Fleets, drivers wrestle with Clearinghouse as swell of registrants crashes site in opening days

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Updated Jan 10, 2020
(Graphic by Richard Street)(Graphic by Richard Street)

A swell of new users and registrants in recent days has caused frustrating connectivity issues for many fleets and drivers trying to use the U.S. DOT’s CDL Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse — a now required step for when carriers hire drivers.

“It’s chaos and no one knows what’s going on,” said one consortium rep, who works with owner-operators and smaller fleets. Drivers have been stalled at drug testing sites waiting for direction, and fleets have been stalled in moving drivers through the hiring process over the technical issues, he said.

The Clearinghouse site launched last October, and fleets and drivers were required to begin using the site as of Monday, Jan. 6. Fleets must query the database for drivers’ CDL numbers whenever making a hire and once a year for current drivers.

The intermittent site connectivity issues prompted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to post a notice to the Clearinghouse site Tuesday noting that, should fleets experience connectivity issues with the site, they can continue in the hiring process without performing a query now, and then perform a query later once functionality is restored.

An FMCSA spokesperson Monday acknowledged that the Clearinghouse website was experiencing touch-and-go availability and said the agency was working to restore service. The spokesperson would not say how long the agency expected the downtime to last nor would answer questions about how fleets and drivers should navigate the issue until it’s resolved. They did refer to the notice on the Clearinghouse site.

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Lucas Kibby, marketing manager for drug testing consortium CleanFleet, which works with thousands of owner-operators. Kibby says fleets, drivers and owner-operators flooded the Clearinghouse site Monday, many of them “stressed out thinking they had missed the [deadline]” to register, he says. The surge in traffic caused connectivity issues with the site that FMCSA is still trying to fix. As Kibby notes, many drivers and owner-operators aren’t required to do anything with the Clearinghouse immediately, and can wait weeks or months to handle their annual self-check of the system. Likewise, fleets who aren’t hiring any drivers can wait out the technical issues, too, and not worry about the Clearinghouse requirements until they hire a driver or need to run their annual query for existing drivers.

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However, there’s also another lingering issue: A disconnect between the portal that handles carriers’ UCR profiles and the Clearinghouse itself. Many fleets and owner-operators don’t have an account within that UCR portal, creating a hang-up. “That’s what’s been crashing the most,” says Kibby.

Joe Rajkovacz of Western States Trucking Association, which also operates a third-party drug test administrator for fleets and owner-operators, has seen the same roadblock repeatedly in recent days. The Clearinghouse tries to redirect fleets to the UCR portal at a point during the process, and when users don’t have credentials for the portal, it blocks them from continuing the Clearinghouse registration process and, thus, blocks them from performing required queries on driver hires.

“Everybody’s having problems. There’s just too many users trying to get into the pipeline,” he says. “It took us two days to get in,” to run queries for fleets who designated WSTA as their third-party administrator, Rajkovacz says.

One safety manager at a large truckload fleet, who wished to speak anonymously, says drivers are also having trouble registering, with CDL verifications being snared at the state licensing agency level.

“The bottom line is that the state licensing agencies can’t help. They do not know what is wrong, nor do they have any guidance from the feds,” he said via email. “We had a driver call the number he got from the Clearinghouse website, he sat on hold for 2 hours only to find out it was the wrong number.”

“We have drivers who are verified within the Clearinghouse, but on our side, they show not verified. We have drivers verified, we have run the pre-employment query, but the driver is getting nothing on their side that allows them to give permission for us to see their info. We have drivers who are verified. We have started the query process, but the driver is not getting an email notifying him/her that permission is being requested, and when they log in to the Clearinghouse, nothing in their account shows they need to give permission.

Roughly 1/3 of the drivers we have worked with are experiencing these types of problems.”