A primer on the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

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This is a is a summary of the key points of the U.S. Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program. A PowerPoint presentation of the same is available here. If you have any questions, please email me at dmarcello@cdl-law.com

The U.S. Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse becomes operational on Jan. 6.  It will affect all CDL drivers who operate a CMV on public roads, and their employers.

WHAT:  The Clearinghouse will be a database of FMCSA (Part 382) drug and alcohol positive tests and refusals that occur on or after that date with regard to drivers subject to CDL licensing requirements of Part 383. It will also include return-to-duty documentation as well as follow-up testing plans.

EMPLOYERS will be required to interact with the Clearinghouse as follows:

– Make a full query as part of the pre-employment investigation;

– Make a limited query at least once-per-year for each driver it employs;

– Report drug-and-alcohol violations;

– Record negative return-to-duty test results and the date of successful completion of follow up test planning.

 REGISTRATION:  drivers are not required to register unless:

– Applying for a new job; or,

– Something is in the data base related to them.

Drivers should register for a number of reasons. First, if registered, a driver can access their Clearinghouse record at no cost.

Second, if a violation related to them is added to the database related, they will get notice by email.  Otherwise it will be by regular mail to the address on their CDL.  The delay could be problematic, let alone the potential for not receiving the mailed notice and the item in the database.

REPORTING:  A Medical Review Officer must report verified positive, adulterated, or substituted test results or refusal-to-test determinations. They must do so within two (2) business days of making a determination or verification of a DOT approved drug test.  The MRO must report any changes of a verified drug test within one (1) business day of making the change.

Entry of a driver violation requires the driver’s CDL number and the state that issued it.  Violations can be entered even if the driver is not registered.

Canadian and Mexican companies that operate in the U.S. that are subject to FMCSA drug and alcohol testing requirements must report violations to the Clearinghouse.

QUERIES:  Limited queries tell an employer if a driver’s record contains resolved or unresolved drug and alcohol violations.  However, it does not provide any specific violation information as to the driver.

A limited query requires only a general driver consent which is obtained outside the Clearinghouse (in other words, a form).  While the general consent is not required on an annual basis and may be effective for more than one year, it must specify the timeframe during which the driver is providing consent.  A sample form is found on the FMCSA website.

Retain the signed consent form.  While it does not have to be in the DataQ file, you will need to produce in a DOT audit.

Full inquiries provide detailed information about any drug and alcohol violation in a driver’s Clearinghouse record.  A full inquiry requires the employer to obtain the driver’s electronic consent in the Clearinghouse before the release of any detailed violation information.

If a driver refuses to consent, to either the limited or full query, the query cannot be performed.  Additionally, the driver must be removed from safety-sensitive functions.

RESULTS:  In a limited query, if there are no results, no action is required.  However, if the query reveals that there are results as to the driver, a full query must be performed.  If the full query is not conducted within 24 hours the driver must be removed from safety sensitive functions.

In a full query, if a driver has a violation and no negative return-to-duty test results, the driver must be removed from safety sensitive functions.  If a driver has no violation or a violation and a negative return-to-duty test result, no action is required.

An employer will be notified if, within 30 days of a pre-employment inquiry there is a change to a driver’s Clearinghouse record.  However, to query the updated information, the employer will have to get the driver’s electronic consent

DRIVER CHALLENGES to the accuracy of the information in the Clearinghouse will be submitted by DataQ.  However, they cannot challenge the accuracy or validity of the test results or refusals.

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Doug Marcello, a shareholder with the law firm of Saxton & Stump and chief legal officer of Bluewire, is a trucking defense attorney with a CDL. He had represented trucking clients across the country, having been specially admitted for cases in 35 states. Doug received the 2018 Leadership Award of the ATA Safety Council.

He has served on the advisory board of the American Trucking Research Institute. Doug is a member of numerous trucking organizations, including a board member of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association and member of the American Trucking Associations Safety Council as well as trucking law organizations including TIDA and Transportation Lawyers. He has written numerous articles concerning trucking safety and defense which can be found at www.cdl-law.com. You can also find his interviews and presentation on his YouTube channel and podcast, “TransportCenter”, on iTunes.

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