It is common for local agencies, even small municipalities or park services, to employ one or more CDL licensed drivers.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) develops standards to test and license commercial motor vehicle drivers and they have now established the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse as an online database for identifying drivers prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions, such as operating a commercial motor vehicle, due to a drug and alcohol program violation.  This is a new requirement that went into effect January 6, 2020 and employers and drivers need to take some fairly simple initial actions to comply.

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Program

Let’s first review the fundamentals of the program.  The CDL Program is administered by the FMCSA and an overview of the program is provided on their website.  There are three classes of CDLs with endorsements for specialized qualifications for vehicles like school buses, tank trucks, tractor trailers, etc.

  • Class A: Any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more) whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) whichever is greater.
  • Class B: Any single vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more), or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds).
  • Class C: Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172 or is transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73.

If your head is swimming a bit from that, hang in there because there are whole lists of endorsements and restrictions that can apply and both the employer and driver should take some care to ensure they are matching up the correct class of license and endorsements with the equipment and application that will be used.

Very generally speaking, think of Class A as required when you have a 26,000 plus pound, combination vehicle (like a tractor trailer) with a 10,000-pound or greater trailer.  A Class B is a 26,000 plus pound vehicle or a combination unit where the trailer is 10,000 pounds or less.  This can be box delivery trucks, city buses, school buses, dump trucks, or trash collection trucks.  Class C requirements can include vehicles intended to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver).  It gets crazier – contrary to what you might assume, a holder of a Class A license cannot necessarily operate a vehicle requiring a Class B license (and so on) without the proper endorsements (see listing above) and there are restrictions that can apply because of skills like air brakes (see listing below).

Drivers and employers of CDL drivers pick up on all this pretty quickly, so it’s not so bad once you are in the game and up to speed.  But make no mistake, obtaining a CDL license requires some time and some skill and once a driver has one, employment opportunities expand, so they protect their license very carefully.  One of the best ways to endanger your CDL license is to fail any type of drug or alcohol test.  A driver shall not use alcohol while performing a safety-sensitive function and shall not perform safety-sensitive functions while having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater.  It gets a bit more complicated for controlled substances, but suffice to say drivers shall not perform safety-sensitive functions having used any drug or substance identified in 21 CFR 1308.11 Schedule I.  Schedule I includes the substances you think it does, such as opiates, opium derivatives, hallucinogenic substances, depressants, stimulants, and cannabimimetic agents – all of these are no-nos and there’s not a limit in your system – you cannot have a CDL and use these substances except some instances where a medical practitioner has so instructed.  Tests are required – pre-employment, post-accident, random, reasonable suspicion, return to duty, and follow-ups – all designed to ensure everyone follows the rules.

Yet, we still have roadway crashes and fatalities each year involving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) and drugs or alcohol.  We will forgo the obligatory citing of statistics because we all watch the news and read the papers – we know the problem persists.

Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

The FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is intended to provide transparency in the system (with seemingly appropriate safeguards for privacy) so that drivers that have an outstanding violation cannot move from one employer to another without the new employer’s knowledge.  Also, employers who might subscribe to the notion that a “wink is as good as a nod to a blind man” when it comes to a new driver’s background should no longer be able to claim ignorance of an outstanding violation.  Accountability on the part of both drivers and employers should improve.

Beginning January 6, 2020, various parties are required to register with the Clearinghouse, including:

  • CDL drivers
  • Employers of drivers operating CMVs that require a CDL or commercial learner’s permit (CLP)
  • Consortia/third-party administrators (C/TPAs)
  • Medical review officers (MROs)
  • Substance abuse professionals (SAPs)
  • Enforcement personnel

The Clearinghouse Learning Center is a good place to begin.  Where appropriate, the information is often broken down by whether you are a driver or MRO, etc.  Recordings of recent webinars (again, targeted to various parties) can be viewed through the Learning Center.

From the training webinars they have held, it appears that if you have not yet registered, it is not a problem.  However, because of very tight deadlines for reporting to the Clearinghouse should a problem come up, it is important to register in advance of any incident.  Hence, go ahead and get it done now.  The registration process does not appear to be overly burdensome – it looks to be only a handful of information, all of which you should have readily available.

As usual, it would appear that establishing a username and password may be the most complicated part.  To that point, employers registering for the first time and who do not have a FMCSA Portal Account (a web system that allows employees of motor carriers to access FMCSA web systems; they say if you have or should have a USDOT Number, you should have a Portal account) should consider using a generic (albeit, protected) email address (e.g., FMCSA@Town.Delaware.Gov) and that way, it is more easily transferred internally.  In their Employer brochure, FMCSA states that the email cannot be changed at a later date – in the webinar, they suggested that it could by jumping through a series of hoops; why not avoid the headache if you can?

Once a given party is registered, they must report to the Clearinghouse certain information.  The employer’s and C/TPA’s requirements are shown in the graphic below.  MROs must report verified positive, adulterated, or substituted drug test results or refusal to test (drug) within two business days of making a determination or verification of a DOT-approved test and within one business day of making any change in the report of a verified drug test.  SAPs must report the start of a driver’s initial assessment by the close of business day following the date of the initial assessment and by the close of business day following the determination that a driver has completed the return to duty (RTD) process.

Given the tight timelines to report information that may come up suddenly (post-accident, reasonable suspicion, random), registering now will ensure you are in place to meet these reporting deadlines.  Regardless, employers and designated C/TPAs must request specific consent from a driver to conduct a full query (including pre-employment queries), query all prospective and current CDL licensed employees at least annually, and report certain drug and alcohol program violations, negative RTD test results, and successful completion of a driver’s follow up testing plan.  To do so, they must be registered in the Clearinghouse.

CDL Drivers must register in the Clearinghouse before they can respond to a consent request for a full query from a current or potential employer, review his/her Clearinghouse record, or designate a SAP in the Clearinghouse.

In the Clearinghouse Learning Center, there are many frequently asked questions.  A few that are likely of interest to local agencies deserve a summary here.  Only violations that occur on or after January 6, 2020 are to be reported to the Clearinghouse.  Violation information is retained in the Clearinghouse for five years or until the RTD process is successfully completed.

This article is a good faith effort to capture the bare essence of this new Clearinghouse.  Employers, CDL drivers, and other parties are encouraged to visit the FMCSA website, review the materials in the Learning Center and elsewhere, and if still unsure, contact the Clearinghouse directly.  In the recorded webinars, they appear eager for the parties to understand their responsibilities and encourage contacting them if the posted materials don’t answer questions, so by all means do so.

The Delaware T2/LTAP Center is anxious to hear reports of your experience with the new Clearinghouse and we encourage you to contact our Municipal Engineering Circuit Rider to share your story.  You can contact Matt Carter at or (302) 831-7236.

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