Driver Qualification and Hiring Truck Drivers FAQs

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Applicability

Who can administer a road test?

The regulations do not specify a title or training of the individuals who may monitor a road test. Sec. 391.31(b) states the person who will review the applicant’s abilities must be competent him/herself in order to evaluate and determine whether the driver being tested is capable of operating the kind of commercial motor vehicle he/she would be assigned. A carrier may use someone within the organization (veteran driver, supervisor, etc.) or someone from outside of the operation who is a “designated” person.

The regulations also require a driver who is a motor carrier be given a test by someone other than him/herself.

Who is required to have a DQ file?

The driver’s qualification (DQ) file is often thought to go hand-in-hand with the commercial driver’s license (CDL). This misperception has created confusion for many carriers. For interstate drivers, the need for a DQ file is based on the size and type of vehicle being driven. The applicable definition of commercial motor vehicle (per §390.5) includes both CDL and non-CDL drivers alike. Intrastate drivers would need to look at state-specific regulations to determine applicability.

Individuals operating the following vehicles in interstate commerce need to have a completed DQ file:

  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), or gross combination weight (GCW) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 10,001 pounds or more; or
  • Vehicles designed to transport more than 15 people, or more than 8 people when there is direct compensation involved; or
  • Vehicles transporting hazardous materials that require the vehicle to be placarded.

The criterion in this definition that causes confusion is the vehicle weight. The general weight criterion for which a CDL is needed is 26,001 pounds. The weight criterion for which a file is needed is 10,001 pounds. So, interstate drivers of vehicles between 10,001 and 26,001 pounds (not hauling hazmat) need to have a DQ file but do not need to have a CDL.

For intrastate drivers, it depends on what the state has adopted for the weight criterion. A number of states use the same 10,001-pound criterion as is found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Other states have increased the weight limit to anywhere from 12,000 pounds up to 26,001 pounds (which does coincide with the CDL requirements). A few states also have grandfather clauses or other exemptions that may except certain drivers from certain portions of the DQ file, such as medical cards.

Who must have a medical exam and certificate (DOT medical card)?

The medical exam is often thought to go hand-in-hand with the CDL. Only those who need CDLs are subject to the medical exam requirements, right? Wrong! For interstate drivers, this is definitely not the case. For intrastate (in-state only) drivers, it may or may not be the case.

Those operating the following vehicles in interstate commerce need to have a DOT medical exam:

  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), or gross combination weight (GCW) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 10,001 pounds or more; or
  • Vehicles designed to transport more than 15 people, or more than 8 people when there is direct compensation involved; or
  • Vehicles transporting hazardous materials that require the vehicle to be placarded.

The criterion in this definition that causes confusion is the vehicle weight. The general weight criterion for which a CDL is needed is 26,001 pounds. The weight criterion for which a physical is needed is 10,001 pounds. So, interstate drivers of vehicles between 10,001 and 26,001 pounds (not hauling hazmat) need to have a medical exam but do not need to have a CDL. (The other DQ requirements apply as well.)

For intrastate drivers, it depends on what the state has adopted for the weight criterion. A number of states use the same 10,001-pound criterion as is found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Other states have increased the weight limit to anywhere from 12,000 pounds up to 26,001 pounds (which does coincide with the CDL requirements). A few states also have grandfather clauses or other exemptions that may except certain individuals from the medical requirement.

Non-CDL drivers who are subject to the medical exam requirement must have a valid medical certificate (DOT medical card) in their possession while driving, and their employing motor carrier must have a copy of the certificate in the driver’s qualification file.

Drivers who hold a CDL or commercial learner’s permit (CLP) must provide each new certificate to their state licensing agency and carry a copy for at least 15 days after issuance, until their state driving record (MVR) is updated. Their employing motor carrier must also have a copy of the certificate in the file for up to 15 days. By the end of those 15 days, a new MVR must be placed in the employee’s file as proof of medical certification.

Note: the completed medical examination report (the "long form") is not required to be in the driver’s qualification file. Only the medical examiner’s certificate is required to be in the file, or (for CDL drivers) a copy of the most current driving record showing medical certification information.

Background check

What questions do we ask a previous employer to comply with §391.23?

Section 391.23 specifies the “safety performance history” information that must be obtained from previous DOT-regulated employers of an applicant. The following information must be obtained from all previous employers of the applicant that employed the driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle within the previous three years:

  1. General driver identification and employment verification information.
  2. The data elements specified in §390.15(b)(1) (i.e., the accident register information) for accidents involving the driver that occurred in the three-year period preceding the date of the truck driver application. You must also ask for information about any accidents the previous employer may wish to provide that are retained pursuant to §390.15(b)(2), or pursuant to the employer's internal policies for retaining more detailed minor accident information, but previous employers are not required to provide this additional information.

