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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Driver Qualification Files
A Review of How to Prepare Them, & How to Use Them...

Author – Carmen Daecher (2002)

If you are a commercial vehicle operator, you know about driver qualification files.  DQF's as we will call them are a requirement.  Some consider them a necessary evil.  But they really don't have to be.
DQF's are required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in Part 391.51.  That section of the regulations clearly defines what is required to be contained in a DQF.  Specifically, these requirements include:
- A completely filled out, signed and dated application (391.21);
- Evidence of investigations of previous employment for the past three years from the date of employment (391.23);
- Evidence of investigation into the driver's driving record from the date of employment for the past three years from every State in which the driver held a motor vehicle operator's license.  (A copy of the MVR from each state is usually what should be obtained.)
- Evidence of investigation for previous positive drug tests or refusal to test during the past 24 months from the date of application;
- Certificate or copy of Medical Qualification to Drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (391.43);
- Certificate and test form of a road test, if given, or a copy of a valid CDL obtained while operating equipment similar to that operated by the motor carrier as an equivalent of road test.(391.31 &   391.33);
- Other documents relevant to qualifying a driver.  By accepted practice this includes a copy of a current and valid Commercial Driver's License (CDL), confirmation from the driver of US Citizenship or legal immigration status (I-9), hours of on-duty times for the previous 6 or 7 days from the date of hire for record of duty purposes, evidence of a pre-employment drug tests, or documentation for exception to administering the test.

The application must request all employment experience for the past three years and all commercial driving experience for the past ten years.  This does not imply that a person must have driven a commercial vehicle for ten years; rather, it simply requires that you become aware of their driving/employment history for the past ten years if the applicant has that length of driving experience. 

The application must contain the person's complete name and address, and must be signed and dated.  The application must also contain all addresses at which the applicant lived during the past three years.  This means full descriptions of each address, including street number and name, city, and state.

The application must also contain the following:
- Your Company’s name and address;
- A listing/description of all driving licenses held by the applicant;
- A listing/description of all vehicle accidents in which the applicant has been involved for at least the past three years;
- A listing/description of all moving violations for which the applicant has been convicted for at least the past three years;
- Details of the applicant's experience in operating commercial motor vehicles;
- Applicant's Date of Birth and Social Security Number;
- Information concerning previous suspensions of applicant driving licenses;
- A statement just above where the applicant will sign and date the application confirming that all information on the application is true and correct; if not, any false information provided will be grounds for immediate dismissal if hired.

I suggest that the application also contain the following:

- A least three personal references, including contact information, that are available for potential contact by you;
- A listing and description of all previous formal education received by the applicant, including training for driving a commercial vehicle at a driver training school;
- Information concerning convictions for any felony.

Here is another tip:

Have the application filled out completely at your facilities.  Do not allow the applicant to take it home to fill it out.  This will at least give you an idea that the person can read and write.  While this sounds trite, it could be very important.

The file must contain evidence (proof) that you investigated the applicant's previous employment background for the past three years from the date of the application.  The evidence can be handwritten documentation from one of your employees who spoke with the applicant's previous employer, detailing the name and address of the previous employer, date and person contacted and information received confirming dates of employment, job description, and any other information regarding job performance as provided by the previous employer.  Alternately, evidence can be copies of forms that you mailed to previous employers seeking the same information; however, these forms in your file should have the previous employer’s full name and address and confirmation of when the form was faxed or mailed to the previous employer.  Remember, the key is to show evidence that you inquired into the previous employment history, even if you do not receive any information concerning the applicant's previous employment.  Also keep in mind that you have 30 days from the date of hire to do this.  We strongly suggest however, that you perform the inquiries and investigations before you hire the applicant. 

You are only required to have a copy of the Medical Certification card in the DQF.  However, it is your responsibility according to the regulations in Part 391, to assure yourself that the person is medically qualified in conformance with the regulations contained in 391.41.  No one expects you to be a doctor; but you must review the certificate (or long form if you still get one) to make sure there are no obvious problems that would result in restricted medical certification for the driver.  Furthermore, if you have any knowledge of health conditions or problems that could affect the applicant's ability to consistently drive safely, you must discuss these with the doctor so that the physician can issue a proper medical certification.  It is a good practice to insure you are familiar with the examining physician and comfortable with his/her understanding and competence in performing DOT physical examinations.

The long form, although no longer required to be furnished to you, must be kept on file by the examining physician.  However, if you still receive one, it is best kept in a separate and confidential file for the driver employee.  This might be the same file where all drug testing information is kept as well.  There is no prohibition in keeping the long form in the DQF; however, it is readily viewable and discoverable by anyone who has authority to access the DQF.  Also, most physicians will still provide you with a copy of the long form if requested.

Why is the MVR necessary?  For two reasons!  First, to insure that the driver does not have disqualifying traffic offenses as defined in 391.15.  Secondly, to confirm that his declarations for previous accidents and moving violations as contained on his application are not misleading.  If they are, you should have serious reservations about hiring the person.  The MVR is also used to be sure that the driver does not have a suspended license, no matter for what reason.

Because of how the MVR is used, it should be obtained and reviewed previous to employment.  One other note: if the applicant has shown addresses in previous states for the past three years, you must obtain copies of MVR's from each of those states to insure a complete history for the driver.  To simply receive an MVR from his current state of residence might not provide you with enough driving history to make a sound hiring decision.

