Every year, government auditors find hundreds of violations when reviewing DQ files for compliance.
A critical element in maintaining a safe carrier operation is monitoring driver qualifications files effectively and in compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules.
When your driver files are not in compliance, the company faces risks of misplacing documents, filing inaccurately, incurring violations, or being hit with costly litigation.
Truck accidents are inevitable and more than 50% of these crashes are caused by driver fatigue and driver error, according to statements made by the Pennsylvania State Police motor carrier enforcement unit at the CNS and NIS Safety Conference earlier this year.
Litigators will look at the crash information and the driver files to find unsafe driver trends. If the company handles their hiring and driver qualification process well, there is a reduced chance of litigators finding unsafe driver trends that can harm the company with violations and heavy fines.
So, what are driver qualification files?
Put simply, a driver qualification file is the driver’s personnel file and is required for anyone driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle as defined be the FMCSA in 49 CFR 390.5 or state authorities.
A DQ file is needed even if the driver is a mechanic quickly moving a vehicle, the company owner moving a vehicle, a part-time or temporary driver, or a driver who works for a private company.
After a job offer is extended to a driver, carriers need to build a driver file that includes:
- driver’s licenses
- employment application
- previous employer inquires
- motor vehicle records
- credit history and background checks
- drug test results
- FMCSA Clearinghouse queries
- medical certificates
- and more
Driver File Management
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What information needs to be gathered in driver qualification files (DQF)?
The difficult part of the DQ File is that companies must know the driver qualifications file requirements to pass a safety audit. Every year, government auditors find hundreds of violations when reviewing DQ files for compliance.
Most of the time, violations occur for a few reasons, including:
- companies taking shortcuts in the hiring process
- staff managing the driver files not being trained in DOT regulations, or
- companies not realizing they must meet these stringent driver qualification file requirements if their fleet is not focused on trucking.
Using driver files to protect yourself from truck accident liability
Sometimes companies may hire and retain employees who are not qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
Other times, the driver’s history and record might be okay, but the company did not build a complete driver file to reflect this.
The consequences of can be steep as companies face litigation and blame.
In a litigator’s eyes, driver qualification files reflect any kind of negligent hiring and retention claims and provide punitive damages against the carrier for continuing to employ someone they knew was dangerous or could hurt someone.
For example, if the employer failed to do a thorough background check on the driver, that can support a strong negligent hiring claim.
Similarly, if the driver had any previous violations, this is very important in terms of proving notice against the carrier to support a claim for punitive damages.
At a minimum, an annual review of driving performance and insuring driving credentials are valid can reduce unsafe drivers or pinpoint areas where further training could correct bad driving habits.
Driver information litigators look for after an accident:
- governmental agencies responses to inquiries regarding driver records
- driver’s past employment records and employers showing they contacted them (or repeatedly tried to) at the time of the driver’s employment
- driver’s workers’ compensation file
- medical evaluations of the driver
- drug test results, including negative results
- driver training testing documents and company safety meetings attendance
- driver’s DOT file
- prior violations
- driver’s annual reviews
- disciplinary records
Beyond these records, companies need to avoid these common driver file violations:
- not having a current DOT medical card on file
- not having the initial driving record on file (MVR)
- not having a DQ file for each driver that needs one
Proactive Driver Qualification File Management
Accuracy, organization, and diligence are crucial to keeping your files in order and ready for an audit at a moment’s notice and ensuring new drivers are properly qualified before operating in a safety sensitive position.
At CNS, our DQ file management system is completely customizable to your company’s needs. The consultants at CNS stay in communication with you regarding document updating, as well as offering comprehensive reports upon request, and reports of routine audits by our own DQ file auditors.
Our DOT Compliance Specialists will ensure all DQ files for your company will be ready to pass an FMCSA audit.
Combining multiple services?
Our safety management programs are perfect for combining multiple services and can be tailored to fit your needs, whether you are a new owner operator or a seasoned trucker or business owner.
At CNS, our DOT Compliance Programs focus on Proactive Safety Management (PSM), a mindset that will ensure your fleet’s safety and compliance is always in order and ahead of the FMCSA.
Our PSM Motor Carrier Program includes:
- ELD management
- Driver Qualification File Management
- New driver on-boarding
- Driver safety meetings
- CSA score management
- Policies and handbooks
- Vehicle maintenance
- and more
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.
Trucking and the Coronavirus
With the world focused on the fear of illness and global spread of this year’s coronavirus (COVID-19), trucking companies brace for a secondary threat as well, as the freight market slows.
Prior factors affect the trucking industry
Businesses had already stuffed their warehouses with imported goods at the end of 2019, trying to get ahead of the tariffs placed against China. Then, as concerns over the virus itself grew, this slowed import shipping. Trucking companies with work in and around ports have felt the impact already.
Current factors add burden
Currently, several factors are impacting the trucking industry and putting the brakes on freight. First, the national shift for many businesses to encourage their employees to work from home. Secondly, consumers have drastically reduced their daily activities, without choice in most states.
Each state has implemented some sort of guideline to follow, each on a different level, but with the same end goal, to create social distancing. Most states are closing schools, preventing operation of non-essential businesses and even preventing gatherings of 50, 25 and even 10 people.
With a number of major events being cancelled, such as the Mid-America Trucking Show and sporting events (eg. NCAA tournament), the trucking industry has taken a big hit as well, since the need for truckers to carry the necessary supplies to these events has vanished.
Transportation market follows industry market
Garrett Bowers, President of Bowers Trucking in Oklahoma commented to Transport Topics news outlet: “If industry is stifled, transportation will follow.”
Trucking companies can expect to find themselves pinched tightly between all these factors. And, of course, layered on top of these concerns is the well-being of their drivers as they send them out across the nation, where they could be more susceptible to contracting the Coronavirus.
Many companies are now conducting pre-shift screenings and temperature checks to further protect their employees.
Some companies, mostly those immediately affected near the ports, have begun reducing capacity and laying off independent owner-operators in response to the downturn.
But across the country, companies feel the hit of this pandemic. Fleets have been absorbing a cost burden from being unable to return empty containers, as well as administrative costs.
Hoping for a rebound
There is definitely potential for a rebound in the trucking industry once shipping from China and other countries resumes normal pace. However, this potential rebound will have a delay that can impact many companies.
Companies should anticipate and plan not only for reduced rates and capacity, but also for difficulties at the loading docks. If shippers must reduce their own workforce due to coronavirus-related illnesses or quarantines, loads may not be ready when truckers arrive.
Companies should prepare for a double-headed approach to address both the current slow-down and the eventual recovery when shipments begin to surge to make up for delays.
Trucking Startups, Hiring Drivers and CDL Training
No matter what your current situation is in the trucking industry, we have a service that would be valuable to you, like CDL training, starting your own trucking business or hiring new, qualified drivers.
If you have been laid off, this might be a good time to start training to get your CDL. There will be a need for more drivers as businesses and events resume normal operation in the coming months.
If you are already a driver in the trucking industry, this may be the perfect time for you to start your own trucking company. Securing loads will not be an issue once the economy bounces back.
If you are a trucking company, you will most likely need to be hiring qualified drivers in the near future, and you will need to get good, qualified drivers very quickly, as well as manage all of the files for those drivers.