August 28, 2020


On January 6, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse final rule became effective, nearly 11 years after the first modern drug and alcohol database bill was presented to Congress as a bipartisan initiative for safer roads.

The Clearinghouse is an online database that employers, public safety officials, driver licensing agencies, substance abuse professionals, and select government officials can refer to in order to obtain real-time information on drug and alcohol program violations committed by commercial drivers. The Clearinghouse is meant to improve highway safety by simplifying and safeguarding pre-employment screenings and enhancing compliance procedures for the FMCSA.

All commercial drivers do not fall under the same umbrella

From drivers employed in a traditional hierarchy to owner-operators, the Clearinghouse affects drivers differently. Owner-operators, given their dual employer-employee roles, are required to register with the Clearinghouse. They are also unable to act under their own authority to administer the requirements of the Clearinghouse. More on owner-operator specific rules can be found in this FMCSA brochure.

While registration is not required for non-self-employed drivers, a driver must be registered to provide electronic consent in the Clearinghouse should a prospective or current employer wish to conduct a thorough check of their driving record. Full inspections are now also required during any CDL holder’s pre-employment screening. Should a driver fail to give their consent for a query, they will be restricted from performing safety-related job tasks, including driving.

The above rules are also applicable to Mexican and Canadian drivers who are subject to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing requirements.

What return-to-duty entails

Drivers who have overcome battles with substance abuse can return to their professions through a streamlined return-to-duty process that is comprised of a medical evaluation by a substance abuse professional and the driver’s employer or a third-party administrator.

Here is what drivers looking to make their way back to the driver’s seat can expect in a typical return-to-duty timeline:

  1. The employer or third-party administrator provides the driver with a list of DOT-approved substance abuse professionals that the driver will then select to complete their medical evaluation.
  2. The substance abuse professional will then evaluate the driver and provide the employer with treatment recommendations and health education resources.
  3. Once the driver completes the recommended treatment and educational learning, the substance abuse professional will then re-evaluate the driver to determine their level of predicted future compliance. If all goes well, they will establish a follow-up testing plan.
  4. The driver is then sent a medical substance test, which has to be sent by their current employer or third-party administrator if the driver is an owner-operator.
  5. Once the driver completes the test and receives a negative result, they can return to driving and perform safety-sensitive functions again.
  6. The information is then retained in the Clearinghouse for five years and until a follow-up substance test is completed.

Drivers should know how to navigate the Clearinghouse — even if it’s not mandatory

The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is an essential compliance tool and useful resource for CDL holders, employers, and select public officials. Understanding how to utilize the database can ensure an efficient operation and streamlined safety process.

Once a driver has registered in the Clearinghouse, they can access their record electronically and for free. This is an up-to-date record that includes all relevant drug and alcohol program violations. This is an incredibly valuable takeaway for drivers who may find their records are not correct, which often happens with manual query entries. Drivers should also keep in mind that no violations that occurred before January 6, 2020, will be included in the database.

Visit the FMCSA’s official Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse website for relevant and up-to-date fact sheets, FAQs, and learning resources. Drivers battling substance abuse can access the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline 24/7 and for free at 1-800-662-4357.