Positive drug test results among commercial drivers increased 13% from a year ago this past August, according to the latest figures from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. However, not all state driver licensing agencies (SDLAs) are aware of these violations, and that’s a problem FMCSA is addressing with a new regulation.

Federal regulations already prohibit the operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers who tested positive for drugs or alcohol (or who have refused a test) and have not successfully completed a return-to-duty (RTD) process. Also, clearinghouse regulations already require SDLAs to search the clearinghouse database prior to issuing or renewing a commercial driver’s license (CDL). However, clearinghouse rules do not specifically address what an SDLA must do with the information it finds in the database. Similarly, roadside enforcement of the driving prohibition proves difficult when SDLAs do not have knowledge of the violations and have not taken action against the driver’s license.

The new rule clarifies the process: SDLAs must not issue, renew, upgrade or transfer a CDL when a search of the clearinghouse database shows that the driver is prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). The final rule calls this a “non-issuance” requirement. The rule adds commercial learner’s permits (CLPs) to the “non-issuance” coverage.

The final rule also adds a “CDL downgrade” requirement. A “CDL downgrade” occurs when a state removes the CDL privilege from a driver license. In other words, a revocation of the CDL. The final rule amends that definition to include CLPs. States must now complete a CDL/CLP downgrade and record it on the Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS) within 60 days of the notification of a drug or alcohol violation. Roadside enforcement, checking the status of a CDL or CLP through CDLIS, will see that commercial driving privileges have been removed.

This final rule, issued Oct. 7, takes effect on Nov. 8, 2021. States must come into full compliance as soon as practical, but no later than Nov. 18, 2024.

Prior to this final rule, several states relied on motor carrier employers or their service agents, such as medical review officers and third-party administrators, to report positive test results and/or test refusals to the SDLAs. The final rule says that SDLAs will receive notification of a driver’s prohibited status in two ways:

  • The SDLA “pulls” the information from the clearinghouse prior to a licensing transaction; and
  • FMCSA “pushes” the information to the SDLA whenever a drug or alcohol violation is reported to the clearinghouse for a driver licensed in that state.

FMCSA will also “push” notifications of drivers completing the RTD process. Notably, the “push” notifications from FMCSA will reflect the status of CDL and CLP holders out there on the road, not just those going through a licensing transaction at an SDLA.

FMCSA already requires employers to report “actual knowledge” of a driver’s prohibited use of drugs or alcohol to the clearinghouse if it knows that the driver received a citation for drunk driving in a CMV. Not all CDL or CLP holders charged with a drug or alcohol violation are then convicted of the charges. Regardless of an actual conviction on the DUI charges, the final rule requires that violation to remain within the clearinghouse database for five years or until the driver successfully completes the RTD process, whichever is later. At the same time, the new rule allows the driver to submit documentary evidence of a non-conviction so that future employers can see the whole picture.