FMCSA makes new rule to downgrade licenses after alcohol and drug violations

Oct 19, 2021

Starting on November 8, 2021, a new rule established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will take effect, requiring truck drivers who have a positive drug or alcohol test results to have their licenses downgraded.

With this new rule, the FMCSA plans to amend its regulations to establish requirements for state driver’s licensing agencies (SDLAs) to access and use information in the Clearinghouse.

Additionally, as of November 18, 2024, states will be prohibited from issuing, renewing, upgrading or transferring commercial driving licences (CDL) and commercial learner’s permits (CLP) for drivers prohibited from driving a commercial vehicle due to one or more drug or alcohol violations.

States will be required to remove the CLP or CDL privilege from licenses of drivers subject to the CMV driving prohibition, resulting in a license downgrade until the driver complies with return-to-duty (RTD) requirements.

The new rule will also permit all enforcement officers to easily identify prohibited drivers by running a license check during roadside interventions or inspections.

According to FMCSA, the rule will ensure that drivers with drug and alcohol violations are prohibited from operating commercial vehicles until they complete their RTD process. Furthermore, in a written statement, the FMCSA has added that the rule “closes that knowledge gap,” allowing the states “to determine whether CMV drivers licensed in their state are subject to FMCSA’s CMV driving prohibition.”

There have also been concerns raised regarding the follow-up effects of FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, with over 100,000 positive tests recorded over the last two years, with relatively few of those drivers having completed documented RTD procedures. As well, with the growing acceptance of cannabis use across the U.S. and in Canada, many drivers have called for a reliable roadside test to establish impairment.

“It’s moving to being viewed like alcohol,” said Knight Transportation Chairman Kevin. “It’s sad to think that” in a setting where the drug is legal and on personal time a “driver maybe smokes a joint – am I saying that right? – and then they’re done [in trucking].”

The final rule also amends the way employers’ reports of “actual knowledge” violations are managed in the Clearinghouse. Currently, employers who have actual knowledge of a driver’s prohibited use of drugs or alcohol based on a citation or other document charging DUI in a commercial vehicle are required to report the “actual knowledge” violation to the Clearinghouse.

The new rule clarifies that a CLP or CDL holder charged with DUI in a CMV is prohibited from operating a CMV until they complete the return-to-duty process, regardless of whether the driver is ultimately convicted of the offence. As well, the rule also amends Clearinghouse regulations by requiring that this type of actual knowledge violation remain in the Clearinghouse for five years, or until the driver has completed RTD, regardless of conviction of the DUI charge.