Under the Microscope: The Screening of Drivers

Originally published in Driving Force, June 2010
Written by Kathy Close, J. J. Keller Editor

Owner-operators that lease their driving services to motor carriers often find themselves screened in the same manner as "company drivers".

Motor carriers utilizing owner-operators are obligated under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) to create a Driver’s Qualification (DQ) file on anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle under their authority, regardless of method of compensation or whose name is on the title of the truck. Many elements in the DQ file serve to filter out those drivers that do not meet a company’s standards. They include the driver application, motor vehicle record (MVR), road test, medical certification, and safety performance history (SPH) inquiries. In the past, an owner-operator with a less-than-stellar safety record could simply omit a leasing assignment on his or her driver application, and as a result, a background check is never sent.

Today, motor carriers have yet another investigative tool at their disposal — the Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP) — to make sure all facts are available on a driver before making an offer of employment or signing a lease agreement. This tool reveals what often will never show up on a driver’s MVR — roadside inspection results and crash history.

What is PSP?

The PSP is an optional background investigation created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and managed by a third-party contractor, National Information Consortium Technologies, LLC (NIC).

The information is only accessible to motor carriers and those who screen and assign applicants on their behalf such as a staffing service. In order to take advantage of this service, eligible parties are required to have a PSP subscription and pay $10 per record requested.

PSP will not replace any existing checks such as the MVR or SPH and may only be requested on applicants, including leased and company drivers. Parties cannot request data on existing drivers.

PSP uses current data on drivers originating in the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS). The report will generate a list of safety-related violations occurring within the past 3 years during roadside inspections and the past 5 years’ worth of crash reports.

PSP reports only contain MCMIS entries and not traffic convictions appearing on the MVR. MVRs originate from state driver’s license databases which are not connected to MCMIS. In addition, the report does not contain the driver’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 results (i.e., BASIC scores) as some have come to believe. They are two completely separate databases, although both receive data via MCMIS.

You may be wondering how new employers can obtain information on a driver. Don’t they need his or her permission? Yes, they do. The motor carrier or staffing service must first have the employee-applicant or owner-operator sign a release.

Verifying your data

It is important for an owner-operator to set himself or herself apart. When being considered for an assignment, the only difference between you and the other guy might be your safety record.

Because of this, it is vital that you know what is being said about you in the PSP reports. Individuals will be able to request a personal driving history for a fee of $10. No subscription is necessary for individual drivers, and records are available for 24/7 via the PSP website.

Drivers may obtain their own information free of charge from FMCSA by submitting a Privacy Act request, but this will be more time-consuming than receiving immediate results from NIC using the web portal.

If the PSP report shows safety-related events that are inaccurate or a misidentification, you will want to make all attempts to make sure your data is corrected. All requests to challenge MCMIS information must be handled by FMCSA’s website for data correction.