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March 5, 2020 2:15 PM, EST

FMCSA Clearinghouse Operational After Technical Difficulties

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is functioning normally after experiencing connectivity issues that rendered the system unable to validate commercial driver licenses.

FMCSA has removed the notice banner that marked the Clearinghouse website late last week, alerting users about technical difficulties.

The Clearinghouse is a database containing information on CDL holders’ drug and alcohol violations. Carriers, state driver licensing agencies and law enforcement officials use the Clearinghouse to check a driver’s violations.

Abigail Potter

Potter

“The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is now fully operational and mandatory use is now in effect,” the website states, as of March 9.

FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne said the functionality was restored March 6. The team working on the issue left the banner in place over the weekend as they monitored the system. The issue itself stemmed from a contractor upgrading operating systems and learning that new servers were needed. After the servers were secured, functionality was restored.

FMCSA’s notice advised employers who need to conduct pre-employment queries to follow the procedures set forth in section 391.23(e) in title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The section details investigations employers must conduct for prospective drivers, including those that screen for drug and alcohol violations.

Initially, FMCSA’s notice indicated the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS), on which the Clearinghouse relies, was unavailable. CDLIS provides a way for states to exchange information about truck drivers, traffic convictions and disqualifications. Established by federal law in 1986, CDLIS is operated by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

FMCSA later updated the message, omitting mention of CDLIS but maintaining the Clearinghouse still was unable to validate CDLs.

“[American Trucking Associations] is pleased that FMCSA has resolved the communication problem with the Clearinghouse in a pretty timely fashion,” said Abigail Potter, manager of safety and occupational health policy for ATA.

The federal Clearinghouse rule requires drivers to register and consent to carriers checking their record for failed drug tests or refusals to take drug tests. Employers are required to check the Clearinghouse as part of pre-employment driver investigations and screen each of their CDL drivers at least once a year.

Potter noted that employers who encountered difficulties with the Clearinghouse are required to retroactively run the pre-employment queries now that the system’s connectivity issues are resolved.

FMCSA logo

“This does not remove carriers’ obligation to run that pre-employment query if they were unable to run it,” Potter said. “They do not have to remove the driver from that safety-sensitive function, but they need to work to obtain that pre-employment query.”

During the days surrounding its Jan. 6 launch, the Clearinghouse experienced technical difficulties that FMCSA eventually resolved.

Since the Clearinghouse went live, nearly 8,000 substance abuse violations have been detected and identified. FMCSA reported the Clearinghouse has more than 650,000 registrants.

In December, FMCSA issued a final rule extending by three years the date by which state driver licensing agencies must comply with certain Clearinghouse rule requirements. The rulemaking delays the compliance date for the requirement that states request information from the Clearinghouse before completing certain CDL transactions until Jan. 6, 2023.

However, the rule allows states the option to voluntarily query Clearinghouse information beginning Jan. 6. They may do this by registering in the Clearinghouse as an authorized user and logging in to view a driver’s record.

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