FMCSA extends drug clearinghouse deadline for state agencies

Federal regulators made final a proposed rule delaying the compliance deadline for the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse by three years for state motor vehicle agencies.

Instead of being required to access the new database on Jan. 6, 2020, state agencies will have until Jan. 6, 2023, to comply with the rule to give states more time ensure IT systems can securely tap into the system, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The 2020 deadline remains in effect for drivers and carriers.

“The compliance date extension allows FMCSA the time needed to complete its work on a forthcoming rulemaking to address the states’ use of driver-specific information from the clearinghouse and time to develop the information technology platform through which states will electronically request and receive clearinghouse information,” the agency noted in a Dec. 12 document.

While the FMCSA asserted that the delay would have no effect on safety, industry experts and safety advocates have warned of potential risks to a delay of the rule’s requirements for state agencies.

The clearinghouse final rule requires that employers query its database as part of any pre-employment driver investigation, a procedure meant to prevent drivers from moving from one job to another with undetected drug or alcohol violations. The queries will also be required at least annually by fleet operators for all their current drivers. All queries require driver consent.

The three-year extension came at the request of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), which raised five major questions:

  • What does FMCSA intend that the states do with information they receive from the clearinghouse?
  • What specific information would states receive in response to a request for information about an individual commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder or applicant?
  • What privacy and data controls will be applied to the transmission of clearinghouse information to SDLA’s [state driver’s license agencies]?
  • How would an erroneous clearinghouse record be corrected?
  • What are the cost implications for the SDLAs?

The FMCSA said it will address AAMVA’s concerns in “Clearinghouse II,” a proposed rule it is currently developing. “Delaying the implementation of the states’ query requirement will provide FMCSA time to resolve AAMVA’s concerns and ensure a seamless implementation of the states’ clearinghouse-related requirements,” the agency noted.

In announcing the deadline extension, the FMCSA also clarified that the clearinghouse final rule requires only that states conduct a query prior to the issuance, renewal, transfer or upgrade of a CDL and that commercial learner’s permit holders were not part of that requirement. 

“While the question of whether the states’ query requirement should be extended to include CLPs, as suggested by the Oregon DOT, is outside the scope of this rule. That issue will be addressed in the Clearinghouse II,” the agency confirmed.