Access, Tips and Tricks for Bus Operators with the FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

Presented as part of ABA’s BISC & BusMARC 2021 Virtual Safety & Maintenance Series

The American Bus Association’s (ABA) Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) and Bus Maintenance Repair Council’s (BusMARC) 2021 Virtual Safety & Maintenance Series offered a sequence of educational webinars early this year, covering a variety of industry-related topics.

The opening session served as a guide for bus operators on how to conduct Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) queries, and reviewed tips, tricks, and common mistakes that operators make while navigating this new system.

The meeting was sponsored and presented by industry expert Tom Holden, a managing partner at the Transportation Advisors LLC. consulting firm Holden was joined by his wife Brittany Holden.

Holden has lived in Charlotte, North Carolina for the past 26 years, having moved there from South Jersey in 1994. He started his ground transportation career with Rose Chauffeured Transportation, where he was the director of operations and general manager. Under his guidance Rose Chauffeured Transportation grew from just under $1.2 million to over $10 million in sales. Before taking a management position he was a part time driver – however, after being interviewed by one of the company’s consultants, he was brought into the office to help grow the company. Over the last few years Holden has spoken as a panelist and moderated panels for education sessions with various industry associations, including the American Bus Association.

He has created a transportation consultancy firm called Transportation Advisors LLC, and is currently a managing partner at that firm.

“It’s relatively clear that all industries need guidance from time to time,” Holden noted in his presentation. “And what we specialize in is safety and compliance. We are virtual safety departments for many of our clients. We do 100 percent of their regulatory requirements. We are on a day-to-day business plan with them where we communicate with them, we monitor Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), we monitor cameras. Obviously, in today’s bus world, it is a lot slower – as you all know. But I have always looked at the bright side, and I think the light at the end of the tunnel is closer today than it was six months ago.”

According to Holden, the first step in the clearinghouse process is registering your company. For help registering your company, Holden provides step by step instructions in his presentation. 

Once you have access to your clearinghouse account, you will need to designate a consortium/third party administrator C/TPA. This is a company used to report any refusals to test and can conduct full and limited queries. 

Once a company has decided on a C/TPA, a query plan will need to be added to the account. There are a variety of different options, depending on the size of the company. Each query costs $1.25 and can be used for both limited and full queries. 

In his presentation, Holden provided the following information:

Types of Queries

There are two different types of queries that a company should be running. A full query must be run on each new CDL applicant prior to hiring. A limited query must be run on all CDL drivers currently employed by the company.

When making an application to a company they must register themselves in the clearinghouse and the company must run a full query before they are placed in the driver’s seat.

“Many drivers are getting stuck at a certain part of registering, or they will only halfway register,” Holden explained. “So, if your driver is not receiving messages or is unable to view the queries, then they have not completely finished registering their account.”

If a company is running a full query, the driver must be registered in the clearinghouse to manually approve said query. If the driver is not registered in the clearinghouse, the query will not complete. Limited queries can be performed in bulk, or one by one. The clearinghouse provides a sample spreadsheet that may be used to perform bulk queries. If the spreadsheet is not 100 percent accurate, the clearinghouse will not accept a bulk input. 

Limited Query Results

When performing a limited query, there are three different results you may receive. The first is “driver not prohibited.” This means that means all imported information is accurate, and that the driver has no violations on their record. 

The next result that you may get is “records found.” If there are any violations reported on during a limited query, Clearinghouse mandates that a full query must be performed within 24 hours, and that driver must be removed from any safety-sensitive function.

The third result only happens when performing a bulk upload. In this case, query status will read “driver not verified.” When this happens in bulk queries, it most likely means there is an information error. At that point, the company will need to verify each driver is clear.

Full Query Results

There are two results for full queries. “Driver not prohibited” means there are no violations, or no records of that driver. 

The other option is that something is attached to that driver’s record, such as a violation or a refusal. That information will be provided in the query details for that driver. This means that the company will need to do a further investigation of said driver before moving forward.

In a question-and-answer portion of the webinar, Holden noted that all drivers subject to drug and alcohol testing under 49 CFR Part 382 must be cleared by a limited query before reporting for duty. 

“If they are in your drug-testing pool, even if they work more than 50 percent for another company, you still have to run their limited query,” Holden said. “If you employ them in two different companies, there are two ways to handle that: If you use them as a borrowed driver, and you only use them this one time, but they are always working for you in your other company – then you are really just leasing that driver to yourself and at that point, you do not need to do a query for them, since it was just one time. If you are employing them for both DOT numbers at both companies, and you have Driver Qualification (DQ) files in each area – then you would still have to run queries for them for both companies.”