When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) finalized its Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse rules three years ago, it required State Driver’s License Agencies (SDLAs) to check the Clearinghouse before issuing, transferring or renewing a CDL. Almost immediately, the SDLAs banded together in an effort to be excluded from the process. First, they argued they could not participate because the rules didn’t explicitly tell them what to do if they discover that a driver applying to renew his CDL is found to be disqualified from operating a CMV (a bit of a head-scratcher…). They also argued they should be removed from the process because they don’t have the authority to take licensing action based on Clearinghouse data.
Well, fortunately for highway safety, FMCSA is giving SDLA’s exactly what they asked for, and potentially a little more. FMCSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking on the topic, published in late April 2020, proposes to prohibit States from issuing, renewing, transferring or upgrading a CDL for drivers with an active Clearinghouse violation. FMCSA’s recent proposal then goes a step further, suggesting it may also require States to take licensing action against a driver when it receives a “push” notification from the Clearinghouse that a driver is no longer eligible to operate a CMV. In a final move to strengthen the process, FMCSA also proposed linking state enforcement of any Clearinhouse-related driving prohibition to federal grant money.
It is STC’s opinion that, like many other things in life, the Clearinghouse is only as effective as the sum of its parts. And, in this case, SDLA’s are a critical safety component. Without full SDLA participation, drivers may be able to continue to operate undetected for up to a year before being held responsible for their actions. This will hurt highway safety until FMCSA finalizes these proposals and SDLAs are compliant.