FMCSA issues final rule for states on streamlining CDL issuance

October 6, 2021

Greg Grisolano


A new final rule aims to improve highway safety by making sure commercial driver’s license and learner’s permit holders with drug and alcohol program violations do not operate a commercial motor vehicle until they complete the return-to-duty process.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is set to publish its final rule, Controlled Substances and Alcohol Testing: State Driver’s Licensing Agency Nonissuance/Downgrade of Commercial Driver’s License,” in the Federal Register on Thursday, Oct. 7.

“Currently, most (state driver’s licensing agencies) do not receive drug and alcohol program violation information about CDL or CLP holders licensed in their state,” the notice states. “Therefore, these (agencies) are unaware when a CMV operator is subject to the driving prohibition set forth in 49 CFR 382.501(a), and the CMV operator continues to hold a valid CDL or CLP despite the driving prohibition.”

The rule closes that knowledge gap by ensuring that all licensing agencies are able to determine whether commercial drivers licensed in their state are subject to FMCSA’s CMV driving prohibition. The rule facilitates enforcement of the driving prohibition by requiring the state agencies deny certain commercial licensing transactions and remove the commercial driving privileges of individuals who are prohibited from operating a CMV and performing other safety-sensitive functions, due to drug and alcohol program violations.

“By requiring (agencies) to downgrade the driver’s licensing status by removing the commercial driving privilege, the final rule will also permit all traffic safety enforcement officers to readily identify prohibited drivers by conducting a license check during a traffic stop or other roadside intervention,” the notice states.

The new rule takes effect on Monday, Nov. 8. Compliance with the final rule is required Nov. 18, 2024.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed formal comments in support of the new rule last June.

OOIDA said it believes Congress intended that state drivers licensing agencies be able to exercise their authority to keep drug and alcohol violators off the road until they are legally permitted to operate a commercial motor vehicle. The Association wrote that state agencies, “rather than employers or owner-operators, are best equipped to deny or downgrade CDLs or commercial learner’s permits based on Clearinghouse information.”

OOIDA supports the final rule.

“The requirements should ensure that drivers with legitimate drug and alcohol violations are not able to operate CMVs until they have satisfied return-to-duty protocols,” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs. “We hope the three-year implementation period will be sufficient for states to be ready for these changes come 2024.

The new rule requires licensing agencies to access and use information obtained through the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, FMCSA’s database of driver-specific controlled substance and alcohol records. It also requires states receiving Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program grant funds to adopt a compatible CMV driving prohibition applicable to CLP and CDL holders who violate FMCSA’s drug and alcohol program requirements.

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