No business like show business: Film production drivers get clearinghouse exemption

Drivers in the movie production business convinced regulators that they should have a certain flexibility when conducting pre-employment screening through the federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

In a decision scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) ruled that Los Angeles-based Motion Picture Compliance Solutions (MPCS), which provides third-party regulatory services for trucking companies, will be able to conduct limited queries of the clearinghouse on behalf of its members — rather than a full pre-employment query as required — before a member company can hire a driver for a project.

MPCS, whose members employ drivers hauling property or passengers to or from theatrical, commercial or television motion picture production sites, had been operating under a temporary 90-day waiver from the full-query requirement. The FMCSA’s five-year exemption is valid until May 2025.

“The agency has determined that the terms and conditions of the exemption, coupled with MPCS’s unique safety protocols, will achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to the level of safety that would be achieved through compliance with the applicable regulation,” FMCSA stated in its decision.

Closing loopholes related to driver turnover was a primary reason for establishing the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. When it applied for the five-year exemption in March, MPCS asserted that drivers hauling for the motion picture and television industry have less turnover than those in traditional trucking.

“The main purpose of drivers in the entertainment industry is to transport crew members and filming equipment to filming locations, driving an average of 1-2 hours each workday. Providing this support service is, by nature, a short-term endeavor,” the group stated, pointing out that only 6% of drivers hired by its members were new to the motion picture industry out of a total of approximately 12,000 drivers.

In supporting MPCS’s petition, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting (STC) pointed out that MPCS maintains its own in-house database of drug test results in addition to the information contained in the federal clearinghouse.

“This means nearly all drivers qualified by MPCS and hired by motor carriers servicing the motion picture industry are being continuously monitored for compliance with drug and alcohol testing rules,” STC stated. “By checking this database before each driver is hired, MPCS has full visibility into whether the driver is eligible to operate a CMV requiring a CDL based on his drug and alcohol testing history, arguably making a query to the Clearinghouse unnecessary.”

STC further noted that MPCS clients had a positive rate of 0.79% in 2017 versus the industry average measured by FMCSA at 1.25%, with a positive rate of 0.63% in 2018 versus a 0.88% FMCSA average.

But the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which opposed the exemption, argued that the short-term employment scenarios that characterize MPCS members — drivers often working for more than one company within a week or even a day — should be reason to deny their application.

“This type of scenario was one of the reasons the Clearinghouse was enacted, so drivers with drug/alcohol violations cannot simply move around to different carriers,” wrote OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer. “Waiving the pre-employment full query requirements may prevent carriers from accessing necessary hiring information and allow drivers with drug/alcohol violations to return [to] the road before proper evaluation and treatment is completed.”