FMCSA denies FirstGroup request for exemption from querying new drivers

October 15, 2021

Greg Grisolano


A public transit provider’s request to be exempt from running a full query on new employees in the federal drug and alcohol testing database has been denied.

FirstGroup sought an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse pre-employment full query citing the cost of querying new drivers. According to its website, FirstGroup is “a leading private-sector provider of public transport.”

FMCSA announced its decision to deny the exemption request via a notice on the Federal Register. The denial is expected to be published on Monday, Oct. 18.

“FMCSA analyzed the exemption application and public comments, and determined that the application lacked evidence to show that the exemption would likely achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved absent such exemption,” the agency wrote in its response to the request.

FirstGroup sought an exemption on behalf of three of its subsidiaries – First Student Inc., First Transit Inc., and First Mile Square – which employ CDL holders subject to drug and alcohol testing regulations. FirstGroup employs more than 100,000 people across several companies. Their employees operate, manage, and maintain a combined fleet of 60,000 vehicles, including school buses.

In lieu of a full query, FirstGroup proposed conducting a limited pre-employment query of the Clearinghouse. If the limited query indicated that information about the driver exists in the Clearinghouse, FirstGroup proposed conducting a full query with the driver-applicant providing electronic consent in the Clearinghouse, as required.

In addition, FirstGroup would conduct a second limited query within 30 to 35 days of the initial limited query and would conduct quarterly limited queries on all its drivers during the first year of the exemption and semi-annual queries each subsequent year.

A full query allows the employer to see any information that exists about a driver in the Clearinghouse.

An employer must obtain the driver’s specific consent, provided electronically through the Clearinghouse, prior to the release of detailed information provided in response to the full query. A limited query is permitted to satisfy the annual query requirement for employed drivers. The limited query, conducted after obtaining the driver’s general consent, tells employers whether information about the individual driver exists in the Clearinghouse, but it does not release that information to the employer.

If the response to a limited query indicates there is information about the driver in the Clearinghouse, the employer must conduct a full query, after obtaining the driver’s specific consent, within 24 hours, as required by federal regulations.

FMCSA received five comments on the exemption request, including one joint comment from the following groups: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers, The Trucking Alliance, and The Truck Safety Coalition.

The groups opposed the exemption, saying it “would result in a needless threat to public safety by increasing the likelihood that a driver with violations related to alcohol or drug use would be erroneously hired to transport school children.”

Four individual commenters also opposed the FirstGroup request. LL



Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.