Trucking Employers Look to Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse for Safety Improvement

Michelle Hopkins

Efforts to make the interstate roadways safer will intensify in 2020 with the launch of a new database by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) to alert trucking companies to commercial drivers with unresolved alcohol and/or drug violations. The FMCSA’s new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse represents the latest attempt to reduce the trucking industry’s injury and fatality rate. In 2017, transportation had the fifth highest number of nonfatal occupational injuries among 18 industries reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 The fatality rate for commercial drivers was 26.8 deaths per 10,000 employees in 2017, compared to 3.5 deaths per 10,000 employees for all professions.2

Job conditions, including long, solitary hours on the road, have long been seen as a contributor to drug and alcohol use among commercial drivers, with use of alcohol and amphetamines most frequently reported.3

Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Requirements

Beginning January 6, 2020, FMSCA’s new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse imposes new reporting requirements for FMCSA-regulated employers, medical review officers (MROs), substance abuse professionals (SAPs), consortia/third party administrators (C/TPAs), and other service agents related to violations of drug and alcohol regulations (49 CFR, Parts 40 and 382).

Additionally, employers will be required to query the Clearinghouse (by limited or full query, described later in this article) to determine whether current and prospective employees have any unresolved drug and alcohol violations before permitting those employees to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) on public roads. Employers also must make a query once a year for each CMV driver they employ.

Employer Reporting Requirements

Employers with FMCSA-regulated drivers are required to report:

  • An alcohol confirmation test with a concentration of 0.04 or higher.
  • Refusal to submit to an alcohol test, as specified in 49 CFR 40.261.
  • Refusal to submit to a drug test not requiring a determination by the MRO, as specified in 49 CFR 40.191.
  • Actual knowledge that a driver has used alcohol on duty, within four hours of coming on duty, or prior to post-accident testing. Also, actual knowledge that a driver has used a controlled substance. All are defined in 49 CFR 382.107.
  • Negative return-to-duty test results (drug or alcohol).
  • Completion of follow-up testing.

An independent owner-operator must comply with all new requirements and may designate a consortium/third-party administrator (C/TPA) to conduct Clearinghouse queries to determine if a prospective or current driver has any drug or alcohol violations. The C/TPA is responsible for reporting drug and alcohol program violations to the Clearinghouse for the owner-operator.

Medical Review Officer Requirements

The Department of Transportation (DOT) defines a medical review officer as “a licensed physician who is responsible for receiving and reviewing laboratory results generated by an employer's drug testing program and for evaluating medical explanations for certain drug test results.”

MROs are required to report the following information to the new Clearinghouse:

  • Verified positive, adulterated, or substituted drug test results (within two business days of making a determination or verification of a DOT-approved drug test).
  • Refusal to submit to a drug test requiring a determination by the MRO, as specified in 49 CFR 40.191 (within two business days of making a determination or verification of a DOT-approved drug test).
  • Changes made to a verified drug test per 49 CFR Part 40 (within one business day of making any change in the reported results).

Clearinghouse Seeks to Plug a Loophole

Trucking companies and their professional associations are strongly committed to safety, and employers seek to avoid hiring a driver with a positive drug or alcohol test, either recent or ever. But a thorny issue has plagued trucking employers: drivers desperate for employment who have a drug or alcohol violation in one state moving to another state and not disclosing the violation. The new FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is intended to nip that problem in the bud by giving employers the tools they need to identify drivers with unresolved violations that prevent them from operating a commercial vehicle. Records of drug and alcohol program violations will remain in the Clearinghouse for five years or until the driver has completed the return-to-duty process, whichever is later.

Trucking employers will be able to identify CDL drivers with drug and alcohol violations by conducting Clearinghouse queries.

Conducting Clearinghouse Queries

There are two types of queries an employer may make:

  • Limited queries indicate if a current or prospective employee has any record of unresolved drug and alcohol program violations, which would prohibit operating a commercial motor vehicle.
  • Full queries disclose the details of the information contained in the database about a driver.

The FMCSA charges a fee for both types of query, although a limited query that leads to a full query is charged only once. On November 5, the FMCSA began offering query plans for sale to employers of CDL drivers. You are invited to download the FMCSA’s instructional job aid and visit the FMCSA’s website to learn more about query plans.

Information for Regulated Commercial Drivers

Going forward from January 6, 2020, CDL drivers do not need to register for the Clearinghouse unless one of two things happens: (1) a driver is seeking a new job or (2) a driver’s employer asks for consent to make a query about the driver. Any driver also must register to see if the Clearinghouse database contains any personal information.

Drivers will be notified by the Clearinghouse whenever information about them is added, revised, or removed. Clearinghouse-registered drivers will be notified by mail or email, depending on the preference indicated when registering. Drivers who are not registered with the Clearinghouse will receive notification by mail at the address shown on their commercial driver’s license.

The Clearinghouse collects information about FMCSA-regulated commercial drivers only from January 6, 2020 and going forward, not retroactively. Drivers can petition to correct information in the database, but they cannot challenge the accuracy or validity of test results through the Clearinghouse. Any employer or service agent that knowingly submits false information may be subject to criminal and/or civil penalties.

Drug and alcohol violations received January 6, 2020 and later will be kept in the Clearinghouse for five years from the date of violation or until the violation is resolved through successful completion of the return-to-work process and follow-up testing, whichever is later.

The FMCSA has extended the Clearinghouse compliance date for state driver’s license agencies (SDLAs) until January 6, 2023; however, SDLAs may voluntarily request Clearinghouse information beginning on January 6, 2020.

Focus on the Goal

In its regulatory impact analysis (RIA), the FMCSA estimated the new Clearinghouse will lead to $196 million in benefits from crash reductions, while costing nearly $154 million annual for a net savings of $42 million.4

The $153.7 million cost figure includes:

  • $56 million incurred by drivers to go through the return-to-duty process
  • $35 million in fees and consent and verification costs
  • $29 milli0n in estimated monetized value of employees’ time to prepare annual employer queries
  • $11.5 million of opportunity costs incurred by employers due to lost on-duty hours and profits associated with drivers suspended from safety-sensitive functions until completion of the return-to-duty process
  • $11 million in estimated monetized value of employees’ time to prepare pre-employment queries
  • $5 million incurred by entities reporting information to the Clearinghouse to register, verify authorization and become familiar with the Clearinghouse requirements
  • $3 million for employers to designate service agents
  • $2.2 million for clearinghouse development and management of records
  • $1 million for substance abuse professionals (SAPs) to report initiation of return-to-duty Initial Assessment

Concentra’s Role

Concentra does not have any reporting requirements under the new Clearinghouse rule. Concentra has communicated with our customers to explain our role and to clarify that we do offer TPA services through Concentra Medical Compliance Administration (CMCA) for employers who may need help with the new reporting requirements (fees apply). CMCA’s national network includes:

  • More than 2,000 collection sites
  • Relationship with the world’s leading diagnostic laboratory
  • Expert doctors comprising a third-party MRO network
  • Medical data storage and reporting
  • Consolidated billing

If you would like to know more, contact Concentra about our drug and alcohol tests and screening.


  1. Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics news release, December 18, 2018.
  3. Drug use high among commercial truck drivers: study,” Reuters, October 25, 2013.
  4. Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse: A rule by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on 12/5/2016, Federal Register.