DOT Compliance Reminder: Your Annual FMCSA Clearinghouse Queries are Due
Let Foley keep an eye on your driver’s potential drug and alcohol violations in the DOT Clearinghouse, and their traffic violations with MVR monitoring.
We all wait until the last minute for things, but your annual FMCSA Clearinghouse queries should not be one of them.
At least once a year for the duration of each driver’s employment, motor carriers are required to perform queries in the Clearinghouse to check for new violations. These queries can either be limited or full Clearinghouse checks, but if a limited query shows that a new record exists, you’ll need to get the driver’s consent to run a full query within 24 hours.
We’ll explain the differences between limited and full queries below and cover the nitty-gritty details of the following:
- The driver consents you’ll need to get to run Clearinghouse queries
- The recordkeeping requirements associated with Clearinghouse queries
- How offsite audits have changed the recordkeeping process
- The consequences of not complying with DOT Clearinghouse regulations
- How Foley can take Clearinghouse queries off your compliance checklist
Clearinghouse Query = Background Check
Running a search of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a consumer report and is subject to the same Privacy Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requirements as the other background checks you run. Before you can check a driver’s record, you must have their permission to do so.
For limited queries, driver consent can be received as an electronic or paper signature. The consent form must also specify how long the driver is giving consent for you to run queries on them.
On the other hand, driver consent must be received electronically within the Clearinghouse for full queries since it shows specific personal and drug and alcohol violation information.
Remember, you can only run a query if a driver provides consent, and you must keep the consent form in a secure location – both for privacy and recordkeeping reasons. If a driver refuses to consent, they must be pulled from duty until they give consent and you run the required queries.
Limited & Full Clearinghouse Queries
Limited queries allow employers to determine if a driver’s Clearinghouse record contains any information about resolved or unresolved drug or alcohol program violations. They do not release any specific violation information contained in the driver’s Clearinghouse record.
Limited queries are run:
- As required annual checks on currently employed drivers
- As optional periodic checks on drivers
When fulfilling the annual FMCSA Clearinghouse query requirement, a full query is only required if the limited query indicates the driver has a record in the Clearinghouse. In this situation, you must:
- Conduct a full query to release violation and/or return-to-duty details
- If this query is not conducted within 24 hours, the driver must be removed from operating a CMV or performing other safety-sensitive functions until the query is completed and the issue is resolved
In contrast to limited queries, full queries allow employers to see detailed information about any drug or alcohol program violations in a driver’s Clearinghouse record.
DOT Clearinghouse Recordkeeping Requirements
Motor carriers must maintain a record of all DOT Clearinghouse checks, as well as a record of a signed consent form for each driver.
These records must be maintained for a minimum of three years and must be stored in a secure, easily accessible location so they’re readily available if a DOT auditor requests them.
As of January 6, 2023, an employer who maintains a valid Clearinghouse registration will fulfill this DOT recordkeeping requirement, since three years of query data will be recorded in the Clearinghouse itself at that point. What a relief!
The Impact of Offsite Audits on DOT Clearinghouse Recordkeeping
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began conducting offsite audits in 2019. At that time, they were mostly used for safety audits and focused reviews, but hardly ever for compliance reviews.
That all changed in 2020. The agency can now conduct compliance reviews, and as a result, determine carrier safety ratings (Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory) through an offsite audit. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an Unsatisfactory rating could only be issued through an onsite compliance review, meaning a DOT officer visited a motor carrier’s place of business.
It’s a privilege that the FMCSA has been taking full advantage of, with state enforcement officials conducting 400% more offsite audits between 2019 and 2021.
As a motor carrier regulated by the DOT, you are expected to have a digital recordkeeping solution in place. When flagged for an audit, you must now turn over all required documentation in a digital format within 48 hours, compared to the 3–4-week turnaround window of the past.
You need to be prepared for compliance audits now more than ever before.
Consequences for Non-Compliance
In early 2021, the DOT set a fine of $5,833 for each violation of any provisions in the Clearinghouse. This applies to all drivers, carriers, and medical review officers.
If you don’t run the required queries, it can lead to gaps in your compliance program and put you at risk of paying expensive fines. But there is an easier way: Partner with Foley to ensure you’re 100% compliant with DOT Clearinghouse requirements.
Don’t Worry About Annual DOT Clearinghouse Queries
This time of year is stressful enough, both preparing for end-of-year compliance deadlines and the upcoming holidays. You don’t have to add Clearinghouse queries to your seemingly endless compliance to-do list.
Foley can get the required driver consents and run them on your behalf no matter how many of your employees still need them for 2023. Our Clearinghouse program doesn’t stop with annual queries, either. Pre-employment, random, and full “follow-up” queries are all taken care of once you’re enrolled.
Even if you’re not registered in the Clearinghouse yet (which you should be!) our compliance specialists will set you up for success so you don’t fail your next offsite audit.
Ready to be fully Clearinghouse-compliant? Request a free demo of our DOT compliance software solution today, which includes everything from driver qualification file management to regular MVR checks.