By Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, consultants to Axele
When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Final Rule was published in late 2016 it was heralded as an important step forward for highway safety. For years, some truck drivers were evading the consequences of controlled substance or alcohol use by leaving employers for whom they tested positive off future employment applications, making detection of prior drug or alcohol violations by hiring motor carriers difficult, if not impossible. The Clearinghouse promised to close this loophole by establishing a database of all drivers ineligible to operate a commercial motor vehicle based on a violation of controlled substance or alcohol rules.
Sadly, the Clearinghouse rule failed to do the one thing that could ensure drivers don’t operate a CMV following a drug or alcohol violation: require state driver’s licensing agencies to take licensing action against these drivers. Beginning in November 2024 however, all that will change.
New Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse rule fixes the problem
In a new rule published October 7, 2021, FMCSA is requiring state driver’s licensing agencies to downgrade a driver’s CDL when the Clearinghouse shows them as ineligible to operate a CMV. SDLAs will also need to check the Clearinghouse before issuing, renewing or transferring a commercial driver’s license and are prohibited from completing the transaction if the Clearinghouse indicates the driver is in prohibited status.
Of course, it’s still not a perfect solution, given that it relies on the snail’s pace at which governmental agencies operate. States will have up to 60 days to complete a downgrade when notified of new Clearinghouse information. This is likely to leave drivers who quickly complete the return-to-duty process in the lurch as they wait for the bureaucracy to catch up, and it may ultimately lead to more drivers exiting the industry when looking at the prospect of having to go without a paycheck for 60 days.
But still, this final rule represents an important step toward safer roads. Carriers who subscribe to MVR monitoring systems will not have to wait until they run their next Clearinghouse query to discover that a job-shopping driver failed a drug test for a different employer. Drivers will no longer be able to find a safe haven with carriers who aren’t performing their Clearinghouse due diligence. SDLAs will also be held more accountable for their role in highway safety.
Finally, the loop will have been closed and carriers and SDLA’s will have the tools they need to enforce rules that have been on the books for decades.