DOT Clearinghouse Consents: What You Need to Know
With the advent of the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proving that it is taking drug and alcohol testing and reporting seriously.
And now that the Clearinghouse is in full force, motor carriers must run queries in the database on all current and prospective drivers. This is to ensure that they are not prohibited from operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs)—or performing other safety-sensitive functions—due to unresolved drug or alcohol violations.
However, because information contained in the Clearinghouse is sensitive in nature and can impact employment, carriers must receive consent from drivers before conducting queries of the system. If they don’t, they will be in violation and subject to steep fines.
The Two Types of Clearinghouse Queries
As of January 2020, motor carriers are required by law to be registered within the system and to use it to run queries on drivers.
There are two different queries that carriers must run: Limited and Full. Both require driver consent, but the type of consent depends on the query.
Limited 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. However, they do not release any specific violation information contained in the driver’s Clearinghouse record.
Limited queries are run:
- As annual checks on currently employed drivers.
- As ad hoc/periodic checks on drivers.
Consent can be received outside the Clearinghouse and via electronic or paper signature. The consent form must also specify a time range.
Remember, you can only run a query if a driver provides consent—and you must then retain the consent form in a secure location. If a driver refuses consent, they must be pulled from duty until the required queries have been run.
If the Clearinghouse returns a record on a driver, 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.
Full Clearinghouse Queries
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. They are run:
- As pre-employment checks on prospective drivers.
- As ad hoc/periodic checks on drivers.
- When a limited query has returned records on a driver.
Consent must be received electronically within the Clearinghouse—for every full query performed for every individual driver. If consent is provided, a full query will be conducted, and full violations and/or return-to-duty details (if any) will be released.
If a driver refuses consent, however, you will be notified, a query will not be run, and the driver will be prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions until you’re able to run the query.
Consequences for Non-Compliance
Because the Clearinghouse is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, there are consequences for running queries without consent.
Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation 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.
In the case of motor carriers, that would be $5,833 per violation—so if you don’t receive consent for every driver as required, it could be costly. Bottom line: Follow the consent rules for all prospective and current drivers.
Background on the DOT Clearinghouse
The Clearinghouse is a secure online database providing real-time information about commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders’ drug and alcohol program violations. It was enacted by Congress to improve highway safety by keeping drivers in violation off the roads and ensure that they receive required evaluation and treatment before operating a CMV or performing other safety-sensitive functions.
It also makes it easier for carriers to meet their pre-employment investigation and reporting obligations, as well as for the FMCSA to determine employer compliance with testing, investigation, and reporting requirements.
The information it contains:
- Report for duty/remain on duty for safety-sensitive functions with alcohol concentrations of .04 or greater or while using any other drug other than those prescribed.
- Alcohol or drug use while performing, or within four hours of performing, a safety-sensitive function.
- Alcohol or drug use within eight hours of an accident or until the post-accident test is completed, whichever occurs first.
- Positive tests for use of specified drugs.
- Refusal to submit to a required alcohol or drug test.
Per federal law, both motor carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers must register with the Clearinghouse. Consortia/third-party administrators (C/TPAs), medical review officers, and substance abuse professionals must also register.
No doubt, keeping up with all this can be overwhelming, and the statistics are startling: More than 46,000 violations have been recorded in the Clearinghouse, and more than 80% of those drivers are still in prohibited status.
Here at Foley, we offer comprehensive DOT Clearinghouse program management that helps you receive consent from drivers and run full, limited and follow-up queries. Find out more today!
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