In addition to the above, prospective motor carrier employers must investigate the information listed below from all previous DOT-regulated employers within the previous three years from the date of the driver hiring application, in a safety-sensitive function that required alcohol and drug testing specified by 49 CFR Part 40:

  1. Whether, within the previous three years, the driver had violated the alcohol and drug prohibitions under Subpart B of Part 382, or 49 CFR Part 40.
  2. Whether the individual failed to undertake or complete a rehabilitation program prescribed by a substance abuse professional (SAP) pursuant to §382.605, or 49 CFR Part 40, Subpart O (If the previous employer does not know this information (e.g., an employer that terminated an employee who tested positive on a drug test), then you have to obtain documentation of the successful completion of the SAP's referral directly from the driver).
  3. For an individual who had successfully completed a SAP's rehabilitation referral, and remained in the employ of the referring employer, information on whether the driver had the following testing violations subsequent to completion of a §382.605 or 49 CFR Part 40, Subpart O referral:
    • Alcohol tests with a result of 0.04 or higher alcohol concentration;
    • Verified positive drug tests;
    • Refusals to be tested (including verified adulterated or substituted drug test results).

The inquiry must also contain specific contact information on where the previous motor carrier employers should send the requested information. The investigation may consist of personal interviews, telephone interviews, letters, or any other method for investigating that the carrier deems appropriate.

Compliance review

What records must a carrier produce for an audit?

The records that a carrier will usually need to produce during a compliance review include:

  • Proof of financial responsibility;
  • Driver qualification files;
  • Drug and alcohol testing records (if applicable);
  • Records of duty status and all supporting documents;
  • Driver vehicle inspection reports and maintenance;
  • Hazardous materials records (if applicable); and
  • An accident register and copies of all accident reports required by state and other governmental entities or insurers.

Definition

What is a Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE)?

A person who is not physically qualified to drive under §391.41(b)(1) or (b)(2) due to the loss or impairment of a limb and who is otherwise qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle, may drive a commercial motor vehicle if the FMCSA has granted a Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) Certificate to that person. The process by which to apply for the SPE (and the required content of the letter of application) is outlined in §391.49.

If an individual is granted an SPE, the driver’s medical examiner’s certificate would be checked to reflect this. A copy of the SPE certificate must be maintained in the driver qualification file, and the individual must have the SPE certificate (or a legible copy) in his/her possession whenever on duty.

Who can be a medical examiner?

All DOT-required exams for interstate drivers must be performed by an examiner who is listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners website. States may also require use of the National Registry for their in-state-only drivers.

DOT-qualified medical examiners may hold a variety of titles, including: doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, and doctors of chiropractic. A licensed optometrist may perform the vision portion of the examination.

Driver's license

Does a copy of the current operator's license need to be included in the DQ file?

A copy of the driver’s current operator’s license is not a requirement of the Driver’s Qualification File. The contents of the file are listed in §391.51. The only time that a license would be required in the file would be if you accept a copy of the CDL license in lieu of a road test per §391.33. You would keep this copy of the license that you accepted at the time of hire in the file for the duration of employment and for three years after it ceases. The regulations do not require that you update the copy as the license gets renewed. You would only need to keep a copy of the original license accepted to show that the individual held a valid CDL license at the time that the road test was given. Refer to §391.51(b)(3) and §391.51(c).

If you want to retain a copy of the current operator license (both CDL and non-CDL) under company policy, the FMCSRs do not prohibit it.

Illness

Does a driver need a new physical when he/returns to work after a medical leave?

Any individual with a physical or mental injury or disease which has impaired his/her ability to perform normal duties must have a physical examination and obtain a new medical examiner's certificate/DOT Medical Card. However, if returning from medical leave, a new physical is not necessarily required unless the employer questions the individual’s abilities to perform his/her job duties. If there is a current & valid medical examiner’s certificate, a motor carrier can continue to accept this card if the driver’s abilities are not in question. In some cases, a motor carrier may wish to send a driver to a medical examiner who is familiar with the DOT regulations rather than accept a family physician’s opinion, especially if that physician is not familiar with the FMCSRs. The Interpretations for §391.45 emphasize the carrier’s role and responsibility to ensure that only medically qualified people are put behind the wheel.

Medical examination report

Is the DOT physical form a requirement of the DQ file?

The long DOT physical form that the examiner completes is not listed in §391.51 as a required DQ file item. The medical examiner is required to keep the long-form original on file at his/her office. If a carrier obtains a copy, they are not required to retain it in the DQ file.

