Yes, D & A inquiries will come with a fee (and other Clearinghouse FAQs)

Three common questions continue to surface as motor carriers prepare for the January 6, 2020, implementation of the CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Following are the top frequently asked clearinghouse questions received by J. J. Keller® subject matter experts:

1. What fees are associated with the clearinghouse?

The top question, hands down, relates to fees. Motor carriers must pay a fee when querying the clearinghouse to learn of a CDL driver’s possible DOT drug and alcohol testing violations, evaluation/treatment, return-to-duty testing, and/or completion of follow-up testing. Registration and other clearinghouse activities do not involve a fee.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has set a flat rate of $1.25 per limited or full query. If a motor carrier performs a limited query that reveals a need to request additional details, the motor carrier must request a full query. However, the motor carrier will only be charged once for both queries.

Motor carriers who are subject to clearinghouse queries must create a clearinghouse account, where the bundles of queries (full or limited) are purchased. Bundles will not expire, and motor carriers may add additional queries to their plans if they find their current bundle is inadequate.

High-volume users have the option of purchasing an unlimited plan. Motor carriers are charged one annual payment of $24,500 that expires in 12 months.

Service providers conducting queries on behalf of motor carriers cannot personally purchase bundles. Any queries requested by a service provider will be subtracted from the motor carrier’s prepaid bundle.

2. What types of Clearinghouse queries are required?

Clearinghouse queries must be performed on anyone seeking or currently holding a position to operate a vehicle requiring a CDL in interstate or intrastate commerce. These positions are safety-sensitive under Part 382.

When a driver is hired or transferring into a safety-sensitive position, the motor carrier must request a pre-employment query of the database. Also, motor carriers must perform an annual query on current safety-sensitive positions.

The pre-employment query is a full query. A full query discloses detailed information. It alerts motor carriers to drug and alcohol violations and completed steps in the return-to-duty process. A full query requires the driver to log in to his or her clearinghouse account to grant consent to the report.

The annual report is a limited query (at a minimum) if no history resides in the database. A limited query checks for the presence of DOT drug and alcohol testing history in the clearinghouse on a CDL driver. Consent for a limited query is performed by the motor carrier outside of the portal.

If an annual limited query shows that information exists, the motor carrier must perform a full query. However, a motor carrier may have a policy to automatically request a full query for the annual investigations, rather than the limited.

3. Do all drivers need a clearinghouse account?

No. Only drivers who must consent to a full query are required to have a clearinghouse account, including those:

  • Applying for or transferring into a safety-sensitive position under Part 382;
  • Who have employers requiring full queries for annual investigations; and
  • Who are subject to a full query as the result of the results of a limited annual query.

When a driver fails to provide consent to a limited or full query, he or she is unable to perform a safety-sensitive function for the motor carrier.

Everyone should know their roles in Clearinghouse query

Before the clearinghouse is implemented, motor carriers need to review their training, policies, and general communication.

First, motor carriers are required to update their DOT drug and alcohol policy to include driver data that will be reported to the clearinghouse. This information must be provided to drivers before the clearinghouse’s launch date. Even though it is not required, motor carriers could assist drivers in understanding how to register for a portal account and what their due process rights are.

Next, others within the motor carrier who may be called upon to report violations or request queries should receive training and instructions. These tasks may cross departments, including safety, operations, and human resources.

Motor carriers may begin registering for a portal account as early as fourth quarter 2020. Once an account is created, motor carriers may now purchase query bundles. So even the accounting department may need to be in the loop.

Everyone involved with the clearinghouse at the motor carrier should be given instructions on how the process will work. Without a game plan, the transition into the new database could be messy.

About the author
Kathy Close - Transportation Editor

Kathy provides regulatory support for a variety of products; her areas of expertise include transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, driver qualification, and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) enforcement model.

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