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August 21, 2019 10:45 AM, EDT

Perspective: Improving the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

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On Jan. 6, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will implement its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, which through pre-employment and subsequent annual reviews of U.S. Department of Transportation drug and alcohol program violations will seek to identify ineligible commercial motor vehicle drivers. With the arrival of this initiative, motor carriers must modify their driver qualification process, and driver recruiters will need to make significant adjustments to their hiring procedures.

While this database will place an additional layer of background screening on candidates, and add work to recruiters’ daily responsibilities, it’s a necessary step to improve highway safety. The reason is simple: The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse will help carriers and recruiters more readily identify applicants ineligible to drive CMVs, preventing inadvertent safety-sensitive hires.

According to FMCSA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis, the database is expected to eliminate nearly 900 crashes annually, saving about $196 million. To meet these predictions, however, all interested parties — including drivers, recruiters, motor carriers and, importantly, regulators — must do their part. There is broad support for the initiative’s goals, but there are three improvements FMCSA should make to maximize the database’s effectiveness, and minimize the burden on the industry:

Revise Query Requirements

Jeremy Reymer

Reymer

As the process is currently constructed, “full query” requests will be required by motor carriers every time they hire a new driver. Full queries, as opposed to limited queries, allow an employer to access all information associated with any violation. Limited queries, on the other hand, just notify the fleet that there is a transgression on record.

Mandating full queries for every new applicant will place additional administrative burdens on carriers and drivers that, ultimately, will make little difference compared with completing a limited query. Most drivers do not have drug or alcohol testing violations and, therefore, will not have information in the Clearinghouse. A limited query is appropriate since it will be followed by a full query if there is any notice of a transgression on record. 

This change would reduce administrative burdens, and speed up the qualification and hiring process. Employee workflow will be streamlined without sacrificing safety, decreasing the burden put on CDL fleets. And, as drivers with disqualifying data become more familiar with how carriers are using the database, they won’t apply for positions where they’ll expect to be immediately rejected. This, too, will reduce the need for full queries, since just the threat of a limited query will keep these problem drivers at bay.

Streamline Full Query Consent Process

Full queries present an administrative challenge because drivers must provide consent directly within the system. The driver must log into the Clearinghouse and consent to permitting the carrier to process a full query. This process threatens to slow the hiring process, which could compel some candidates to abandon their applications. As an alternative, FMCSA should consider a secure mobile application for processing requests for and grants of query permissions. This would allow the database to be more easily and efficiently accessed.

Expand Carrier Notification Window

Currently, FMCSA rules provide a 30-day window after a query during which a carrier will be notified if there are changes to data within a driver’s profile. This presents potential safety concerns, as drivers who commit drug and/or alcohol violations outside that window can continue to operate CMVs without a carrier’s knowledge until the time comes for an annual query. The Clearinghouse should alert carriers if such a circumstance arises. For example, a push notification could be sent so carriers receive proper notice, similar to existing employer notification systems for motor vehicle records. To address privacy concerns, alerts could be restricted only to limited query results, giving carriers a chance to quickly request a full query to review and, if necessary, take action.

While the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse promises significant improvements in highway safety, it brings with it challenges for carriers that must adapt their procedures to remain compliant. If FMCSA takes action on the suggestions above, those challenges could be greatly reduced.

Jeremy Reymer is the founder and CEO of CDL driver applicant tracking system DriverReach. He serves on several boards and committees, including American Trucking Associations’ Workforce Development Committee, the American Transportation Research Institute’s Advisory Committee and the Indiana Motor Truck Association’s Board of Directors.