The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a long-needed tool for regulated employers to help them identify drivers who are prohibited from performing safety-sensitive duties based on drug and alcohol program violations or test refusals. The Clearinghouse also helps facilitate drivers who violate these rules to receive the required Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) evaluation and any mandated treatment before once again returning to safety-sensitive work.
As we get closer to the end of the year, I thought it would beneficial to review some interesting data published in the recent Clearinghouse report, such as the number of queries run, violation type, and total carrier and owner-operator registrations. These findings hopefully will motivate you to complete the registration process and run your annual driver queries. The Clearinghouse’s usefulness is only effective if used and acted upon to help keep our roadways safe.
Pre-Employment and Annual Clearinghouse Requirements
Employers are required to conduct pre-employment queries for all drivers subject to drug and alcohol testing under 49 CFR Part 382. Prior to the implementation of the Clearinghouse, employers relied on inquiries to previous employers or notifications from the driver to find out about past violations. Beginning in 2023 once the Clearinghouse is fully mature, the requirement of contacting previous employers for drug/alcohol violations will be eliminated. The employer must also run a query on all their current drivers at least once within a 365-day period based on hire date or another 12-month period.
A Closer Look at the Numbers
In reviewing the September 2020 monthly Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Report, the FMCSA stated that 1,965,016 queries have been run so far this year (52% full queries for pre-employment; 45% limited queries and 2% full queries). From the previous monthly report, pre-employment queries increased 5.6% and limited queries soared 74%. The increase in pre-employment queries is a positive sign that carriers are hiring which has been on a slow steady incline since May. The significant increase in limited queries is probably due to carriers completing their annual Clearinghouse query requirement.
For the first nine months of this year, 40,422 violations have been reported. Of those violations, 39,541 are drug-related, with the balance of 892 being alcohol violations.
Positive drug tests account for 82% of the total violations reported. Data reported from September numbers indicate that positive drug tests increased 8% over the previous month and drug test refusals increased 9.3%.
Interestingly, the report confirmed 27 pre-employment alcohol violations. Pre-employment alcohol testing is not mandated under any DOT program; further, pursuant to 49 CFR 382, for an alcohol test to be a violation, that test needs to be conducted immediately before, during, or immediately after performing safety-sensitive duties. For that number to be valid (i.e., true pre-employment tests and not an entry error), those carriers must be conducting those tests during some form of driver orientation.
Drug and Alcohol Test Results by Type (as of 10/1/2020)
When reviewing the below substance test results, it should be no surprise that marijuana metabolite (THC-COOH) accounts for the majority of the MRO reported positive substances, accounting for 52%. When comparing this data to the percentage of admitted usage shown in the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the general population admits to marijuana use, ~ 88% of the admitted monthly drug use is marijuana. The Clearinghouse data suggests that for the substance-abusing commercial drivers, they are more prone to illicit stimulant use than the general population; albeit, the percentage is likely far less than the general population.
Substances Identified in Positive Drug Tests (as of 10/1/2020)
Note: More than one substance can appear in a positive drug test
Are Companies Ready for Year-End Annual Driver Queries?
As of October 1, 2020, 145,805 employers and 49,349 owner-operators have registered in the Clearinghouse. These are large numbers; however, when compared to the entire ocean of FMCSA-regulated entities, these numbers are just scratching the surface.
As of December 2018, FMCSA stated there were 560,809 interstate motor carriers and hazardous material carriers with recent activity operating in the United States. Using this number as a good estimate of total FMCSA regulated companies, only 26% of the regulated carriers have registered.
Carriers only need to be registered when they run a query. However, as stated previously, FMCSA mandated as of January 6, 2020, that all companies need to run an annual query on its entire commercial driver pool. Clearinghouse data suggests that 74% of motor carriers have not hired a new driver this year (since they did not register to run a pre-employment query) and are waiting for the last few months of the year to enroll in the Clearinghouse to run their annual queries.
If these numbers seem low, it is dwarfed by the owner-operator statistics. There are currently 3.9 million commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders driving in commerce within the United States.1 Of those drivers, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association estimates that approximately 350,000 to 400,000 are driving under their own authority. That means that 80-90% of the owner-operators have still not enrolled in the Clearinghouse.
In addition, along with enrolling, under the final Clearinghouse rule, an employer who employs himself/herself as a CDL driver must designate a consortium/third-party administrator (C/TPA) to comply with the employer’s Clearinghouse reporting requirements. Since these owner-operators are already employed under their own authority, the only query they are mandated to run is the annual full query meaning that the remainder of the owner-operators need to enroll and run their annual query within the next five months.
What Does All This Mean?
In summary, the Clearinghouse has been successful in identifying over 40,000 drivers who were putting the public at risk due to violating the drug/alcohol testing rules. While most violations were predominantly in the pre-employment arena, it may be possible to opine that without the Clearinghouse the vast majority of those violations would have never been known by the drivers’ prospective employers.
However, the Clearinghouse can only be successful if all stakeholders are participating – which means registering, running queries, and following all applicable guidelines. A significant number of employers have still not enrolled in the Clearinghouse and they have not run their annual driver queries which is a requirement under FMCSA Part 382.701. This leads me to believe that there are many carriers out there that are either unaware of the regulations or do not understand them. Either way, not performing their obligations under the rule is diminishing the value of the Clearinghouse as it relates to utility and public safety.
If you need help running your annual Clearinghouse queries, HireRight can help. To learn more visit https://www.hireright.com/transportation/solutions/verifications/drug-and-alcohol-clearinghouse.
1 FMCSA, Regulatory Evaluation of Entry-Level Driver Training Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (2016), pg. 53