March 2020

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FMSCA Clearinghouse de-risking the logistics supply chain

Logging some 8,000 violations in its first month of implementation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is already bringing needed transparency into driver’s operating records to assure public safety and reduce trucking company risk. The Clearinghouse ends a long-existing gap in the ability of fleet hiring managers to access driver violation records from a reliable nation-wide database.

According to FMSCA, the purpose of the Clearinghouse (as mandated by section 32402 of MAP-21), is to maintain records of all drug and alcohol program violations in a central repository. The repository comes with a mandate that requires employers to query the system to determine whether current or prospective employees have drug or alcohol violation that prohibit them from performing safety-sensitive functions covered by the FMCSA and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) drug and alcohol testing regulations.

A necessary tool says FMSCA

The Agency says this will give it and human resources and hiring managers the necessary tools to identify drivers prohibited from operating commercial vehicles, while assuring these drivers receive human-centered evaluation and treatment before resuming safety-sensitive functions.

FMCSA’s position is clear. “Specifically, information maintained in the Clearinghouse will ensure that drivers who commit a drug or alcohol violation while working for another employer, or who attempt to find work with another employer, do not perform safety-sensitive functions until completing the return-to-duty process.”

The Clearinghouse addresses a situation where drivers could conceal their drug and alcohol violations merely by moving on to the next job or the next jurisdiction. Now, drug and alcohol violation records maintained in the Clearinghouse “follow” drivers regardless of how many times he or she changes employers, seeks employment or applies for a CDL in a different State. FMSCA says the Clearinghouse will be administered and maintained in strict compliance with all applicable Federal security standards. Similarly the Agency will comply with the consent requirements of the Privacy Act prior to releasing any driver's Clearinghouse record to a potential employer.

Rough start, but off to the races

According to reports in FreightWaves in late January, the clearinghouse went through a rough start due to system overload and other technical issues.

When pre-employment queries became a federal requirement for carriers January 6th the clearinghouse opened for conducting such checks. However, the system crashed due to a flood of pre-check registrations and query requests. The agency declared the crisis over January 19: “For employers or drivers who, due to extremely high traffic volume, experienced issues last week registering or conducting queries, those issues have been addressed. To ensure compliance, please retry completing those actions at this time.”

While the FMCSA worked to correct the problem, employers had been allowed to hire drivers through manual background checks alone.

Buck & quarter a pop but worth it

In an alert published in January, the FMCSA acknowledged that some queries are not getting verified based on the driver’s commercial drivers license (CDL) information transmitted by an employer.

According to the FMCSA alert “The Clearinghouse checks the CDL information you entered with the States’ CDL systems, which tracks driver CDLs nationwide, If the information you entered does not verify, make sure you have entered the driver’s CDL information correctly. If the CDL number has special characters (such as spaces, dashes, or leading zeros), try entering the CDL number with or without these characters, as requirements vary by state.”

Because of the rough start and overload, FreightWaves reports carriers hung up trying to verify background checks may have to resubmit their requests but will not be charged against their query plan balance, according to troubleshooting advice released by the FMCSA in February. Employers using the system to conduct pre-employment queries are charged a flat rate of $1.25 per query.

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Doing what it is intended to do

According to the FMSCA, with 650,000 drivers now registered, the number of violations that piled up early reveals just how many drivers may have been operating under the radar. Dan Horvath, vice president of safety policy for American Trucking Associations was quoted recently, noting to trade media that the “Clearinghouse is doing what it is meant to do” and that is closing a long-time loop-hole drivers were taking advantage of for years to avoid the consequences of their drug and alcohol violations.

This online database intended to help keep roads safer for all drivers by identifying, in real time, drivers prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions, and that includes operating commercial motor vehicles illegally due to a drug and alcohol program violations. As it stands the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is now fully operational and beginning to de-risk the logistics supply chain.

Bob Tales