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Top 5 DOT Driver File Violations (and How to Avoid Them)
8 mins read
Top 5 DOT Driver File Violations (and How to Avoid Them)

Driver qualification files stump many safety and compliance managers, which lead to DOT violations and hefty fines. But these consequences can be avoided.

As a company regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), you must maintain specific files on all your drivers — federal law requires it.

Still, many companies continue to rack up violations and hefty fines because their driver qualification files aren’t complete or up-to-date. In fact, many violations result because companies don’t maintain fully compliant driver files — whether due to oversight, clerical error, because their drivers withhold information, or simply because they aren’t up to speed on the many Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules and regulations. 

No matter if you’re operating a fleet or running as an owner-operator, compliance is your priority No. 1, and maintaining complete driver files is a crucial element to this. Below are the most significant (and common) driver file infractions that you always want to avoid.

The Top 5 Driver Qualification File Violations

#1: Driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle while Disqualified

It should go without saying that drivers should not get behind the wheel — ever — if they are disqualified from doing so due to various convictions. Yet this remains a top driver file violation. This is because a motor carrier is held liable whether or not a driver notifies them of a conviction or violation (even though, per law, drivers are required to tell their employers about revocations, suspensions, or withdrawals immediately upon receiving notice).

Per federal regulation, you are on the hook either way: “So long as a motor carrier knows, or should have known, about a driver’s conviction for a disqualifying offense, it is prohibited from using the driver during the disqualification period.”

Drivers are considered disqualified if their offense was committed during on-duty time and they were employed by a motor carrier engaged in commercial interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce. Offenses that automatically disqualify drivers from driving vary in duration and are also based on their number of previous offenses. Some examples include:

  • Driving a CMV with an alcohol concentration of .04 percent or more.
  • Driving a CMV under the influence of a Schedule I-identified controlled substance, amphetamine, or other narcotic drug.
  • Refusing to undergo alcohol testing as required by state or jurisdictional law.
  • Leaving the scene of an accident while operating a CMV.

For all of the above: Drivers are disqualified for at least 1 year for the first offense; and at least 3 years for subsequent offenses.

Additional reasons for disqualification:

  • Texting while driving a CMV.
  • Using a hand-held device while driving a CMV.

For both of the above: Drivers are disqualified for 60 days if they have two violations within a 3-year period; or for 120 days if they have three or more violations in a 3-year period.

It's Time to Transition to Digital Driver Files

#2: Using a Physically Unqualified Driver

All DOT-regulated drivers operating a vehicle weighing at least 10,001 pounds must meet the requirements to receive a medical card. This means they must have a DOT physical exam once every two years. These are conducted by certified medical examiners who perform general physical exams — looking at a driver’s eyes, heart, lungs, abdomen, and spine, for example — while also assessing their medical history and prescribed medications.

Drivers deemed medically fit for duty are then issued a DOT medical card that is valid for two years. However, some medical conditions may disqualify drivers from operating a CMV, or may require more frequent monitoring/exams (which examiners will specify).

#3: Not Keeping Inquiries into Driving Records in a Driver Qualification File

Upon employing a driver, all motor carriers must investigate, document, and retain that driver's employment safety performance history for the previous three years.

This involves contacting previous employers, and the history must include, at minimum:

  • Any accident and accident details (where possible).
  • Any alcohol or controlled substance prohibition violations.
  • General driver identification and employment verification information.

Companies must also run Motor Vehicle Reports (MVRs) in all states where drivers have held CDLs or permits for the previous three years. From then on, carriers must continue to obtain updated MVRs annually and closely review them to determine that drivers have had no disqualifying offenses.

All of these inquiries into a driver’s safety performance history must be closely documented and retained for the length of employment and for three years thereafter. Critically, they must be kept in a secure — that is, under a lock and key — location.

#4: Failing to Maintain a Driver File on Each Driver

This is a basic notion. All companies must compile, maintain, and update a Driver Qualification File (DQF) for every driver. These must contain:

  • Driver’s application for employment.
  • Inquiries to previous employers for safety performance history.
  • Inquiries to state agencies for a driver’s MVR and carrier’s annual review of record.
  • Annual driver’s certification of violations.
  • Driver’s road test certificate or equivalent.
  • Medical examiner’s certificate.
  • Inquiry about drug and alcohol tests.

#5: Not Keeping a Medical Certificate in a Driver File

As noted above, drivers must pass medical exams and be issued medical examiner’s certificates before they can legally operate a CMV. These must be kept in their driver file and updated every time they are issued new or modified certificates.

The Ongoing Benefits of Digital DOT Driver Files

Violations can be costly, and they can also impact your company’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) scores.

The best way to ensure safety and compliance is to keep tabs on your driver files (and your drivers). Switching to a digital solution can make this much easier. With Dash, the Foley platform, you can convert all your files to digital (if you haven’t already), and then help manage upcoming deadlines such as CDL and medical card expiration dates. All your files are then kept in a secure, easy-to-access location on any mobile device.

Don’t get caught off guard during annual reviews or when DOT auditors come calling. Stay compliant by contacting Foley today!

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