In an effort to keep drivers with active drug and alcohol violations off the road, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a proposed new rule to close a loophole in Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse data.

On April 28, 2020 FMCSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register to clarify the process once state driver licensing agencies (SDLAs) find a drug or alcohol violation in the Clearinghouse database.

When FMCSA implemented its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse in January, the agency included a Congressional requirement that driver licensing agencies check the clearinghouse database whenever a driver sought to obtain, renew or upgrade a commercial driver’s license (CDL). However, Congress did not require these agencies to act on information in the Clearinghouse.

FMCSA’s preferred option would begin with the FMCSA entering a drug or alcohol violation in the Clearinghouse database and notifying the SDLAs. The state agencies would then have 30 days to “downgrade” the driver’s license to indicate that the driver is not legally permitted to drive. This new requirement allows time for state processes to act on Clearinghouse data, such as notifying applicants.

Current FMCSA regulations only require SDLAs to look at database entries for driver applicants. FMCSA proposes to send or “push” information to licensing agencies on any CDL driver when the clearinghouse database records a drug or alcohol violation, including by a driver holding a commercial learners permit. Roadside enforcement personnel who are authorized to enforce federal commercial motor vehicle (CMV) safety laws would have real-time access to determine the legal driving status of CDL and learners permit holders.

According to FMCSA, the proposal would close a loophole in existing law that allows drivers with an unresolved drug or alcohol violation to continue operating a commercial motor vehicle, even though that is not legally permissible. Under the proposal, roadside enforcement checking the status of a license would see that it has been “downgraded.”

This FMCSA proposal would also improve the availability of information between FMCSA, state licensing agencies and CDL drivers several ways:

• FMCSA would immediately “push” violation information to the state driver licensing agencies
• When an agency checks the Clearinghouse as required, it will request or “pull” violation information from the database
• FMCSA will notify drivers that new information is in their clearinghouse records
• A licensing agency would automatically receive notification when a driver has successfully completed a return-to-duty process

The alternative to the FMCSA preferred “mandatory downgrade,” called the “optional notice of prohibited status” option, would allow licensing agencies to decide for themselves whether to receive the FMCSA “push” notifications. Any agency opting to receive the “push” notifications would then follow its state laws and policies in dealing with drivers who are not legally allowed to operate a CMV while a drug or alcohol violation is pending.

FMCSA encourages public comments by June 29, 2020 on these options, the time needed to adapt state computer systems, and the costs to implement the proposal. Click here to submit your comments.