Regulation Simplified - Driver Qualification

General Driver Qualifications

49 CFR part 391 outlines the regulation for maintaining driver qualification documents.  Driver qualification file is required for all drivers operating a commercial motor vehicle.

What are the general qualifications of a commercial driver?

  • Must be 21 years of age (there are intrastate exceptions)
  • Is physically qualified (see medical certification of drivers)
  • Can speak and write English to have a conversation and complete required paperwork
  • Has valid commercial motor vehicle license or drivers license from his/her residing state
  • Has prepared and provided the motor carrier with a list of violation or certificate as required
  • Successfully completed a road test if your driver is operating a commercial vehicle that does not require a CDL (a valid CDL meets this requirement)

All interstate drivers that operate commercial vehicles regardless if they are CDL or non-CDL commercial drivers are required to have a driver qualification file. See “State Agency” for applicable regulations regarding intrastate operations.

Driver Qualification File

What is required to be maintained in the Driver Qualification file for a new driver?

391.51 and 391.53  provide regulatory requirements for driver qualification and documents that must be retained in a file.  The following is required of all drivers either pre-hire or within the first 30 days of employment.

We recommend keeping separate files or sections within each driver file based on your company internal security of information on your drivers. Many companies have different people managing different areas of compliance so people may have access to different files.  All companies should have 1. Driver Qualification File, 2. Drug and Alcohol File, 3. Investigation and History File.

The Driver Qualification File (new hire and before the driver conducts a safety sensitive function)

  1. A completed commercial driver application must include the following information:
    • Name and Address of employing motor carrier.
    • Applicants name, address, social security number.
    • Where the applicant lived during the previous three (3) years from date of application.
    • Date the application was submitted.
    • Issuing state, number, expiration of each unexpired driver’s license issued.
    • The nature and extent of the applicant’s experience in the operation of motor vehicles, including the type of equipment (such as buses, trucks, truck tractors, semitrailers, full trailers, and pole trailers) which he/she has operated
    • A list of motor vehicle accidents the applicant was involved in the last three (3) years from date of applications.  Including date, description, injuries or fatalities resulting from the accident.
    • A list of all violations of motor vehicle laws or ordinances (other than violations involving only parking) of which the applicant was convicted or forfeited bond or collateral during the 3 years preceding the date the application is submitted.
    • The facts and circumstances around of any denial, revocation, or suspension of any license, permit, or privilege to operate a motor vehicle that has been issued to the applicant, or a statement that no such denial, revocation, or suspension has occurred.
    • Previous employers for the last three (3) years including:
      • A list of the names, address, dates employed, reason for leaving for employers for the preceding three (3) years from the date the application was submitted.
      • A list of the names and addresses of the applicant’s employers during the 7-year period preceding the 3 years for which the applicant was an operator of a commercial motor vehicle, together with the dates of employment and the reasons for leaving such employment. (only required if the employment history was commercial motor vehicle history)
      • For each employer listed the applicant must identified if he/she was subject the FMCSR’s.
        • Subject to safety sensitive functions per regulations.
        • Required to participate in a controlled substance and alcohol program as outlined by the regulations (49 CFR part 40).
    • The following certification and signature line must appear at the end of the application and be signed by the applicant.
      • This certifies that this application was completed by me, and that all entries on it and information in it are true and complete to the best of my knowledge.
    • As part of the application (or on a separate release) a motor carrier must inform the applicant that the information he/she provides may be used, and the applicant’s previous employers will be contacted, for investigating the applicant’s safety performance history information as required by the regulations.
    • The prospective employer must also notify the driver in writing of his/her due process rights as specified in §391.23(i) regarding information received as a result of these investigations.
    • Copy of the front and back of the applicant commercial driver’s license.
  2. The driver abstract (MVR or Motor Vehicle Report) should include the following: (see below for additional information on MVR’s)
    • Must be pulled for all states in which the driver has a driver license. (see CDLIS information below)
    • Verify that the driver is self-certified. (CDL holders)
    • The medical card expiration date, medical examiners name, and number.
    • The motor carrier  must put a note in file verifying the medical examiner is on the National Registry of Certified Examiners. (go to Medical Certification of Drivers).
    • Remember a couple states require additional state releases signed by the drivers. (Washington and New Hampshire)
    • There are also state regulations that require service providers to obtain additional signed releases from the motor carrier. (Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Delaware,  and Ohio)
  3. A CDLIS report (not required but recommended see below for definition)
  4. Driver’s License Compliance and Rights signed by the driver acknowledging they understand their rights regarding:
    • Drivers can only have one driver’s license
    • Motor carriers may check the driver’s history for the preceding three (3) years and the drivers rights and how the applicant driver can dispute information obtained by the hiring motor carrier from the previous employer.
    • The right of the motor carrier to obtain and review the driver motor vehicle report (driver abstract).
  5. Road Test
    • Only required if the driver is NOT a Commercial Driver License holder pursuant to 391.33. (a road test is considered completed and documented if a driver has a CDL)
    • Industry best practice is to road test all commercial drivers regardless even if they have a CDL status.
  6. Hours worked previous seven (7) days. (only keep for six (6) months from date of hire)
  7. Long combination vehicle (doubles or triples) documentation of training.
  8. New entry driver training documentation if the driver has less than 1 year operating a commercial motor vehicle.
  9. Hazardous material training documentation if hauling hazmat.

