Clearinghouse deadline arrives; motor carriers encouraged to register as soon as they can

January 5, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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Jan. 5 marked the deadline for motor carriers to run an annual Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse on their drivers.

It was a race to the finish as hundreds of thousands of motor carriers and drivers needed to register and run the required queries over the final two months of the Clearinghouse’s inaugural year.

As part of the congressionally mandated Clearinghouse, motor carriers must run an annual query on their drivers. Owner-operators under their own authority are required to conduct queries on themselves. Those who don’t comply by the Jan. 5 deadline could be subject to a fine.

Numerous truck drivers complained that they were having difficulties registering for the Clearinghouse and that the agency’s assistance hotline was overloaded with calls. However, FMCSA said no extension to the deadline was forthcoming.

Drivers who have been unable to register with the Clearinghouse and run their queries are encouraged to do so as soon as possible.

According to FMCSA, annual queries must be run on drivers every 12 months. If carriers miss the 12-month mark, which would be Jan. 5 for drivers hired before Jan. 6, 2020, and use a driver without running a query, they would be in violation.

In addition, FMCSA said that if a motor carrier runs the query after the 12-month mark, it would be able to use that driver and not be due for another query within 12 months of the day the query was run.

However, the agency said the motor carrier would still be in violation for not completing the query product for the previous year. For instance, if a motor carrier doesn’t run the query until Jan. 7, that driver could be used until another query is conducted before the anniversary date in 2022. But the motor carrier would technically still be in violation for not running a query within the prior year.

With that said and contrary to other media reports, OOIDA confirmed that enforcement of the Clearinghouse query requirements will not happen during roadside inspections but rather during audits or investigations.

The focus of the Clearinghouse is to take disqualified drivers off the road, so motor carriers should do everything they can to register and run the necessary queries as soon as possible. A driver who gets in a crash before having a successful query would be putting himself and the motor carrier at significant risk.

For motor carriers who are having difficulties with linking their portal account, OOIDA suggests that motor carriers bypass the FMCSA portal portion of the registration process given the time constraints and reports that the portal has not been working correctly.

The Clearinghouse will ask a series of questions that need to be answered in such a way to bypass the portal.

  • Do you have an FMCSA portal account? Answer no.
  • Do you have a DOT number? Answer no.
  • When it asks if you have a DOT number or if you will obtain one later, answer that you will obtain one later.
  • Once in the Clearinghouse, queries can be run.

Excessive traffic

FMCSA’s Clearinghouse website lists 1-800-724-2811 as the number to call for those who need assistance linking their portal account with their Clearinghouse account.

According to several owner-operators, their calls would quickly become disconnected. Multiple calls to the number by Land Line on Wednesday, Dec. 30, yielded similar results. A recording said the agency was experiencing excessive wait times and asked the caller to try back later. Then the call was disconnected. The one time Land Line’s call made it through, the call was put on hold and the recording said the wait time would be 71 minutes. Land Line tried to call the number again on Monday, Jan. 4, and was disconnected after being told the agency was experience excessive wait times. A call to the number on Jan. 5 yielded the same result.

The Clearinghouse website also became overloaded shortly after it debuted on Jan. 6, 2020. In the days following, the website crashed as there was a surge of motor carriers attempting to register and run queries. LL

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Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.