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How to Improve Trucking’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

Editor’s note: Written by Jeremy Reymer, founder and chief executive of DriverReach, a driver recruiting management firm. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.

The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a substantial step towards eliminating unqualified drivers and improving road safety, not just for truckers, but for all drivers. The new system, which is scheduled to go into effect on January 6, identifies commercial motor vehicle, or CMV, drivers who’ve violated the drug and alcohol program.

The goal is to create an industry environment in which recklessness is not tolerated as Clearinghouse violators will be removed from their current jobs and restricted from joining other commercial fleets. This database is expected to eliminate nearly 900 crashes annually and result in a benefit of around $196 million, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Regulatory Impact Analysis.

POTENTIAL CLEARINGHOUSE IMPROVEMENTS

Still, the database should be improved so that it is utilized efficiently. As fleets adjust to additional layers of compliance and overhaul existing recruiting procedures, the clearinghouse needs to be as user-friendly as possible. That will encourage everyone involved to cooperate and fulfill their roles.

QUEREY REQUIREMENTS

The FMCSA should consider revising the full and limited query requirements. Limited queries, a notice that the inquired driver has or doesn’t have a US Department of Transportation drug and alcohol program violation on record, save fleets time and relieve administrative burden. The Clearinghouse, however, requires motor carriers to request a full query for every new hire. While full queries are more thorough, as the fleet receives all information associated with a violation, this procedure complicates the hiring process and requires a more complex workflow.

Instead, all carriers should be expected to use a limited query to fulfill their pre-employment check. Only if the limited query returns results would the carrier then have to request the full query. Since most drivers don’t have a prior violation, this change eliminated unnecessary steps without sacrificing the Clearinghouse’s effectiveness. Hopefully, unqualified drivers cease applying all together with the new procedures in place.

ACCESSIBLE REQUESTS

Clearinghouse requests need to be more accessible and easier to implement into an administrative workflow for both drivers and fleets. A secure mobile application would relieve a variety of pain points and make the database user-friendly. Currently, when granting consent and signing up, the driver must sign into the system, provide personal information and verify their identity. A mobile tool would encourage applicants to finish the process, faster, and eliminate unnecessary back and forth between the trucker and carrier. Besides granting consent and permission, drivers should also be able to use the app to appeal inaccurate data and, in the event of a failed test, complete the return-to-duty process.

WINDOW EXTENSION

If, within 30 days of a carrier requesting a full query, information is deleted, edited or added to the driver’s profile, the motor carrier will be notified of the change through the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. However, if a change occurs after the 30-day window, the carrier will be unaware of the fact their driver is disqualified until they request the annual query.

This timeframe raises safety concerns. An ineligible and hazardous driver can be on the road for up to a year without their employer’s knowledge. Action should be able to be taken outside of the designated window, or the FMCSA should extend it past 30 days. Mobile application notifications can take place, as well, every time a change occurs to a driver’s profile to raise awareness of the Clearinghouse change. An instant mobile notification can be sent to the fleet’s administrative or HR team, making it easier for consequent action to be taken.

CLEARINGHOUSE WORKFLOW

In order to maximize clearinghouse effectiveness, all parties involved will have to consistently keep up with their responsibilities, including carriers, drivers, medical review officers, substance abuse professionals and administrators. If one role fails to cooperate, the system will collapse, resulting in unreliable and dangerous truckers behind the wheel.

Medical review officers and substance abuse professionals are expected to provide much of the data for the clearinghouse. They’ll be required to upload positive tests, within one business day, and provide reports and assessments, respectively. Additionally, substance abuse professionals announce if a driver is eligible for the return-to-duty test.

All commercial motor vehicle drivers seeking employment with a carrier have to verify their identity within the database and provide personal information. This may present challenges because their hope is to incorporate a multi-factor authentication process. A multi-step registration process can slow the application process and complicate workflow. After registration, drivers will also use the clearinghouse to grant permission for information requests, appeal inaccurate data and, in the event of a failed test, complete the return-to-duty process.

There are a lot of hoops to jump through and people involved to make the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse as effective as it could be. Though it will encourage best-practices and lead to safety improvements, it has its fair share of challenges and more will inevitably rear their head. The FMCSA should consider the number of administrative tasks they’re putting on a variety of professionals and attempt to consolidate workflow as much as possible.

Editor’s note: Jeremy Reymer is founder and chief executive of DriverReach, a driver recruiting management solution to address the ongoing driver shortage. 

Trucks.com welcomes divergent thoughts and opinions on transport technology and trucking industry issues. Use the comments section to cite yours. Qualified opinion leaders are welcome to offer suggestions for opinion columns. Contact info@trucks.com

Alan Adler October 31, 2018
Driving faster to beat eight-hour rest-break rule joins distracted driving and fatigue as causes of rising fatal truck crashes, some trucking experts say.

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