The motor carrier may require additional information on the application in addition to what is listed above.

If a companies current application doesn’t meet all the regulatory requirements, are they required to completely change out my application process?

No, if your current application is for all employees, just provide supplemental for the commercial drivers. The supplemental should have all the missing elements from above that are not on your current application.

What qualifications documents should be in the history and investigation and drug and alcohol file?

Either within the driver qualification file or held separately the following information must be gathered for a new driver.   

The History and Investigation File 

  1. Safety Performance History Checks (aka Verification of Employment and Background Checks)
    • Safety performance history releases must be signed by the applicant giving the motor carrier authorization to complete the DOT regulated background for the last three (3) years.
    • This background must be started within thirty (30) days of hire.
    • Must include request for accident history and drug and alcohol history.
    • Document attempts made to get information. (good faith effort must be made)
    • Industry standard for attempts is three (3) but three attempts are not required by regulation.
    • Current Motor Vehicle Report (driver abstract) must be placed in file within thirty (30) days of hire.
    • If the driver has no DOT regulated employment history, a note must be placed in the file within 30 days from start of employment.
    • Fair Credit Reporting Act Release signed by the applicant providing authorization for the fleet to obtain drug and alcohol history, employment history, and obtain a motor vehicle report and/or criminal background history prior to beginning investigation.

The Drug and Alcohol File

    1. Copy of a negative Pre-Employment controlled substance test. (Drug & Alcohol File)
      • Applies to CDL drivers only unless the motor carrier offers a drug free workplace program then the employer can drug test under that policy.
      • The results must be returned before the driver can do safety sensitive function including driving.
      • Negative test result must be obtained prior to the drivers’ first day driving.
    2. Pre-Employment Drug and Alcohol Statement stating the driver has not had a positive drug or alcohol test or if he/she has they completed an SAP program.
    3. A signed receipt by the driver stating he received a copy of a drug and alcohol policy. See drug and alcohol for policy information.
      • CDL only
      • Motor carrier may have a drug free workplace program in which they test under. These records should be maintained separately.
Recurring Requirements of the Driver Qualification File

What do motor carriers need to do to maintain a compliant driver qualification file (including drug and alcohol file and history and investigation file)?

  • Pull a new driver abstract (aka Motor Vehicle Report or MVR) after every medical card renewal within 15 days of the medical card begin submitted to the state and confirm it appears on the driver abstract.
  • Conduct an annual review of driver abstract (MVR) and put a note in their driver file documenting the review.
  • Obtain and document a list or certificate from the driver showing any violations relating to motor vehicle laws and ordinances as required by 391.27 that he/she receive in the last year.
  • Retain all random drug and alcohol test results and copies of the chains of custody in the drug and alcohol file.
  • Conduct and document recurring training of hazardous material regulations every three years.
Non-CDL & Intrastate Commercial Drivers

What is done differently with Non-CDL commercial drivers?

Driver qualification requirements listed above are required for non-CDL commercial drivers. Below are the differences for non-CDL holding commercial drivers.  Note that your state may have different regulations for intrastate drivers. Check the “State Agency” to find information on specific states.

