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Driver qualification file management: The good, the bad and the compliant

Proper driver file management key to maintaining a safe, legal motor carrier fleet

Federal rules mandate the collection and maintenance of driver qualification files, but for fleets, managing this process can be cumbersome and fraught with potential liability. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Kevin Grotzke, vice president of safety and compliance at Reyes Fleet Management, knows the headache that driver qualification (DQ) file management can cause for a carrier. With various Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations governing the development and maintenance of records related to current, former and potential drivers, managing DQ files can quickly become a full-time job in itself.

Reyes Fleet Management, chose to outsource DQ file management to compliance specialists J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

“It takes a lot of administrative work off our plate — not only to put these files together, but to manage them going forward,” Grotzke, told FreightWaves.

J. J. Keller took over Reyes’ DQ management between five and six years ago, converting the fleet’s paper records into electronic files. The results speak for themselves.

“J. J. Keller is applying very strict criteria to the files to make sure we are compliant,” Grotzke explained. “We tell J. J. Keller what company-specific items we want to have in the file, and they tell us what is also required to be in the file. Every file is standardized across the board.”

Having consistency in files, and access to those files, are critical concerns for fleets. J. J. Keller’s’ Center for Market Insights surveyed fleets and found that over 50% consider accurate and well-organized DQ files highly important or the most important factor for FMCSA compliance. Grotzke agreed.

An integration with J. J. Keller’s system allows pre-hire documents to transfer electronically into the driver’s DQ file. Grotzke said J. J. Keller becomes involved in DQ management as soon as a driver is hired and the required paperwork documentationl begins. 

Risk mitigation

Proper DQ management can also help reduce risk of litigation by showing good faith efforts by the carrier to enforce proper policies and procedures. According to an American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) study released in 2020, there were 26 judgments that exceeded $1 million against carriers from 2006 to 2010, but that number jumped to over 300 cases above $1 million for the five-year period of 2015 to 2019.

The study, “Understanding the Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry,” noted that FMCSA minimum standards should be exceeded when possible and that both carrier and plaintiff attorneys agreed that pre-crash actions by carriers are critical in reducing exposure.

“While all fleets now pay more, premiums definitively scale based on safety records,” according to ATRI. One respondent noted that motor carriers considered low risk experienced annual insurance cost increases of 8%-10%, while new ventures and “average-to-marginal” carriers experienced increases of 35%-40%.

DQ files represent a portion of that risk exposure. When an incident occurs, attorneys are going to dig into a carrier’s files, looking for any lax enforcement of policies or substandard practices.

Exception reporting, such as what Reyes’ fleet sees with J. J. Keller’s services, helps identify compliance deficiencies, upcoming document expiration, and overall driver roster management. In addition, DQ file management service providers will help obtain the necessary documents for all drivers both new and existing, manage background checks and audit them if necessary, provide assistance with FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse compliance, track and maintain any company-specific documents, manage records retention (records must be kept on all former drivers for three years), and provide support should an FMCSA audit be initiated.

Who needs a DQ file?

J. J. Keller notes that proper DQ file management starts at hire. The company offers a driver hiring checklist to assist with this process.

DQ file management can mitigate possible violations, including using a driver:

  • Who has a suspended CDL or has multiple CDLs.
  • Who has been disqualified.
  • Who has fraudulent records.

Also, a carrier that is not maintaining a driver qualification file on each driver is in violation of FMCSA regulations. A carrier must maintain a DQ for any driver involved in any of the following:

  • A driver of a vehicle operating in interstate commerce based on the definition of a commercial motor vehicle as stated in Part §390.5
  • Any driver of a vehicle that is operating in an area open to the general public and over 10,001 pounds (gross combined weight rating, gross vehicle weight rating, gross combined weight or gross vehicle weight),
  • Any driver operating a passenger transport vehicle with nine or more passengers, including the driver, being transported
  • Or any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers (not for compensation)

Independent contractors operating CMVs leased onto carriers also need a driver qualification file, J. J. Keller said, as well as drivers only operating within a state but hauling commodities that are coming from or destined for another state or country.

DQ file requirements

While DQ file requirements cover many areas, J. J. Keller said some of the information needed includes safety performance history and motor vehicle records including:

  • General employment verification — dates of employment, type of driving, and DOT accidents and any other accidents a prior employer would like to share.
  • Verification of drug and alcohol violations under Part 40 and Part 382 through Jan. 5, 2023.
  • Motor vehicle records (MVR) from all states in which the driver held a license in the past three years.
  • Medical card and medical certification date monitoring.

MVRs for all CDL drivers are required to be in the DQ file within 15 days of every exam per §391.23 and §391.51. Ongoing MVR monitoring, though, can meet the annual review requirement in 391.25 instead of driver MVRs only being pulled once per year, J. J. Keller advised. 

As the ATRI study noted, an outside provider often has the ability to ensure carriers go beyond FMCSA minimum standards while providing gap coverage for the safety and human resources departments, lifting some of the burden of document management. As experts in the field, DQ service providers can also improve new-hire document processes, closing potential legal loopholes that plaintiff attorneys could exploit in trial.

J. J. Keller advised fleets to consider privacy concerns as well. Fleets that manage driver records are bound by federal and state data privacy laws. Some of that burden is shifted to the outsourced provider when engaged. The company also said fleets should verify their provider’s team members are well trained in DQ file compliance and that they understand confidentiality agreements. Providers should also be accredited and hold certifications in required areas, including:

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards.
  • SOC 2.
  • ISO 9001.
  • ISO 14001.
  • ISO 27001.
  • ISO 45001.
  • FCRA.

Managing driver qualification files requires knowledge of regulations and data privacy, among other skills. That’s why many fleets choose to engage outside specialists in the process.

Click for more 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]