Prevent Driver Qualification File mistakes when hiring drivers

Driver Qualification File | DOT Compliance Services | CNS

How to set up a Driver Qualification File?

In industries like trucking, construction and distribution, hiring a commercial motor vehicle driver requires companies to follow strict Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines. The regulations under 49 CFR Part 391 lists requirements for Driver Qualification File (DQF) Management.

What is a Driver Qualification File or DQ File?

Driver Qualification Files are simply the driver’s personnel file that includes information of past employment, drug testing history, motor vehicle records, credit history, and more.

Failure to maintain these driver qualification file basics can lead to CSA violations, fines, an Unsatisfactory Safety Rating, and Out-of-Service Orders. In 2019, there were over 3,500 enforcement cases alone that averaged over $6,600 in fines per company, with the average cost of a Driver Qualification File violation fine over $600 per fine.

It is important to understand what the common DQ file violations are and how to prevent them from happening in your company’s driver qualification file management process.

Mistake #1: Not having a Driver Qualification File when required

When is a driver qualification file required?

A driver qualification file, according to 49 CFR 390.5, is required for anyone who operates a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV). This includes vehicles that weigh over 10,000 pounds, are placarded for hazardous materials or are designed or used to transport multiple passengers (at least 9 or more).

DQ files are needed even if the driver is salaried, a mechanic, the owner of the company, a part-time temp driver, is only driving one time, works for a private company, etc. There are some exceptions found in sections 390.3, 391.2, and 391.61-391.69.

For intrastate commerce where the driver stays within a single state, some state requirements may vary.

Mistake #2: Not obtaining a driver Motor Vehicle Record

What is a Motor Vehicle Record (MVR)?

An MVR is a report of driving history from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The MVR contains important information from a driver’s license including, endorsement level for any kind of vehicle, accident reports, DUI convictions, vehicle crimes, traffic violations, license suspensions and more.

According to the FMCSA, a copy of the MVR(s) obtained in response to the inquiry must be placed in the driver qualification file within 30 days of the date the driver’s employment begins and be retained in compliance with 49 CFR 391.51.

If no MVR is received from the State required to submit this response, the motor carrier must document a good faith effort to obtain such information and certify that no record exists for that driver.

An MVR must be pulled from every state where the driver has held a license or permit in the past three years. If any red flags appear, a potential employer could use it to influence their hiring decision. This is why it is important for drivers to be aware of what is on their MVR and should request one every year. If any information is inaccurate, the driver could request to fix the mistake.

The carrier must then obtain an updated MVR annually, and review it to determine whether minimum safe driving requirements have been met, and confirm that there are no disqualifying offenses.

Mistake #3: Not keeping a driver qualification file long enough

How long to keep driver qualification files?

Another common mistake is how long you need to keep driver qualification files.

Some companies dump records after three years of employment, and do not keep these initial safety records on file for three years after driver is no longer employed at the company.

It is important to note that, separately, any safety history information gathered from previous employers must be retained for as long as the driver is employed by that motor carrier and for three years thereafter.

Mistake #4: Not having important drug test history and medical card on file

For drivers who hold a commercial driver’s license, the motor carrier must obtain a new motor vehicle record (MVR) within 15 days after each new DOT medical exam and place that in the driver qualification file as proof of medical certification. Each new medical exam certificate must be placed into the DQ file and kept there for at least three years, to show that the driver was medically qualified to drive at all times.

Often times these medical cards are out-of-date or the DQ files never replaced the old medical card on file. During a DOT audit, this is a simple mistake that can be caught and fines for each violation in your fleet can add up quickly.

Similarly, important drug testing history and alcohol test results must be saved in the DQ File for at least one year. These test results includes: previous employer test results; copy of alcohol test form, with results and drug test chain of custody form; documents sent to the employer by the MRO; documentation of any refusal to submit; and documents provided by a driver to dispute results.

How to prevent Driver Qualification File Management mistakes with CNS

After a driver is hired, managing driver files becomes an ongoing burden as employers are required to keep files current for drug tests, physical exams, safety records, annual MVRs, commercial driver’s licenses, endorsements and even conducting annual driver reviews (a burdensome process).

With high driver turnover in trucking, construction and distribution fleets, this problem becomes amplified.

CNS goes beyond just helping you manage your driver qualification files. Our Proactive Safety Management program helps to manage your entire plan for safety, compliance and record keeping, from drug consortium management to vehicle and equipment maintenance.


Read more about our Proactive Safety Management program


For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.