By P. Sean Garney, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC and Safety/Regulatory Consultant to Spireon, Inc.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) CDL Driver Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse was implemented in 2020, and it’s clear to many that it’s already meeting its objective—to improve truck safety by helping motor carriers keep disqualified CDL holders off of our nation’s highways. It’s also providing great data and insights on important topics in the trucking industry:
- In its first year of operation, motor carriers used the Clearinghouse to make more than 5 million driver queries, with 3.1 million of these being required annual queries. This means that, theoretically, nearly every active CDL driver has had his or her name run through the Clearinghouse at least once. The days of drivers incurring a drug or alcohol violation and avoiding detection and skipping the return-to-duty process are over, and that’s good news for safety.
- After the first year in operation, the industry lost, at least temporarily, almost 48,000 drivers due to violations reported to and stored in the Clearinghouse. The good news is this is only about 1.5% of CDL drivers, beating some of the doomsday predictions of massive driver loss by a long shot.
- There’s a trend emerging. Of the 55,901 drivers declared ineligible in the first year, almost 7,906 (just over 14%) of those have returned to driving, and another 7,574 are eligible for return to duty testing. This means that over 25% of drivers who failed a drug or alcohol test have demonstrated the desire to return to trucking by taking the steps necessary. This is compared to only 14% of drivers that were taking steps toward reinstatement when data was first made available in mid-2020. If this trend continues, it will mean there are a lot of committed drivers out there willing to overcome adversity to keep America’s freight economy moving.
- While this trend is reason for optimism, the number of drivers determined to be eligible for return-to-duty testing, but have not yet taken the test, has also increased every month. This suggests some drivers may be struggling to find an employer willing to sponsor their return-to-duty testing and therefore, are having a hard time returning to trucking.
- In its first year, slightly more than 200,000 employers registered with the Clearinghouse, which is still well short of the total number of regulated carriers in the motor carrier industry. This suggests 2021 will see continued growth in users as carriers are reminded by FMCSA that use of the Clearinghouse is required.
So far, the Clearinghouse seems to be functioning as expected and is having a positive impact on safety by preventing ineligible drivers from operating a commercial motor vehicle. While some pressure is being put on the driver supply, some question whether that’s a bad thing, considering those being removed are technically ineligible to operate anyway. One other benefit deserves monitoring too: the added data. Never before have we had such transparency into our trucking’s successful drug and alcohol testing programs. This will provide unexpected and useful insights in the future as well.