Clock’s ticking for independents to run their required self-check in Drug Clearinghouse

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This screenshot from the initial Clearinghouse registration page pops up a notice (in the bottom right-hand corner in this photo) telling independent owner-operators they will need to register as employers within the Clearinghouse system. These prompts are intended to help owner-operators establish their accounts as both employers and drivers within the Clearinghouse.This screenshot from the initial Clearinghouse registration page pops up a notice (in the bottom right-hand corner in this photo) telling independent owner-operators they  will need to register as employers within the Clearinghouse system. These prompts are intended to help owner-operators establish their accounts as both employers and drivers within the Clearinghouse.

Small fleets, as well as one-truck independent owner-operators, have just a little over two months to run their first required annual query under the CDL Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse rule that took effect this year. If they don’t do so by the Jan. 5 deadline, it could mean an easily flagged violation in an inspection audit or compliance review, possibly resulting in a fine of up to $2,500 for non-compliance.

For leased owner-operators running under a carrier’s operating authority, there’s no need to do anything within the clearinghouse except to grant their carrier permission to run their CDL number in the clearinghouse for the required annual check.

With hundreds of thousands of fleets having failed to even open a clearinghouse account, the technical system will once again likely be tested by a flood of users hitting the platform for the first time. A surge of first-time users caused the system to crash in January 2020, just after the regulations took effect. It remained unstable for weeks, causing hurdles for users.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has since updated the platform, but those fixes “will get their first true test by January [2021],” said Lucas Kibby, marketing director at Compliance Navigation Specialists.

Motor carriers of all sizes are required to run a limited clearinghouse query on all of their drivers at least once every 12 months — and that includes independent owner-operators doing a self-check. The reg doesn’t go by calendar year, but rather a rolling 12-month period from the previous clearinghouse check.

As of the end of September, some 145,000 employer accounts had been created in the clearinghouse, according to a monthly FMCSA report. That’s well shy of the roughly half-million carriers registered with operating authority that, presumably, will need to run a required annual query by Jan. 5.

“It’s been chronically under-used,” said Andrew Easler, who founded and runs DrugTestingCourses.com, which helps fleets and owner-operators comply with DOT drug regs.

Of the 145,000 motor carriers registered as employers in the system, just a third of those are owner-operators. To mirror the universe of all motor carriers, that ratio “should be flipped,” Easler said, since two-thirds of all DOT-registered carriers are owner-operators. “There’s only a fraction [of the number of carriers] that should be registered,” he said.

Owner-operators can perform this check in two ways: They can run their own CDL number in the clearinghouse platform, or they can have their consortium or third-party drug testing administrator (TPA) run the query.

Either way, owner-operators first must be registered within the clearinghouse. When registering, says Kibby, owner-operators are prompted to set up their account as a dual account — one as an employer and one as a driver. Operators can grant permission to their consortium or TPA within the clearinghouse to run the required query.

Likewise, says Kibby, “it’s a good idea for owner-operators to contact their consortium to double check” that they can and will run the query. Owner-operators who registered but didn’t designate their consortium or TPA as authorized to run the query can still do so within the clearinghouse system.

If a consortium doesn’t offer query checks as a service, “then the owner-operator will need to run a limited query on themselves,” said Kibby. It’s a simple process that costs only $1.25 per query. So an operator running queries on himself and two other drivers would pay only $3.75. However, small-fleet owners need to get written consent from their drivers — employee drivers or leased operators — to run their CDL number. Or those drivers can register within the clearinghouse and grant permission.

For clearinghouse purposes, FMCSA views leased owner-ops the same as a company driver, said Kathy Close, a J.J. Keller compliance advisor.

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