FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse rules

Updated March 2023

The FMCSA has had the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse up and operational since January 6, 2020. Three years later what does that mean for those with a CDL or employ CDL drivers?

First, what is the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse?

As per the FMCSA Clearinghouse site:

“The Clearinghouse is a secure online database that will give employers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLAs), and State law enforcement personnel real-time information about commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders’ drug and alcohol program violations.

The Clearinghouse will contain records of violations of drug and alcohol prohibitions in 49 CFR Part 382, Subpart B, including positive drug or alcohol test results and test refusals. When a driver completes the return-to-duty (RTD) process and follow-up testing plan, this information will also be recorded in the Clearinghouse.”

The FMCSA states that this program is to help give real-time information to employers to keep anyone with an infraction off the road until they have successfully completed their RTD process. It will also make it more difficult for drivers to hide a not so clean driving record from future employers.

It’s also intended to make it easier for employers to meet reporting requirements.

As of January 6, 2023, the Clearinghouse will have been around for three years, and employers will no longer have to request information from the driver’s previous FMCSA-regulated employer.

In fact, as per a bulletin from the FMCSA:

“Beginning January 6, 2023, when three years of violation data is stored in the Clearinghouse, prospective employers must not conduct manual inquiries.”

Instead, all records will be available through the Clearinghouse.

But please note: the Clearinghouse only collects and retains information about drivers employed by FMCSA-regulated employers.

 “If a prospective employee was employed by an employer regulated by a DOT agency other than FMCSA (such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, etc.) during the three-year time frame, prospective employers will still be required to directly request drug and alcohol violation information from those DOT-regulated employers in accordance with 391.23(e)(4)(ii), since this information is not reported to the Clearinghouse.”

FMCSA now offering notification of record changes up to 12 months after a query.

The FMCSA has updated their regulations to add that they will notify employers if the is a change in a driver’s Clearinghouse record up to 12 months following a driver query, as opposed to the previous 30 days.

This notification, which will come via email, does not tell you what has changed on the drivers file. After the employer receives a notification about a driver file, the employer will then need to request a follow-up query. This follow-up query is free of charge.

Note- once you have received the notification the FMCSA recommends requesting the follow-up within 24 hours to make sure the driver has not gained a “prohibited” Clearinghouse status.

Do remember though- the employer still needs to gain the driver’s consent before requesting a follow-up.

And easier yet- the email will provide you the link to request a follow-up query. The follow up does satisfy the annual query requirement.

Sample of email notification:

What counts as a violation?

  • An alcohol concentration of .04 or higher,
  • Alcohol use while (or within 4 hours) performing a safety-sensitive function
  • Alcohol use within eight hours of an accident, or until post-accident test, whichever comes first
  • Test positive for specified drug
  • refusal to take a drug or alcohol test,

Violations must be reported by end of the third business day after an employer or consortium/third-party administrator is informed of the incident.

With some U.S. and all of Canada legalizing marijuana you will need to be up to speed on how this affects anyone who uses or uses medical marijuana at the direction of a doctor. The long and the short of it is that even though you might be using it legally on your personal time if you are caught under the influence in a drug test by the DOT while working, you will have a violation on your record. You can read more about that here.

Have other questions about the DOT’s Drug and Alcohol policy? You can find that here.

How does the Clearinghouse affect Drivers with CDLs?

If driver has a drug and alcohol violation it will be recorded in the Clearinghouse database for employers, SDLAs, law enforcement, and the FMCSA to access and review. Even if a driver moves states and reapplies for a CDL in the new state, any previous violations, and RTDs (or lack thereof) will be recorded in the database.

While a driver’s record will follow them with the Clearinghouse, past infractions prior to January 6, 2020, will not be recorded in the database.

Drivers will not be required to register for Clearinghouse access. However, a driver will need to be registered in order to provide electronic consent within 24 hours for full queries in the Clearinghouse. If consent is not provided within this time frame, the driver MUST be removed from safety-sensitive functions.

Once registered a driver will be able to access their record at no cost, as well as provide electronic consent to employers, and prospective employers to query their record.

Who qualifies for registering with the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse?

  • Interstate and intrastate motor carriers (including passenger carriers)
  • School bus drivers
  • Construction equipment operators
  • Limousine drivers
  • Municipal vehicle drivers

Drivers will only able to access their own records, not those of other drivers. A driver’s information will not be made public.

Once registered, a driver will be able to see any information requested by a current or prospective employer and will have a chance to consent to the information being shared before it is sent to the requester.

Drivers can register at this link

What happens if a driver’s record shows a violation?

If a drug and alcohol infraction appears on your record, it will stay there for five years, or until the violation is resolved by either completing the return to duty process and follow-up testing plan.

Check out this brochure for more info. 

How does the Clearinghouse affect employers of CDL drivers?

Employers will be required to report any drug and alcohol violations. They will also be able to check current and prospective employees’ records to make sure there are no violations pending for the driver.

Employers are required to conduct a query as part of the pre-employment driver investigation and annually for current employees,

In order to conduct the necessary queries, employers will need to purchase query plans to conduct searches.

What employers are affected?

  • Federal and other organizations that employ drivers subject to the FMCSA drug and alcohol testing regulations

Each query comes at a cost of $1.25/query, however there are query plans to fit individual business needs.

How does the Clearinghouse affect Owner-operators?

If you are an owner-operator you will be subject to both sides of the spectrum, both as a driver and employer. In order to satisfy the Clearinghouse requirements, you will need to appoint a consortium/third-party administrator to comply.

So, while an owner-operator can conduct queries on their own behalf, as well as report any infractions committed by employees, the third-party administrator is needed for reporting any violations by the owner-operator to the Clearinghouse.

How does the Clearinghouse affect Canadian and Mexican drivers and employers?

If you are a Canadian or Mexican driver, employer, or service agent that operates within the U.S., and is subject to the FMCSA drug and alcohol regulation, you must allow comply with the Clearinghouse rules. This means that Canadian and Mexican drivers who hold CDLs will be able to be searched within the Clearinghouse’s database.

Canadian and Mexican employers will also be required to submit any drug and alcohol violations to the Clearinghouse.

Two types of Queries: Full and Limited

An employer can conduct two types of queries: Full and Limited. A limited query allows an employer to see if a driver’s record has any information, be it resolved or not, but no specifics about the case.

This type of limited query only requires general consent from the driver. This general consent can be good for more than one year, but when consenting, a timeframe must be specified. This can either by electronic or pen signature.

General consent is not done electronically through the Clearinghouse. Instead this is collected outside of the Clearinghouse. Employers need to keep a record of employees consent for three years.

Limited queries are intended for annual checks on current employees, or a periodic check on a driver.

A full query gives an employer full access to all information about any drug and alcohol violations in the drivers record. For this a driver must give electronic consent through the Clearinghouse program before any information is passed along to the employer.

Full queries are conducted as part of the pre-employment process or if a limited query finds a record in existence for the driver.

For more information on Full vs. Limited query see this chart put together by the FMCSA.

If you need more information about the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse be sure to check out their site