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5 tips to streamline the driver hiring process

A smoother process not only speeds up driver vetting but ensures new hires are both qualified and safe

Driver hiring is the first step in building a safer fleet. A simple five-step approach ensures this process is conducted properly and the drivers you hire represent the least amount of risk. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

For carriers, the cost to hire a commercial truck driver can exceed $15,000 in some cases. When you hire an unsafe or unqualified driver, that cost explodes in terms of elevated insurance premiums and/or claims. That makes hiring the safest driver possible a critical requirement.

With so many rules from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) to comply with, though, some carriers simply skip steps to speed the process when hiring regulated drivers, putting themselves and lives on the road at risk.

“Vetting driver applicants and qualifying new hires can be a cumbersome[BR(D1]  and time-consuming task, especially at motor carriers where most people wear multiple hats,” Kathy Close, transport safety editor for compliance specialists, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., explained.

Following five simple steps can help alleviate some of the risks associated with driver hiring, although there is no substitute for thoroughness. That’s why many carriers choose to work with outside compliance specialists to oversee or assist their in-house driver recruiting team.

1. Know your CMV definitions

When hiring a new driver, one of the keys is knowing whether that person needs a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Some driving positions do not require a CDL and that changes the hiring process. In addition, there are several FMCSRs that govern licensing (Part 383), drug and alcohol testing (Parts 40 and 382), and entry-level driver training (Part 380).

You must understand the various definitions and regulations as they pertain to the position for which you are hiring. Start the process by matching up the assigned vehicle with the hire. Utilize the commercial motor vehicle definitions in §390.5, which is used for applicability to 49 CFR Part 391 (driver qualification files). This rule covers both CDL and non-CDL vehicle types.

Specifics of the rule can be found in Part 391, but generally those driving a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 pounds or less do not need a CDL unless transporting placardable quantities of hazardous materials. Adding a trailer that boosts the vehicle total vehicle weight above 26,001 pounds requires a CDL.

2. Develop a new hire checklist

To ensure fleets are finding and hiring qualified recruits, the use of a new hire checklist is necessary, said J. J. Keller’s Close.

This checklist should be used to build the driver qualification (DQ) file, which must be maintained throughout the driver’s career to assess his or her qualifications and risks and would include motor vehicle records and reviews, medical certifications and the driver’s annual certification of violations.

The new hire’s DQ file should include the following documents:

  • Driver-specific application (requires certain information not needed for nonregulated employees)
  • Motor vehicle records (MVR) covering the past three years
  • Proof of medical certification (medical examiner’s certificate or CDL driver’s MVR)
  • Verification that the medical examiner is listed on the national registry
  • Road test/certificate or copy of a CDL
  • Safety performance histories (returned or documented attempts)

In addition, a confidential drug and alcohol file for drivers in a safety-sensitive position as defined by §38.5.5 must include a negative Department of Transportation (DOT) preemployment drug test result, a documented review of the CDL Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse that shows no unresolved DOT testing violations, a signed receipt from the driver for the issuance of the DOT Drug & Alcohol policy and educational materials, and any documentation showing drug and alcohol testing history not covered in the safety performance history for other modes and information obtained from the driver on failed preemployment tests when not hired pursuant to §40.25(j)).

3. Use technology

Technology has allowed job applicants to easily apply for positions, but for carrier recruiters and human resources, it also streamlines the process for onboarding applicants. Online job postings – either through job boards, social media or the carrier’s own website – can bring in hundreds of applicants at a time and the inclusion of an online application speeds the process even more.

In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) now allows e-signatures. Having the applicant electronically sign documents allows the carrier or its designee to start the process of a background check. Emails, text messages and driver portals allow for easy methods of communication, eliminating unnecessary phone calls for additional information or to arrange phone or on-site interviews.

4. Identify at-risk drivers

One of the best ways to minimize risk is to avoid at-risk drivers altogether. Performing proper due diligence could identify drivers that may pose additional risk, allowing the carrier to weed out potentially unsafe drivers.

“It’s recommended that motor carriers pursue safety performance history inquiries from all former DOT-regulated employers, regardless of the applicant’s previous position, since job titles are often misleading and the candidate may have been a regulated driver,” Close said.

Close stated that the safety regulations require employers to perform safety performance history inquiries with the past three years of DOT-regulated employers for former employees. The carrier or designee should make at least three attempts within 30 days of hire to obtain the history, she said. Also, review accident history, including non-DOT-recordable incidents to identify potential patterns of unsafe driving, and ask for information on the applicants’ level of experience that includes vehicles operated, miles traveled and years behind the wheel.

Check employment dates to find discrepancies. An applicant that is trying to hide an employer or unfavorable separation may adjust dates.

Anyone hired to operate a CMV requiring a CDL must be checked against the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. As of Aug. 1, 28,445 drivers had at least one drug or alcohol testing violation since Jan. 6, and 26,433 drivers remain in a prohibited status, meaning they have not completed the return-to-duty process identified in the clearinghouse. Carriers should ask applicants if they have a clearinghouse account and encourage and assist those that don’t to register. This process saves time in the preemployment process and allows the applicant to provide consent early in the process for the employment query, which is a required step in the hiring process.

Finally, carriers should use the Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) as a best practice, said Close. The PSP process allows for the review of three years of roadside inspections data and five years of FMCSA crash data to identify patterns of noncompliance and unsafe behaviors. Close said that carriers utilizing PSP see, on average, an 8% lower crash rate and 17% lower driver out-of-service rates.

5. Go beyond the minimum

FMCSA regulations set a minimum level of requirements. Carriers, though, can go beyond what is required, said Close. She advises carriers:

  • Set a bar on company-specific standards (e.g., years of experience, vehicles operated and crash history).
  • Create policies and procedures on who is a qualified candidate (but make sure they don’t violate federal or state employment laws).
  • Work with your insurance providers on setting standards (e.g., who will they cover and how will they affect your rates).
  • Score MVRs. Assign values to common traffic convictions in any type of vehicle. Create a policy that rules out candidates within a specific threshold (X-number of violations over Y-amount of time).

Safe carriers know that safety is not a one-time process, but an ongoing and immersive process that involves everyone in the organization. That process should begin driver hiring. Carriers should consider the value of contracting with a third-party compliance provider with experience in the hiring and qualification process of commercial motor vehicle drivers. Firms like J. J. Keller & Associates have extensive knowledge of the process and the regulations help carriers develop processes that will minimize overall risk and ensure the drivers being hired are safe and qualified.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]