January 21, 2021

Annual Clearinghouse queries are easier than you think


Newly hired drivers should sign a limited query consent form as part of orientation process

Jan. 5 — the deadline for conducting annual Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse queries on all existing drivers — has come and gone. Did you get the forms in on time?

The Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse requires motor carriers to keep tabs on drivers, involving a bit of paperwork and inquiry on behalf of fleet managers. Conducting Clearinghouse annuals can be time consuming and arduous, taking time away from your operation. However, the process can be a lot easier than you think.

Reliance Partners Vice President of Risk Services John Seidl wants to make it clear that you don’t have to bend over backward when conducting annuals.

Seidl explained that many third-party vendors advise motor carriers to carry out their annual queries in a similar fashion to full preemployments, by which managers request driver consent forms from the Clearinghouse website then have drivers log in to give their signatures — a very cumbersome process that must be done every year.

This is unnecessary and can thankfully be circumvented.

Managers can avoid pestering drivers for their signatures altogether by simply using limited queries for their annuals. Using this format, motor carriers can batch the signatures of their fleet and submit them all at the same time. Seidl noted that the process can be done entirely on an Excel spreadsheet.

Seidl recently helped a fleet manager struggling to get a 70-driver fleet to sign the forms. His response: “Stop that, cancel those full queries, eliminate all the requests for consent and have them instead sign the [limited query consent] document.”

“What’s easier — getting 70 drivers to sign a piece of paper and submit an Excel spreadsheet or to have them all log in to the Clearinghouse website, register … and sign a form? Clearly the limited query is much easier,” Seidl said.

Keep in mind that full queries, with the exception of the preemployment process, are only required when a record is returned on a limited query, prohibiting a driver from operating.

Seidl detailed queries in a previous FreightWaves article: Don’t get wrapped up in drug test confusion.

To clarify, limited queries are used to search for the presence of driver information in the Clearinghouse and must be carried out annually. Companies need only a general driver consent to conduct limited queries. However, the limited consent request must specify the time frame for which the driver is providing consent. If a record is returned, a carrier must then conduct a full query within a 24-hour period for more information.

Full queries provide detailed information regarding any drug and alcohol violations. Employers must obtain the driver’s electronic consent in the Clearinghouse before accessing any such files. Full queries must also be conducted during the preemployment process before a driver can get behind the wheel.

FMCSA states that employees should be queried at least once within a 365-day period based on their hire date, or another 12-month period by the employer, as long as the requirements of 49 CFR 382.701, Subpart G are met. In addition, all drivers should have been queried by Jan. 5, 2021, and then each year thereafter based on a 365-day calendar.

So when is the best time to file preemployment and annual queries?

For annual limited queries, Seidl recommends managers file them all at the same time to make things easier. For instance, he explained that if you had submitted them all on Dec. 5, 2020, then you’d repeat the process again with all current drives on Dec. 4, 2021, then Dec. 3, 2022, and so on.

“I would pick a month and day to do annual queries on all my current drivers and file preemployment queries as I hire new drivers throughout the next 11 and a half months. Then, I’d continue the annual queries process with everybody again,” Seidl said. “If you follow that process, you will never miss anyone.”

Better yet, Seidl recommends motor carriers have all new drivers sign a limited query consent form during orientation. These forms are written with flexibility in mind, allowing employers to set the duration of consent. In turn, a single signature is all that’s needed to conduct limited annual queries for the entire length of a driver’s tenure with the company.

“Have drivers sign that consent form when you’re hiring them,” Seidl said. “Even though it isn’t necessarily going to be used as you’re conducting the [preemployment] full query, … when your annuals come along, the form is already filled out and signed.”

For instance, if a company hires a driver in October but does its annuals in December, Seidl noted that it’s fine to register the driver’s consent form two months later so long as the manager remembers to do so.

For the most part, Seidl doesn’t fault motor carriers for being confused. He notes that even the FMCSA struggled early on to convey its requirements and blamed its website for not pointing users in the right direction. Seidl also points to many third-party administrators for contributing to the mess as their advice to file full queries for annuals is likely financially motivated.

In addition, the Clearinghouse didn’t get off to a good start last January as a surge in registration and query requests crashed the website and connection problems prevented commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) from being validated.

When browsing the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse website, Seidl recommends visiting the Learning Center page, on the dropdown menu under the “Learn” icon at the top right of the homepage. He also suggests reading the frequently asked questions (FAQs), also located in the “Learn” dropdown menu.

sample limited consent form can be attained through the FAQ page. First type “consent form” into the search bar. Next, click on the question labeled, “Does the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provide a sample of a limited consent request?” The following information will provide you a link to the form.

FMCSA also provides a series of bulk upload documents and Excel spreadsheets. To access these files, type “batch” into the FAQ search bar. Next, click on the question titled, “Can I initiate queries for a large number of drivers without having to enter them into the system one at a time?” The provided hyperlink will supply you with the downloadable documents.

“If a company does their annuals, they just need the driver to sign that limited consent form and then upload a limited query with that Excel batch sheet,” Seidl said.

Sample downloadable Excel spreadsheet for bulk upload of driver queries. Source: Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

Reach out to Reliance Partners’ John Seidl to learn more about Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse fleet compliance.