Future of the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse and Exemption Requests

fmcsa cdl clearinghouse annual queries

The CDL Clearinghouse program took effect on January 6, 2020 stating that all trucking companies with an operating authority—including owner-operators—are required to register in the clearinghouse and conduct a yearly query on each driver and store their violation history.

According to the April 2021 CDL Clearinghouse report, drug and alcohol violations are pacing around 60,000 each year, consistent with 2020 Clearinghouse data of 56,000 violations.

With over 5.1 million drivers under the authority of FMCSA, the annual positive rate would be 1.12%, likely delaying the random drug testing rate drop from 50% to 25% until 2025 or later.

With the Biden administration still in their first year, DOT priorities are being outlined and changes to the CDL Clearinghouse are likely coming.

But what changes are on the horizon? 


Biden nominates a data-centric regulator to head FMCSA

Meera Joshi, a New York City taxi regulator who pioneered the use of data tools to weed out unsafe drivers and devised a pay protection program for drivers working for app-based services, has been serving as deputy and acting FMCSA administrator since January.

She has been nominated to lead the FMCSA.

If she is confirmed, a full plate of issues await her, including the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Program, proposals to lower the legal age for commercial truck drivers, autonomous vehicles, and the impact of the new drug and alcohol test clearinghouse.

Most notable is a proposed rule that would revise the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. According to the abstract listed with the rule, the proposal would “streamline and improve error-correction procedures, queries and consent requirements.” As of right now, the notice of proposed rulemaking is expected in February 2022.


FMCSA Clearinghouse Exemptions

Other likely changes coming to the drug and alcohol Clearinghouse are exemption requests.

Last year, the Motion Picture Compliance Solutions (MPCS) exemption to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Rule has been granted after stating that it did not fit their industry’s model.

According to the FMCSA, MPCS specifically requested “an exemption from the requirement that an employer must not employ a driver who is subject to drug and alcohol testing to perform safety-sensitive functions prior to conducting a full query of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.” Instead, the MPCS would conduct a limited query of the Clearinghouse before an employer can hire a driver for a project.

In March, the transportation company FirstGroup requested a similar exemption from FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse pre-employment full query because it is costing them “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The company applied for the exemption on behalf of three of its subsidiaries, First Student, First Transit, and First Mile Square and is the largest provider of home-to-school transportation in North America with a fleet of 43,000 yellow school buses.

FirstGroup says the full query requirement is “hindering its ability to hire at the speed and level needed to keep pace with the demands of the contracted school and transit transportation industry.” The company added that the delays and administrative costs stemming from full query has resulted in “hundreds of thousands of dollars of increased costs.”

Like the MPCS exemption, First Group is requesting FMCSA to allow it to conduct a limited pre-employment query of the Clearinghouse. If the limited query indicated that information about the driver existed in the Clearinghouse, the company would then conduct a full query with the consent of the driver. As part of the exemption request, FirstGroup also would conduct a second limited query within 30 to 55 days of the initial limited query and conduct multiple limited queries on all its’ CDL drivers each year.

As one commenter on the request noted, if approved, this would “open the flood gate that will surely result in additional carriers applying for the same exception.”

Regardless of the outcome to this exemption request, more exemption requests are likely to come as hiring pressure builds and inflated costs continue to burden larger carriers.

Whether or not the exemptions are approved is yet to be seen and will depend highly on the situation of the particular carrier requesting the exemption.


Need Clearinghouse and Compliance help?

It is important to note that effective January 6, 2023, the FMCSA clearinghouse will become the sole query source for employers to meet the requirement to identify prospective drivers with drug and alcohol violations.

Right now, carriers must request previous employment for drug testing history and query the Clearinghouse database.

Carriers must also perform a clearinghouse query on all drivers annually. If non-compliance surfaces in a compliance review or safety audit, a carrier faces a fine of up to $2,500 per offense.

CNS offers a comprehensive Drug and Alcohol Consortium Service and are a certified consortium and third-party administrator (C/TPA).

Questions about DOT Compliance, Licensing, Audits, Programs, etc.?

Our DOT Specialists are here to help!

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