The COVID-19 pandemic triggered many federal and state emergency declarations, and temporary waivers of certain regulations. However, federal authorities kept one deadline in place and it could sneak up on motor carriers.

The FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse began operation on Jan. 6, 2020. By regulation, motor carriers (or their designed testing consortium/third party administrator) must check the clearinghouse for information on currently-employed drivers annually. That means motor carriers or consortia/third party administrators (C/TPA) must check the clearinghouse no later than Jan. 5, 2021 for drivers hired as of Jan. 6, 2020.

The clearinghouse query runs on a rolling twelve-month basis. For example, for a driver hired on April 3, 2020, the motor carrier or C/TPA must check the clearinghouse no later than April 2, 2021, and so on. And now the first clearinghouse deadline is fast approaching.

The annual clearinghouse check starts with a “limited query.” A limited query allows an employer to determine if an individual driver’s clearinghouse record has any information about resolved or unresolved drug and alcohol program violations. This type of query does not release any specific violation information contained in the driver’s clearinghouse record. If the clearinghouse holds no records for the driver, all is well and no further action is needed.

If a limited query reveals that the clearinghouse does contain records for the driver, the carrier must conduct a “full query.” The full query provides details on the driver’s drug and alcohol test results, including return-to-duty (RTD) testing. If the driver has an outstanding drug and alcohol violation and has not successfully completed the RTD process, the driver must be removed from safety-sensitive functions, including operating a truck or other commercial motor vehicle.

Once a limited query reveals that clearinghouse records do exist, the motor carrier or C/TPA has just 24 hours to conduct the full query or else the driver must be removed from service immediately.

Three steps to complete the annual Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse query.

Registration.  All interstate and intrastate motor carriers employing commercially licensed drivers, and C/TPAs administering drug tests for carriers and owner-operators, must register with the clearinghouse. Carriers and C/TPAs can go to the clearinghouse website and click the “Register” button in the upper right corner. There is no cost to register.

Consent.  Records in the clearinghouse are subject to Privacy Act requirements, so drivers must give consent before a carrier or C/TPA can make a query. For a “limited” query, the driver can give consent in writing or electronically, which should be kept in the employer’s office. Permission for “limited” queries can remain valid for multiple years.

A “full” query, on the other hand, requires the driver to provide electronic consent directly into the clearinghouse – which means the driver must register with the system. If drivers refuse consent, they must be removed from safety-sensitive functions.

Payment.  Employers and C/TPAs pay a fee to query the clearinghouse. Each queries costs $1.25, whether limited or full. Employers can purchase bundles of queries to receive a discount. Details on available bundles are found on the clearinghouse website.

COVID-19 changed many parts of the regulatory calendar, but not this one. The first clearinghouse deadline is coming soon. Be ready.