Remember back in school, I mean way back in school, like, grade school or middle school? Remember how teachers would try to scare you out of misbehaving by warning you that whatever mischief you were considering would go on your “permanent record”?
By the time you were in high school you figured out (at least I hope you did) that the permanent record wasn’t so permanent, in fact it wasn’t even real. That time in fourth grade when you got in trouble for throwing Tater Tots at the girls wasn’t going to dog you for the rest of your days.
But by then it didn’t matter. Just as Santa Claus had (presuming you got past that one by high school, too), the specter of the permanent record hovering over you had done its job and had helped keep you in line as you were growing up.
Well, professional truck drivers of America, soon you’ll get to feel like a kid again. Shortly after the start of 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will launch its latest version of the “permanent record,” the CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. But alas, none of us are kids anymore. This time, the record is real and so are the consequences it carries.
Not too long ago, I wrote about a presentation at the recent Mid-America Trucking Show by FMCSA Director of Enforcement and Compliance Joe DeLorenzo about the clearinghouse. The purpose was to get the word out about the clearinghouse, what it was all about, how it will work and why every driver needs to get registered on it when the time comes.
By the way, if you’re ever at a trucking event and you hear Joe is going to explain something on behalf of FMCSA, make sure you go. He’s a great presenter — he has a relaxed, personable style and he explains things so clearly it’s hard to believe he works for the government.
The crux of his presentation at MATS was that, hey, we know that compared to a lot of other issues, this clearinghouse has been hovering around for a couple of years, not grabbing too many headlines, and a lot of people haven’t paid it much attention. And we know it’s still (at the time) almost 10 months away (more like eight months now), but you all need to start thinking about this thing, and here’s why.
In a nutshell, the clearinghouse will keep a running record of all failed drug or alcohol tests, including any test refusals, which in case anyone was planning ahead, weighs just as heavily on the record as a positive test.
This clearinghouse was created by a congressional mandate that stipulates that carriers will be required to add all positive tests and refusals into the database, and they will be required to check the database to make sure your record for the previous three years is clear as part of the hiring process.
But, here’s the rub. They can’t check your record without your permission, and for you to give permission, you have to be registered in the system. So, basically, if you think that someday after January 6, 2020, you might want to apply at a new carrier, as farfetched as that may seem, you will have to be registered in the clearinghouse.
DeLorenzo explained that clearly enough, just as he explained why the system is being set up as it is. Simply, it’s to thwart the kind of driver who applies for a job, fails the drug screen, then manages to stay clean long enough or finds some other way to apply at another carrier and beat the test. With this database, if you test positive, that’s going to follow you around for the next three years — maybe not a permanent record, but as far as your career is concerned, that could be a real backbreaker.
Inevitably, some drivers will ballyhoo about registering in the clearinghouse, about what a horrible imposition is being forced upon them. And they’ll wail that it’s the greatest affront to American ideals since the British burnt down the White House in 1814.
Please. First of all, the process will not be difficult, just a simple online registration. You’re not being asked to take a drug test just for this.
Second, this isn’t like ELDs; it won’t cost you a nickel, there’s nothing to buy, and no new gizmo you have to install or learn how to use. Third, also unlike ELDs, there is no hard deadline to register. In fact, there’s nothing that says you ever have to register, unless, of course you want to apply for a job in trucking any time after January 6.
The only people who should be upset about the clearinghouse are those who want to make the argument that it will infringe on what they imagine to be their constitutional right to game the system. And we can assume gaming the system is the only way they can stay employed, and they know it and don’t want anyone else to know it.
So, I hope we can skip the usual caterwauling about the heavy hand of Big Brother on this one. We’re talking about drinking, drugs and driving. The game of hide and seek is over. This isn’t kid stuff.
Klint Lowry has been a journalist for over 20 years. Prior to that, he did all kinds work, including several that involved driving, though he never graduated to big rigs. He worked at newspapers in the Detroit, Tampa and Little Rock, Ark., areas before coming to The Trucker in 2017. Having experienced such constant change at home and at work, he felt a certain kinship to professional truck drivers. Because trucking is more than a career, it’s a way of life, Klint has always liked to focus on every aspect of the quality of truckers’ lives.