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The Year’s Top Trucking Regulations: Navigating the FMCSA Clearinghouse and Entry-Level Driver Training

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Many fleets are receiving notifications from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to complete the new, annual Clearinghouse survey by March 15. Those in the industry likely know of the impending changes by this point, but many are still unaware what this ruling means, and what to do now that it’s in place. The same goes for this year’s other big trucking legislature change: the Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) rule. Some are still scratching their heads and wondering, “Now what?”

Here’s the groundwork behind the year’s top two trucking regulations and what the industry must be aware of in 2017.

The FMCSA Clearinghouse – What Is It?

On Dec. 2, 2016, the FMCSA announced its final ruling on the new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, which tracks commercial drivers’ drug and alcohol test results and requires carriers to check an applicant against the federal database before hiring. The FMCSA instated the Clearinghouse to reduce the number of drivers under the influence, reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents, expenses and liability, simplify the hiring process, close hiring loopholes, and reduce driver turnover.

What Does the Industry Need to Know?

The Clearinghouse affects motor carriers, medical review officers, substance abuse officers, and state licensing agencies. Depending on their role, individuals in the industry should keep in mind a few requirements, notably when reporting. Fleets, in particular, must report positive drug and alcohol tests (0.04 or higher), refusals to take tests, all instances of known drug, and alcohol use and successful completion of follow-up tests to the Clearinghouse within three days. They must also check the Clearinghouse annually and before hiring any CDL applicant – it’s important they keep record of each query for three years after it is filed until January 2023. The rule went into effect on Jan. 5, but fleets and other mandatory parties have until Jan. 6, 2020, to be in full compliance.

Although it is a big legislative change for the industry, the Clearinghouse is expected to save the industry nearly $42 million in crash reductions. Drug and alcohol testing has long been contentious for truckers – many claim certain rules, like the new proposal to use hair analysis, are an invasion of privacy. In 2016, the FMCSA announced it would only randomly test 25 percent of drivers for drug and alcohol use, and if the Clearinghouse is effective, further reductions in random testing is possible. With this in mind, the new Clearinghouse rule is certainly one to watch.

The Entry-Level Driver Training Rule – What Is It?

Despite President Donald Trump’s two-month delay, the FMCSA’s ELDT rule is another one to watch, and is scheduled to go into effect on March 21. The rule establishes national truck driver training standards for entry-level drivers, including required training both in the classroom and behind the wheel. An FMSCA-approved provider must complete trainings, and components include basic vehicle operation, pre- and post-trip inspections, hours of service, maintenance, cargo handling and post-crash procedures. Fleets must be in full compliance by February 2020 as of today, but this date is subject to change given Trump’s delay.

What Do You Need to Know?

Those in the industry should know that anyone could be a trainer, as long as they are approved and listed in the FMCSA registry. To be approved, the training program must cover all areas required by the rule, instructors must have their commercial driver’s license, and training vehicles must be similar to those trainees will operate on the road. The classroom portion can be web-based, and trainers may be audited from time to time.

This rule particularly affects fleets because of the driver shortage in recent years and the rush to hire new employees. Hiring managers must ensure their entry-level drivers are meeting all training requirements – many are already using GPS fleet management tools to track training programs. Originally, the ELDT rule proposed 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training for new drivers, but the final rule, announced Dec. 8, 2016, omitted an hours requirement. Many safety groups, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), expressed concern. They claim the proficiency standard – set in place of the drive-time minimum and determined by each trainee’s trainer – does not advance safety beyond the industry’s current practice. This sparked controversy and is still a hot topic in the news. Fleets should watch for any changes once the rule moves along in March.

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2017 will be a year to watch in terms of trucking legislation. President Trump made it clear that he plans to loosen or block trucking mandates where he can, foreshadowing a tumultuous time for the regulatory landscape. As the FMCSA Clearinghouse made the cut and the Entry-Level Driver Training rule is set to move forward soon, it is essential that fleets keep these two rules, and others inevitably to come, in mind. They must pay close attention to chatter around such rulings, as they will have a big effect on the industry and could define hiring and employee retention going forward.


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