You must review the MVR, or receive the information contained in it, to investigate at least the three most current years of driving history for the applicant. 
A road test is no longer required of a driver if they hold a CDL.  However, if they do not hold a CDL a road test must be administered, and if you choose, a road test may be administered to a CDL driver as a company policy.  A record of the road test given and certificate issued must be kept in the Driver's Qualification File.

The reasons for copies of current, valid CDL's, I-9's, and on-duty hours for the previous 6 or 7 days from the date of hire are fairly self-explanatory.  While the inclusion of these documents is not specifically listed in Part 391.51, they can be correlated to information contained on MVR's or other employment information to show confirmation of valid licensing and valid entrance into the country.  The listing of previous hours could be kept with other hours-of-service documentation; however, it is useful to keep it in the DQF to show that you considered previous hours worked and their effect on the new employee's ability to drive safely for you when you began to employ them as a driver.

You also need to investigate previous positive drug/alcohol tests or refusals to test for the past 24 months from the date of application.  For efficiency, this should be done concurrent with investigation of previous employment.  It must be done within 14 days after the person begins driving.  This is required by Part 382.413 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  There is a requirement that this information be kept confidential, and that a record of efforts made by you to obtain this information is placed in the DQF.
A pre-employment drug test is required unless there is evidence that the driver was part of a random pool for the past 30 days, and was tested in a random pool during the past 6 months or was in a random testing program for the previous 12 months.  We suggest that you have a pre-employment test administered under any circumstances.  The proof of this test does not have to be kept in the DQF, in fact, we suggest that it is not kept there.  Keep it in confidential file for the employee as previously discussed.  If during the course of compliance audits this information is requested, you must be able to produce it within two business days.
Only certain information that is accumulated during the hiring process is required to be kept according to the regulations.  These include the application, inquiry of previous employers, evidence of attempt to obtain positive/refusal drug information from previous employers, and documentation of road test (or copy of valid CDL accepted in lieu of).  However, we strongly urge you to keep all documentation gathered during the course of hiring for as long as the driver is employed by you.  Keep all the forms in the order that they were compiled.  And place all of them on the left side of the DQF - I will talk about what goes on the right soon.
One last thing - DQF's are required for anyone who drives a commercial motor vehicle.  This is not synonymous with having a CDL!  If an employee operates one of your vehicles used in your business that weighs more that 10,000 lb. or, if it is a passenger vehicle and accommodates more than 9 people including the driver, a DQF is required for that person. 

Of course, if you do not hire the person, none of this information has to be kept except the drug test results.  But, if the person is hired, what else needs to be in the DQF?  The following documents are required according to Part 391.51:

- The response of each State agency to the annual driver record inquiry (391.25);
- A note relating to the annual review of the driver's driving record (391.25);
- A list or certificate relating to violations of motor vehicle laws and ordinances completed by the driver (391.27);                                          
- Evidence of Medical Re-certification every two years or more frequently if the person is on a Restricted Medical Certification.

This information is required to be kept for three years.  This means that at least three annual listings of violations, MVR's, and note of driving record review should be in the DQF.  It also means that at least two and possibly more medical certifications should be in the DQF.

Remember that annual reviews must be performed once within every 12 months.  Too often, I see gaps exceeding this 12-month requirement.  I suggest that you do these reviews at pre-determined times, (such as the first of the month), and that you should schedule this review 11 months from the last one.  This avoids any possible time gaps.

Medical re-certifications are required every 24 months under normal circumstances.  For more efficiency it is a good idea to have groups of drivers examined for re-certification at the same time, and then schedule the next re-certification for 22 months later.  Again, so as to eliminate any possible time gaps!
Should you keep this information for longer than the previous three years?  You can if you want, but there is no compelling reason to do so.  In addition to these required documents, we suggest that you have a copy of any renewed and valid CDL in the file.

Keep all of these post-hire documents on the right side of the file.  This is a simple way to have effective file keeping.  All documents related to the hiring of the driver on the left; documents required on an ongoing basis to the right. 

It really isn't difficult to manage DFQ files - just a little organization and routine maintenance.  And if you do it consistently well, your trauma level during compliance audits will be greatly reduced!

If you really understand these regulations, you will realize that there is method to the madness.  By following proper procedures for hiring and for continuing to insure that your drivers are capable of driving safely day in and day out, you will be in compliance with these regulations.  This is a perfect example of where compliance and good process come together to contribute to commercial vehicle safety, by improving your ability to hire good and qualified individuals. 

By reviewing on an annual basis a driver's performance on the road, through a study of violations and driving record, and by having the driver's medical condition reviewed every other year to insure that over time that there are no medical dangers for continued safe driving, you continue to reassure yourself that the individual remains qualified to drive for you. 

The regulations lay a foundation for good personnel management when it comes to a driver.  While you may choose to do more, you should certainly do no less.                                           

One final thought: there are those who advocate keeping the bare minimum that is required in the DQF.  In this way, they ration; there can be no smoking guns, which are unnecessary in the file.  While human errors (honest mistakes) can always occur, those who have something to hide usually employ this line of thought.  If you employ a consistent process in hiring your drivers and those involved in that process are competent and knowledgeable in assessing qualifications and abilities, then there is nothing to hide. 

Unless there is false bravado in your company, keeping more information than is required in the Driver Qualification File should be your statement that you are confident that you are doing it right.