Carriers trailing drivers in drug clearinghouse registrations

The nation’s 3.4 million commercial drivers have been registering in the federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse at a higher rate than have carriers since the clearinghouse began operating on January 6.

According to data supplied by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were 900,000 registrants in the clearinghouse as of April 22. Of those, 784,000 were driver registrations, which is roughly 23% of all commercial drivers.

Employers (represented by approximately 560,000 carriers, including single-truck owner operators), third-party administrators, substance abuse professionals, and medical review officers accounted for the remaining 116,000 registrations, or about 21% of those 560,000 carriers.

FMCSA also confirmed that during the first 15 weeks since the clearinghouse began operating, 17,000 drug and alcohol test violations have been logged.

The slower rate of registration among carriers is somewhat surprising given that any carrier hiring a driver must be registered. “I would have thought we would have a greater participation rate at this point by the carriers,” Dave Osiecki, President and CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consultants told FreightWaves. “There are probably some carriers out there that are either unaware they had to register or if they are aware, they’re just ignoring it.”

But Osiecki also pointed out that if a carrier hasn’t hired a driver, or doesn’t plan to hire a driver, “they don’t technically have to register until the end of the year when all carriers will have had to perform a limited query of the database” for employees holding commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), he said. “That could account for the slower rate of registrations. But there’s still work to do on the carrier side as far as carriers getting registered.”

Drug violations among commercial drivers has steadily increased since 2015.

It also should not be assumed that the rate of driver and carrier registrations will keep up at the same pace throughout the year as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to affect freight demand and driver hiring.

During the first quarter of the year, “there were thousands of drivers being hired across the country – the big carriers have been hiring a lot on their own,” said Marilyn Surber, transportation advisor for Tulsa, Oklahoma-based compliance consultant Tenstreet. Based on recent hiring data compiled by Tenstreet, however, “while hiring hasn’t plummeted, it does seem to have slowed,” she said. “If an increase in freight demand that naturally picks up during the summer doesn’t happen, you’re not going to see the new hires.”

Because the FMCSA’s clearinghouse database makes it much more difficult for a driver who fails a drug test to get hired by another carrier, industry executives contend that it could have a major effect on driver availability and the ability to seat trucks.

However, a potential “snapback” in freight markets following the current downturn, driven by tighter capacity and drivers leaving the market, could also lead to pricing increases beginning in the later part of the year, according to a trucking economist.