26,000 pounds and does not require a CDL. This issue was brought up by carriers and should make companies wary of hiring drivers who have opted to downgrade their CDL in those non-CDL roles.
- In accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 a driver must grant consent before an employer can request access to that driver’s clearinghouse record and before FMCSA can release the driver’s clearinghouse record to an employer. That refusal can send up a red flag for a prospective employer who might question why that driver might refuse.
The hope is that these and other issues can be dealt with going forward. What cannot be disputed is that taking CDL drivers who are either currently under the influence or have not dealt with their substance-abuse problems off the road will make those roads safer for everyone.
As for the carriers, the resolution of this particular safety issue also has a monetary benefit upside according to the FMCSA. A recent Truckinginfo.com article notes that the agency “pegs rule’s annual net benefits at an estimated $42 million, given the crash reductions expected to result from the annual and pre-employment queries by motor carriers.”
The rule goes into effect on January 4, 2017 and has a final compliance date of January 2020.