  • A medical card must be kept in the driver qualification file and carried by the driver.
  • Road Test – Non-CDL holding commercial drivers without a CDL must have a road test on file.
  • Not required to participate in a DOT drug or alcohol program.

What is done differently with intrastate drivers?

State regulation govern drivers that stay within the state and do not cross state lines. State regulations may be the same or different than federal regulations. See State Agency”  for additional information.

Driver Abstract (aka Motor Vehicle Reports or MVR)

What states require additional releases for motor carriers or service agents to obtain motor vehicle reports?

All companies that are going to pull a drivers motor vehicle report or obtained background information on a potential employee must have a release on file giving them permission per the Fair Credit Reporting Act standards. In addition, New Hampshire and Washington State both required the employer to have specific state releases signed by the drivers each time a motor vehicle report is pulled on the driver.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Delaware require service agents to get signed releases from the motor carriers before a motor vehicle report can obtained on the motor carriers behalf.

When is a motor carrier required to pull a motor vehicle reports (MVR)?

Motor carriers are required by the FMCSR’s to pull motor vehicle reports (aka driver abstracts) in three situations.

  1. Pre-employment MVR.
  2. Annual MVR review.
  3. After the medical card has renewed or been initially issued.

Each time an MVR is pulled the motor carrier must:

  • Verify the driver has self-certified.
  • The CDL expiration date.
  • Check the medical examiners name and registry number against the Registry for Medical Examiners and make a note in the driver qualification file that it was checked. See link below under “Quick Links” for access to the medical examiners registry.

What is the difference between CDLIS (Commercial Drivers License Information Systems) and an MVR (Motor Vehicle Report)?

The Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) is a nationwide computer system that enables state driver licensing agencies to ensure that each commercial driver has only one driver’s license and one complete driver record. CDLIS is participated in by all 50 states.

The following information can be found on the CDLIS report:

  • Present Jurisdictional State
  • Current Driver’s License Number
  • Driver’s Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number Match
  • Up to Three Previously Held CDL Numbers
  • AKA Information

The MVR (motor vehicle report ) is a separate requirement for all motor carriers. A motor carrier must have a MVR for states that the commercial driver has operated in.  The state information is provided by the driver, however if the driver forgets or excludes the information the CDLIS report would provide it.

Motor carriers do not have to participate in CDLIS, but participation in CDLIS is another step in securing compliance for the motor carrier. Fleets can obtain CDLIS reports from many service providers. See Quick Links below for the link to learn more about CDLIS.

Recordkeeping Requirements

Keep driver qualification files for three (3) years past the date the driver leaves the fleets control or employment.

Tips from Industry and Compliance Professionals

 Industry best practices and tips

  • Require drivers to complete all the fields in the application. They should put N/A if it is not applicable. Do not allow drivers to leave sections completely blank.
  • Some companies prefer to keep the drug and alcohol data separate from the driver qualification file for security reasons.
  • Additional items in the file may include certification and releases as required by the state and federal regulators as well as any medical variances the driver receives.
  • Files should be kept in a locked secure office or drawer or protected under password if maintained on a computer to protect your driver’s personal information.
  • Electronic signatures and electronic forms are acceptable in a DOT audit.
  • Use 4 CMV Driver Hire paperless driver qualification file. (Go to Paperless Driver Qualification)
  • Document attempts to get safety performance history and keep in the driver qualification file.
    • The documented attempts should include date, how you requested the information and the name of company you requested the information from.
  • Pull your CDLIS report first, then you will know if you need to pull additional MVR’s.
Quick Links

Regulation for Driver Qualification – 49 CFR Part 391

Interpretations Driver Qualifications – Interpretations 

Need to check if a medical examiner is on the registry Medical Examiner Registry

More about CDLIS through the AAMVA

See states for ordering MVR’s 

Submit Medical Cards  to the State

Check CDL Status 

Documents & Templates
Download this file

Complete New Hire Driver Qualification Packet

Download this file

Checklist for Compliant Driver Qualification File

Download this file


Download this file

D & A Policy Receipt

Download this file

D & A Pre-Employment Statement

Download this file

Safety Performance History Check Authorization

Download this file

Driver Compliance & Rights

Download this file

7 Days Previous Hours

Download this file

Fair Credit Reporting Act Release

Download this file

Annual Certificate of Violations