In just over a month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse will become operational. Although most trucking companies and their drivers are well-informed about it, we’re going to break down what it means for you.
First, the clearinghouse is designed to address the problem of drivers who fail an alcohol or drug test while employed by a carrier. Some move to another company – or even a different state – to get a job with another carrier unknowledgeable about their record for weeks or months.
The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 requires certain transportation drivers to undergo drug and alcohol testing by the United States Department of Transportation. However, its guidelines only mandate background checks of potential employees for drug and alcohol violations for a three-year period.
The FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a database of D.O.T.-administered positive drug and/or alcohol test results for drivers. It’ll contain violations that occur on or after January 6, 2020. Included infractions specifically include results with a BAC over .04, positive drug results and refusals to test. These violations stay in the database for a five-year period and until the driver completes the return-to-duty process. Although it’s free to register with the clearinghouse, employers, drivers and other specified parties must do so to access data in it.
Why is FMCSA implementing these strict measures? One word: safety. Professional drivers are tasked with hauling loads in a heavy and large vehicle. They must do so in a safe and timely manner. Nevertheless, having even a trace bit of drugs or alcohol in your system can markedly affect your driving skills. Specifically, alcohol impairs your driving through slower reaction time, lack of coordination, reduced concentration, decreased vision and inhibited judgment. About 28 people in the U.S. die daily in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver.
Similarly, side effects of drugs like amphetamines and opioids are agitation, dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations and impaired driving. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that opioid use doubles the risk of having a crash. None of these repercussions keep you and other drivers safe on the road.
Even if you’re not sure what the clearinghouse means for you as a driver, it’s important to know your rights and take responsibility for your occupation. You’re not required to register for it. But, you have to enroll to view your data, give a carrier electronic permission to search your record or contact one of the clearinghouse’s substance abuse professionals to start the return-to-duty process. Know, though, that having a previous positive test result doesn’t prevent employers from hiring you.
Your information is stored in the clearinghouse by your date of birth and CDL number. Any time data on you is added or changed in it, you’ll be notified by mail or through electronic notification. The clearinghouse website contains numerous resources for drivers, including FAQs about the FMCSA program and a detailed brochure.
Amassing violations through this program can derail your current driving job or even your career. Alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours or be detected in urine for up to 3-5 days. The effects of opioids can last for several hours. For example, urine tests can detect cocaine for up to two days and heroin up to seven days after the last use. Don’t let substance abuse end the driving career you’ve worked hard to build.