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Drivers’ guide to the DOT Clearinghouse background screening

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse requires background screenings of commercial drivers for drug and alcohol program violations. Drivers must register with the Clearinghouse system and provide electronic consent for queries to access their records. 

This article will walk through what CDL holders need to know about Clearinghouse registration, required reporting, testing standards, and the return-to-work process.

And when you’re finished reading, check out the other articles in our ‘DOT Clearinghouse’ article series:

What is an FMCSA Clearinghouse background screening?

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Clearinghouse background check refers to the process where employers of commercial motor vehicle drivers query the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse to check for violations.


  • The FMCSA Clearinghouse portal is an online database containing records of drug and alcohol driver testing program violations incurred by commercial drivers.
  • As part of the background screening process, employers are federally mandated to conduct both limited and full queries in the CDL driver Clearinghouse.
  • Limited queries simply indicate if a violation record exists for a driver. Full DOT driver Clearinghouse queries provide details on any violations of FMCSA regulations.
  • Pre-employment FMCSA driver Clearinghouse queries on prospective employees and annual queries on current drivers must be performed.
  • If violations of the drug and alcohol policy for truck drivers surface, the employer must immediately remove the driver from operating duties.
  • Drivers must submit an electronic FMCSA Clearinghouse consent form before queries can be run.

In summary, the truck driver Clearinghouse background screening allows transportation employers to identify any existing drug or alcohol issues for commercial motor vehicle driver applicants and employees so unsafe drivers can be disqualified from operating vehicles. Performing this CDL Clearinghouse screening is now a mandatory part of hiring and employing compliant commercial driving staff.

How does a driver register for the Clearinghouse?

Here are FMCSA Clearinghouse driver registration instructions in seven steps:

  1. Visit the Clearinghouse website and select ‘Register’ to start the FMCSA login process.
  2. Enter your personal information, including name, date of birth, driver’s license number, and contact details, into the FMCSA Clearinghouse portal.
  3. Create a username and password for your driver Clearinghouse account. Be sure to save this FMCSA portal login information.
  4. Review and electronically sign the consent form allowing employers and other authorized users to conduct queries and access your Clearinghouse records.
  5. Verify your email address by accessing the link sent to you via email upon registering.
  6. Review your account dashboard and complete any required tasks like authorizing additional DOT Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse users or uploading return-to-duty documentation.
  7. Make sure to update changes to personal information to ensure you receive alerts and can access the FMCSA driver portal .

Following these steps will successfully register you in the Clearinghouse for drivers, as mandated by FMCSA Clearinghouse rules.

National Clearinghouse screening standards

FMCSA drug testing guidelines

Urinalysis is currently the only acceptable type of federal Clearinghouse drug testing. Screenings must be administered by Department of Health and Human Services-certified labs. In addition to the presence of adulterants, specimens are checked for:

  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine metabolites
  • Marijuana metabolites
  • Opioids
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

FMCSA alcohol testing guidelines

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) screenings must be conducted using evidential breath, non-evidential breath, or saliva testing devices. Tests must be approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CDL-holders are not permitted to work for four hours after having used alcohol, and can’t drink alcohol while working. Drivers aren’t allowed to possess alcohol during a shift unless it’s part of a manifested shipment in transit. Truckers involved in a reportable accident can’t drink for eight hours following the accident or until after submitting to a BAC screening — whichever comes first.

Drivers who have been screened can expect the following, based on their BAC percentages: 

BAC%What to expect
0 – 0.019Not a violation, no follow-up action required.
0.020 – 0.039Test is repeated between 15 and 30 minutes later. If initial result is confirmed, driver is removed from service for 24 hours. Considered a ‘prohibited action’ by DOT, not a violation, so no further action is required. (Driver may face additional consequences from employer, based on company policy.)
0.040 and aboveTest is repeated between 15 and 30 minutes later. If initial result is confirmed, driver is removed from service indefinitely for committing a violation, and must complete ‘return-to-duty’ processes before working again in a safety-sensitive capacity.

Post-violation return-to-duty process

Upon receiving a violation, drivers are immediately removed from service until all return-to-duty processes are completed. The minimum FMCSA requirements are as follows: 

  1. Driver must meet with a DOT-certified substance abuse professional (SAP). Employers must provide a list of local SAPs, even if the driver has been terminated. If the employer neglects their regulatory duty to provide the list, drivers can search for a qualified SAP online.
  2. The SAP will recommend appropriate education, treatment, follow-up tests, and aftercare for completion.
  3. Upon completion of the prescribed program, if the SAP deems the driver ready to return to work, the driver is tested.
  4. If the screening uncovers no violation, the driver can return to work but must submit to at least six unannounced tests over the next 12 months. The SAP may choose to extend the 12 months to as long as five years of random testing as a condition of clearing a driver to work.

Employers may have their own consequences for violations above and beyond DOT regulations, including termination.

Start the process by registering for an FMCSA driver login 

The FMCSA Clearinghouse provides transportation employers a way to consistently identify CDL holders unable to safely operate commercial vehicles due to failed drug or alcohol tests. Drivers should ensure they fully understand Clearinghouse reporting requirements, their rights during the screening process, and steps to restore their driving privileges after violations. 

Complying with Clearinghouse screening mandates and maintaining drug-free CDL certification is crucial for upholding driver safety standards and avoiding unnecessary crashes on America’s roadways.


How far back does the FMCSA Clearinghouse go?

The Clearinghouse only contains drug and alcohol violations that occurred on or after Jan. 6, 2020, when the database was launched, so it does not contain any violations from before that date.

What is the FMCSA Clearinghouse?

The FMCSA Clearinghouse is a federal database that records drug and alcohol violations incurred by commercial truck and bus drivers. It provides employers a tool to identify drivers who fail tests.

How long does a failed drug test stay on the Clearinghouse?

A failed drug test will remain on a commercial driver’s Clearinghouse record indefinitely unless the driver completes the return-to-duty process.

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