A new clearinghouse database will provide school districts and other potential employers with information about the drug- and alcohol-testing records of commercial drivers.

The database went fully operational Jan. 6, said Tim Cox, South-Western City Schools' transportation director.

The clearinghouse is part of a set of new regulations adopted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regarding all holders of commercial driver's licenses, including school bus drivers, Cox said.

"It's an effort by the national transportation department to make our roadways safer" and to hold employees with commercial driver's licenses more accountable, he said.

There are about 5 million CDL drivers across the United States, including those who drive tractor-trailers, school and city buses and delivery vehicles, Cox said.

The database will serve as a central repository listing the records of violations of FMCSA's drug and alcohol testing program by CDL holders, including school bus drivers, Cox said.

"Obviously, someone who has failed a drug or alcohol test when working for a previous employer isn't likely going to volunteer that information to us," he said.

Prior to the database, South-Western officials had to submit a query form to request information from an applicant's previous employers as to whether they failed or refused to take a drug or alcohol test, Cox said.

"We had to rely on an employer responding and telling us whether an applicant had failed a drug or alcohol test while they were working for them," he said.

With the new clearinghouse, CDL employers are required to register that information on the secure online database, which will be available to other employers and state law enforcement agencies, Cox said.

South-Western, like all school districts, has revised its board policies regarding drug and alcohol testing of CDL drivers so the information regarding their testing will be forwarded to the clearinghouse, he said.

The FMCSA's new guidelines provide stricter requirements for employers to conduct random drug testing, he said.

"We're now required to randomly test 50% of our employees each year," Cox said.

South-Western's tests are administered by OhioHealth, said Monte Detterman, the district's director of business services.

Drivers don't know when and to whom the tests will be administered, he said.

Previously, the FCMSA required that 25% of drivers be randomly tested each year, Detterman said.

The FCMSA's regulations apply to drivers already employed by the district, he said.

All prospective drivers applying for a job must take a drug test, Cox said.

It's just one requirement to be met before the district can hire someone as a regular or substitute bus driver, he said.

"Becoming a bus driver is a pretty demanding process," Cox said.

Applicants are given a physical and go through a thorough background check, he said.

They must complete a pre-service training program, which typically takes 35 to 40 hours, Cox said.

After receiving pre-service training certification, the applicant must then pass the test administered by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to earn a commercial driving license, he said.

The district pays the costs of the drug test, physical, pre-service class, trainer pay and the fee for the first CDL test, Detterman said.

The typical cost to the district for an applicant is about $1,327, he said.

The employee is responsible for paying for the background check, a temporary CDL license and the CDL license, for a cost of about $125.

The drug test for an applicant costs about $65, Detterman said.

The rate for a random drug test of a current employee that will be reported to the clearinghouse will cost less than $2, Detterman said.

"We get a much less expensive rate for that test, so the additional cost to the district of having to do more testing will be minimal," he said.

South-Western has 183 full-time bus drivers and 27 substitute drivers, Detterman said.

"There's always a need for substitute drivers because the number can fluctuate so much," Cox said.

Substitute drivers are used not only to fill in for drivers on regular routes, but also transport students on field trips or to games or other events when regular drivers are running routes, he said.

"Generally, we like to have a roster of substitute drivers that is equal to about 15% of the number of regular bus drivers, or about 25 to 30," Detterman said.

During the 2018-19 school year, South-Western's school bus drivers drove more than 4.7 million miles, Cox said.