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Published on Dec 13
Launched on January 6, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Clearinghouse is a centralized, online database that provides businesses, state driver licensing agencies, and law enforcement personnel with real-time information on drug and alcohol violations incurred by CDL drivers.
The Clearinghouse provides the tools necessary for employers and other parties to identify drivers who may be prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). It also improves overall highway safety by ensuring that these individuals receive the proper evaluation and treatment before being authorized to operate a CMV on public roadways.
Being relatively new, the Clearinghouse can be difficult for owners, managers, and supervisors to navigate and understand. Let’s look at some of the main employer responsibilities and help demystify the FMCSA Clearinghouse.
Registering for the Clearinghouse
One of the first hurdles many businesses face is determining whether or not they’re required to register in the Clearinghouse.
According to the FMCSA, all companies with or without a DOT number, including owner-operators, who employ CDL drivers that operate commercial motor vehicles (CMV – defined in 49 CFR Part 383) on public roads must register for the FMCSA Clearinghouse. This includes interstate and intrastate motor carriers, school bus drivers, construction equipment operators, limousine drivers, municipal vehicle drivers, and any other organization that employs drivers subject to FMCSA drug and alcohol testing regulations.
Once a company determines that they must register, having all the necessary and required information available can make the registration process quick and easy. This includes their DOT number(s) and creating an FMCSA portal account and login.gov account.
Since the Clearinghouse is populated with the contact and company data associated with a DOT number, it’s important for registrants to ensure their information is correct in other DOT and FMCSA systems. It’s also important to note that, if multiple numbers are being registered under the same FMCSA portal account, a user role must be designated for each DOT number.
For companies who are outsourcing their Clearinghouse responsibilities to a third-party administrator, it’s during the registration process that a C/TPA can be designated. This step is required for owner-operators to comply with FMCSA reporting requirements—more on this later in the Reporting Information section.
Lastly, many employers ask if driver registration is required. While the FMCSA encourages drivers to do so, it’s not mandatory. However, there are instances where driver registration is necessary. Drivers must be registered in order to provide consent to pre-employment and full queries, to designate the Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) helping with a return-to-duty process, and to view any information contained in the Clearinghouse on themselves.
Performing Clearinghouse Inquiries
Another responsibility employers have in the Clearinghouse is conducting inquiries on current and prospective employees.
An inquiry is a required electronic check performed by employers or their designated C/TPA on a driver’s record. They are used to determine if a driver is prohibited from engaging in safety-sensitive functions due to unresolved violations. These inquiries must be performed on all drivers subject to drug and alcohol testing under 49 CFR Part 382.
Clearinghouse inquiries generally fall into two types: full and limited.
A full query shows detailed information on any violations contained within the driver’s record. They are most often initiated as a pre-employment check for prospective employees but may also be triggered if a limited query returns records for a driver. To conduct a full query, the employer or C/TPA must obtain the driver’s electronic consent within the FMCSA portal. As mentioned in the previous section, this is one of the instances where driver registration in the Clearinghouse is necessary. If driver consent is obtained, full violation and/or return-to-duty (RTD) details are released. If the driver refuses consent, the query cannot be conducted, the employer is notified, and the driver must be removed from all safety-sensitive functions.
A limited query shows whether or not a driver’s Clearinghouse record has any information on program violations but does not show any specific information. These queries are most often used to perform the required annual inquiries on current employees’ records. Driver consent is also required for limited queries but is obtained outside of the Clearinghouse using a method chosen by the employer. Sample consent forms are available from the FMCSA. If a limited query indicates that there is information on the driver in the Clearinghouse, the employer must conduct a full query and access the detailed violation and/or RTD information. If the full query is not performed within 24 hours of the initial limited query, the driver must be removed from all safety-sensitive functions.
The FMCSA requires employers to conduct pre-employment queries for all prospective employees and annual queries for all current employees.
Pre-employment queries are required by 49 CFR Part 391.23(e) and consist of both full queries within the Clearinghouse and manual queries with previous employers. Since full queries require driver consent, the prospective employee must be registered within the Clearinghouse and provide electronic consent. Starting on January 6, 2023, employers will no longer have to perform manual queries with previous employers. The full query in the Clearinghouse will satisfy that requirement. Read more about this change here.
Employers must also perform annual limited queries on all current employees at least once within a given 12-month period. This period can be based on the date the original pre-employment query was performed or another period, as long as the requirements of 49 CFR Part 382.701(b) are met. Since these are limited queries, driver consent is required but can be obtained via the employer’s chosen method.
Employers must purchase query plans in order to conduct inquiries. Although a C/TPA can perform inquiries on an employer’s behalf, they cannot purchase a plan or add additional queries to an existing plan. This has to be done by the employer.
The Individual Query Plan is the most common. It includes a bundle of queries, chosen by the employer, priced at $1.25 per query. Queries in this plan never expire and additional queries can be purchased if needed.
For employers who anticipate having a high volume of queries each year, the FMCSA provides an Unlimited Query Plan priced at $24,500. Unlike the Individual Plan, queries in this plan expire 12 months after the date of purchase.
Reporting Information to the Clearinghouse
The final main responsibility that employers have is reporting driver information to the Clearinghouse. A C/TPA may be designated to assist with reporting requirements, but employers retain ultimate responsibility for maintaining compliance.
Employers or their designated C/TPA are required to report violations, including alcohol confirmation tests with a concentration of 0.04 or higher, refusals to test (drug or alcohol), and any actual knowledge of a drug or alcohol violation (as defined in 49 CFR Part 382.107).
Employers are also responsible for reporting return-to-duty information, including negative test results and the date a driver successfully completes their follow-up testing plan.
Both violations and return-to-duty information must be reported by the close of the third business day following the date the employer received the information.
Special consideration must be taken for individuals who are owner-operators. While they may choose to report violation and return-to-duty information for any drivers they employ, owner-operators must designate a C/TPA in the Clearinghouse to report any violation or RTD information pertaining to themselves.
Consider a C/TPA Partner like Sheakley
Managing FMCSA and DOT compliance can be overwhelming and time-consuming, especially for smaller employers and owner-operators. Keeping up with the various rules, requirements, and regulations can seem almost impossible.
When you choose to partner with a C/TPA like Sheakley, you gain access to a team of experts that can help you manage your responsibilities and create a comprehensive drug and alcohol program that ensures your company, and your drivers, remain safe and compliant.