It is a motor carrier’s responsibility to ensure that the examiner selected is knowledgeable of the regulations. As a best practice, many carriers request copies of the physical exam forms to review, as they are ultimately held responsible for using only medically qualified drivers.

If a copy of the long-form physical is requested, the carrier may want to circumvent any privacy issues by having the individual sign a release. It should be a statement by the individual to the company stating that the medical exam form is for company use only, by authorized personnel, and maintained as confidential.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that an employer keep medical information on applicants or employees confidential per 29 CFR 1630. If the physical is maintained within the DQ file, the whole file is now considered confidential information under the law. It must be secured with limited access. The same would be true of the personnel file if placed there.

Motor vehicle report

How often must an MVR be requested?

An initial Motor Vehicle Report (MVR), obtained from every state where the driver was licensed or permitted in the past three years, must be placed in the file within 30 days of the date on which the person’s employment begins. If an MVR cannot be obtained, then the employer must maintain documentation of its “good faith effort” to obtain the information.

A copy of each state’s record, or response that a record does not exist, must be kept in the driver's qualification file for the course of employment and for three years after it ceases.

The regulations also require a motor carrier to obtain an MVR on each driver each following year, covering the past 12 months. A carrier could request MVRs more frequently, as the FMCSRs do not prohibit this. These annual state agency responses are retained in the DQ file for a minimum of three years from execution date.

MVRs for CDL/CLP drivers

For interstate drivers who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLP), an MVR must be used to verify that the driver is medically certified. For CDL/CLP drivers whose MVR includes medical certification status, the MVR must be obtained prior to the driver operating a commercial motor vehicle and a new MVR must be obtained each time the medical certification status is updated (i.e., each time the driver obtains a new medical certificate). MVRs obtained to verify medical certification can also be used to satisfy the requirements noted above for initial and annual MVRs.

If a CDL/CLP driver obtains a new medical certificate, the motor carrier may use a copy of the paper medical certificate for up to 15 days as proof of medical certification, to give the state licensing agency time to update the MVR. By the end of those 15 days, the carrier must have an updated MVR and place it in the driver’s file.

Recordkeeping

How often does a driver have to go in for a physical?

A commercial driver, which includes CDL and non-CDL drivers alike, must be medically certified at least once every 24 months. The original or a photocopy of the medical examiner's certificate must be provided to carry on his or her person. Another copy must be given to the motor carrier to retain in the driver’s qualification file.

Some drivers may be issued a certificate that is valid for less than two years if there are any health concerns, such as high blood pressure.

If a new driver has a current medical card from a previous employer, can we accept it?

Yes, a motor carrier may accept an existing, valid medical card rather than sending the individual for a new physical exam. However, the carrier is not obligated to accept it and may request a new physical be performed. Any employer who accepts a previous employer’s medical examiner’s certificate is taking on any liabilities associated with the physical, including any errors which may have occurred.

When can I accept a CDL in lieu of a road test?

The regulations allow a motor carrier the option of accepting a valid CDL in place of a road test if it is issued by a state which requires a road test for the type of vehicle the driver is to be assigned.

If the employer intends to assign a vehicle necessitating the doubles/triples or tank vehicle endorsement on a CDL, the employer still needs to administer the road test in that type of vehicle.

If an employer accepts an operator's license in lieu of a road test, the employing carrier must retain a legible copy of the license in the file for the duration of employment and for three years after employment ceases.

Where should a DQ file be stored?

The regulations do not specify where the files are to be stored, as long as they can be at the motor carrier’s principal place of business, or other specified location, within 48 hours of being notified of an audit.

If a carrier’s DQ files are stored electronically, they need to make sure that they have passwords set up; as with a physical file, only designated personnel should gain access. They need to be sure to back up data frequently, since electronic storage is not just vulnerable to theft or unauthorized access, but also to accidental loss.

Safety audit

What records will the DOT review during a new-entrant safety audit?

A new motor carrier will be reviewed, generally after the first 90 days of operation, to see if sufficient safety management controls are in place and if they are in compliance with the FMCSRs.

A new entrant will be asked to produce the following documents during a safety audit:

Waiver

How does a driver get a medical waiver?

If medically unqualified under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (governing interstate commerce) and want to obtain a waiver to be able to drive a commercial vehicle, he/she would have to go through the application process outlined in Subpart B of Part 381 (except for limb impairments, covered in §391.49). This would involve sending a written request to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator which will review the request and notify the applicant as to whether the waiver was approved or declined.

If a waiver is granted, a copy must be maintained in the file per §391.51(b)(8) and carried with the individual in the vehicle.

If the individual is only involved in intrastate (in-state only) commerce, he/she would have to review state-specific regulations and the individual waiver programs within his/her state.