As of January 11, 2021, the DOT gives authority to issue fines for violating Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse requirements.
This new year brings the annual changes to the U.S. Department of Transportation adjusted fines and the second full year of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrations CDL Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.
In accordance with the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, the DOT published a final rule detailing the 2020 inflation adjustments to civil penalty amounts that may be imposed for violations of certain DOT regulations.
The DOT must publish any annual minimum and maximum penalty adjustments by January 15 of every year, and the new levels take effect immediately upon publication of the rule, which was January 11, 2021.
Fine amounts have been increased 1.01764 percent.
For example, Commercial driver’s license (CDL) violations [49 U.S.C. 521(b)(2)(C)] or employer violations pertaining to knowingly allowing, authorizing employee violations of out-of-service order [49 U.S.C. 521(b)(2)(C)] new minimum penalty will be $5,833.
This rule does not change previously assessed or enforced penalties that DOT is actively collecting or has collected.
FMCSA also revised appendix B to include civil penalties for an employer, employee, medical review officer, or service agent who violates the regulations implementing the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse at 49 CFR part 382, subpart G.
Upcoming FMCSA CDL Clearinghouse Violations
As of October 2020, more than 150,000 employers and owner-operators have registered with the Clearinghouse. According to the FMCSA, this number is well off the 525,000 estimated regulated motor carriers in the U.S.
With the FMCSA Clearinghouse now in effect for pre-employment, random testing and return-to-duty processes, employers of CDL drivers must follow a new pre-employment process when hiring a potential new driver.
Violations can occur if required information is not loaded into the database, or if new-hired drivers start driving before a new hire gives consent for a detailed query.
The employer needs to make sure the driver is registered to the FMCSA Clearinghouse, then request electronic driver consent to run a detailed query, run a query on the driver (employer or C/TPA), and ensure no recent negative drug testing history is present.
The other major required process for employers, including owner-operators, is to annually query all current CDL drivers at least once a year to make sure no violations appeared in the database. If the limited query returns any results, a detailed query is required.
This means the majority of CDL drivers need to have had a limited query run on them by January 6, 2021 or they face potential audit violations and fines if a DOT Officer determines the queries were completed late or not at all.
Employers are also required to report any other drug or alcohol violations by their drivers to the database. This can include direct observation of an employee using alcohol or a controlled substance while on the job, information obtained from a previous employer, and traffic citations for driving a commercial vehicle under the influence.
Any fleet or O/O who does not comply with the Clearinghouse rules is subject to civil and criminal penalties, which could include fines up to $2,500 per offense.
Note: Clearinghouse violations can still be cited and fined even though they occurred prior to the effective date of this rulemaking.
The 2020 adjustments to these civil penalties are summarized in the chart below.