What is the FMCSA Clearinghouse?

If you have a tow truck business, you have an ear out for the latest trucking news. And one big thing that’s been all the buzz in the trucking world is the FMCSA Clearinghouse. How could this affect you as a tow truck business owner? Is it something you need to worry about? Maybe you feel like you’re late to the party, or maybe you’re just realizing that January 6, 2020 (the magic date) has come and gone. Not to fear – we’ll give you some of the need-to-know information about FMCSA Clearinghouse.

FAQs about the FMCSA Clearinghouse.

What is the FMCSA Clearinghouse?

First questions first – what is the FMCSA Clearinghouse? To explain it simply, let’s say that it’s an online record that has information about the drug and alcohol violations of CDL and CLP holders. Only select people can see it, including employers, the FMCSA itself (naturally), state driver’s licensing agencies, and state law enforcement.

Now, what’s actually in the DOT Clearinghouse? It contains records of drug and alcohol violations of CDL holders. That means it includes any positive test results and test refusals. There’s also records of the completion of return-to-duty processes and a follow-up testing plan if that’s required. That’s the basics of what’s included in the Clearinghouse.

(The goal of Clearinghouse is to make the roads safer for all drivers, both drivers of CMVs and drivers of passenger cars.)

Which drivers and employers will be affected by the FMCSA Clearinghouse?

As a tow truck company, you might wonder if this is something you need to be concerned about. You’re not a trucking trucking company, after all. So – who’s going to be affected by the Clearinghouse?

Any driver who has a CDL and operates a CMV on public roads will be affected by Clearinghouse, as will their employers and service agents. This includes folks like interstate or intrastate motor carriers, school bus drivers, operators of construction equipment, and so on. It also includes drivers of municipal vehicles, and it includes federal and other organizations that have drivers who are required to follow the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing regulations.

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Who is allowed to use the Clearinghouse?

 Not everyone is authorized to use the Clearinghouse. You have to be one of the people who’s authorized to use it to get access. Those who are authorized to Clearinghouse include…

  • CDL drivers
  • Employers (meaning motor carriers and other employers who have drivers that operate CMVs that require them to carry a CDL)
  • Consortia/Third-party-administrators
  • Medical review officers
  • SAPs (Substance abuse professionals)
  • Law enforcement personnel

Can drivers look at their Clearinghouse information?

Yes, absolutely drivers can look at their own Clearinghouse information. They don’t even have to pay to look at their electronic record. (They’ll be able to see their drug and alcohol violation information and they can view the status of their return-to-duty process.) However, a driver does need to be registered with the Clearinghouse in order to see their information.

How can an authorized user sign up?

To sign up for Clearinghouse, employers, drivers, and so on have to register. That’s pretty easy to do, and the FMCSA has handy-dandy guides that walk you through the process step-by-step. An employer can also invite a user to complete the required actions for them if that user registers as a Clearinghouse Assistant.

How does the Clearinghouse affect employers who have CDL drivers?

Employers who have CDL holders will be able to query the Clearinghouse so they can get driver information, and they’ll also be able to report drug and alcohol program violations from their current employees. (Queries basically allow employers to make sure that a current or prospective employee is not forbidden from driving a CMV due to a drug and alcohol program violation that is NOT resolved, meaning that the driver has not done the return-to-duty process for it.)

Here’s what employers must do for Clearinghouse:

  • Do full queries of the Clearinghouse during the pre-employment driver screening process.
  • Do limited queries for each of their drivers annually.
  • Get electronic consent from the driver for a full query (yes, even for pre-employment full queries).
  • Use Clearinghouse to report drug and alcohol violations.
  • Put negative RTD tests into the database and use Clearinghouse to enter the date when a driver has successfully gone through a follow-up testing plan (if a driver they employ has a drug or alcohol program violation that has not been resolved)

Are drivers required to register for the Clearinghouse?

Okay, so this is a common question – are CDL drivers required to register for Clearinghouse? Do they really have to?

Well, no. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t. They’ll need to be registered to be able to give electronic consent for a potential or current employer to do a full query. (And as this includes pre-employment queries, it’s probably not a bad idea for CDL drivers to register.) And they also need to be registered so they can see their own information in the database. Since the driver will have an account, they’ll be able to easily and promptly answer requests for queries.

To summarize what drivers can do in the Clearinghouse:

  • View their own record.
  • Give consent electronically for a present or potential employer to get detailed drug and alcohol program violation information.
  • Specify a Substance Abuse Professional so that they can put in information about the driver’s return-to-duty program.

What are limited queries and full queries?

At this point, you might be wondering what a limited query is and what a full query is, and what the difference is between the two.

A limited query lets an employer see if there is any information about either resolved or unresolved drug and alcohol program violations on a driver’s record. However, it does not allow the employer to see any specific information. To do a limited query, the employer needs general driver consent from outside the Clearinghouse. (This general consent is not required every year, but the request has to provide a specific timeframe the driver is consenting to.)

A full query, on the other hand, allows an employer see detailed information from the driver’s record. They can see the specifics about any drug or alcohol violation in the driver’s Clearinghouse record. In order to get a full query, the employer has to have the driver’s electronic consent.

When do employers have to do queries?

There are certain times that employers are required to do queries. Employers have to do a full query as part of the pre-employment process before they hire someone to drive a CMV. They also have to query annually about all of their current CDL drivers. It seems like a lot, but it’s in the interest of ensuring safety.

Do employers have to query Clearinghouse or report violations for drivers who do not have CDLs?

No. An employer is only required to query and report to the Clearinghouse if they have drivers who are subject to the FMCSA’s licensing requirements (as found in CFR Part 383) and drug and alcohol testing requirements (as found in 49 CFR Part 382). However, employers of drivers who don’t have CDLs still have to follow driver investigation requirements found in §381.236, and this does encompass certain aspects of drug and alcohol violation history.

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So, that’s just scraping the surface of what the Clearinghouse is, but we hope that this gives you an idea of how the new database could affect you as a tow truck business. There are a lot of requirements around it, so it’s important to understand how you’re impacted by the new rules. Remember, this comes from the FMCSA. Following the requirements is probably in your best interest.

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