Requirements for a Driver Qualification File (DQF)

truck driver qualification file

Last Updated May 15, 2024

The commercial motor vehicle industry is associated with big trucks, multiple deliveries, long drives, and rest stops – not mountains of paperwork. However, documents, certifications, and background checks play a crucial role in operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) company.

Hiring a truck driver involves a lot more than finding someone with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) who can drive a commercial motor vehicle. Every driver that a company hires, whether they’re a self-employed owner-operator or one of a dozen trucking employees, needs to have an up-to-date driver qualification file (DQF).

If you’re starting a new trucking company, you will need to gather a lot of documentation for each driver. Medical exams, employment background checks, and driving certifications are all part of the DQF. It can seem tedious, but it’s crucial to follow all of the requirements to get your registration and avoid getting hit with fines or delays in starting your company.

Truck Driver Qualification Requirements

A truck driver must fulfill several criteria to legally drive a truck per federal regulations. These criteria include:

  • The driver must be at least 21 years of age. Some laws legally permit 18-year-olds to drive trucks, but they generally cannot be interstate drivers.
  • The driver must submit a 10-year driving history from every state they have lived and driven in. This driving history generally includes traffic incidents and tickets that occurred in the last ten years and can be requested from the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.
  • The driver has a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Non-CDL drivers must pass an exam for one.
  • The driver must have a medical certification to meet physical qualification standards. Some notable conditions that may disqualify a truck driver include hearing or vision loss, certain heart problems, epilepsy, positive drug tests for certain substances, and inner ear issues.

Some extra factors may or may not disqualify a driver from getting a DQF, depending on the company:

  • Criminal record: Some trucking companies have different opinions on criminal records. Some may accept those with a criminal history, while others may not.
  • High school diploma: Some trucking companies may only accept drivers with at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
  • Endorsements: A trucker may be required to seek endorsements from extra training or peers to carry riskier types of cargo. While it takes more effort, carrying riskier cargo and hazardous materials generally means a higher income.

What Is a Driver Qualification File and Why Is It Important?

A driver qualification file is a compilation of the certifications, details, and background of each driver. This includes their driving qualifications, commercial motor vehicle safety records, and employment history.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires every commercial driver to meet their standards and have all necessary documents on file to drive a commercial vehicle. The FMCSA sets the requirements to ensure the safety of drivers and the general public and lists these in their regulation 49 section 391.51.

A commercial motor vehicle company is required to have a complete DQF on each driver in the company. The regulations are quite strict, and the employer must follow these exact guidelines.

A commercial motor carrier company needs to be prepared to present any driver’s DQF within two days and can be audited at any time. If it cannot produce all of the necessary documents for each driver when requested during an inspection, it risks losing its registration with the Department of Transportation along with hefty fines.

Why Do You Need a Driver Qualification File?

You need driver qualification files to ensure your drivers are safe operators, both on and off the road. A DQF records traffic, drug, and alcohol violations and other incidents involving your drivers. It also documents how the motor carrier employer addresses these incidents to ensure they will not happen again.

Who Needs a Driver Qualification File?

Every driver of a commercial motor vehicle company with a CDL license, and some drivers under certain conditions with a non-CDL license, must have a driver qualification file with the trucking company. Even if the driver is a self-employed owner-operator and the only commercial driver in the company, they must have a DQF.

It may seem like a lot of trouble to collect all of the necessary documents and file the paperwork, but it’s for the company’s, drivers’, and public’s safety. A company wants to know that the drivers it hires are competent and will drive safely. The background checks and investigations into the drivers’ employment history are for everyone’s benefit.

Driving schools with students going for their commercial license need to have driver qualification files on each student if they will be doing interstate commerce.

What Are the Requirements for a Driver Qualification File?

The following are the requirements for a driver qualification file:

  • Application for employment
  • Motor vehicle record (MVR) from each state licensing agency
  • Driver’s MVR for the past 3 years
  • List of violations in the past 12 months
  • Copy of the driver’s commercial driver’s license
  • Medical certificate from the Department of Transportation’s examiner

We will cover these documents in detail further down in the article.

What Needs to Be in a Driver Qualification File?

The Driver Qualification File needs many documents and records, including each driver’s prior employment history, current employment application, driving certification, motor vehicle records, physical exams, and a history of any driving violations.

Check the regulations for any updates and changes to the required list below. Many requirements have fine-print qualifications, specific scenarios, and some may have exemptions. The requirements are very detailed, and employers must follow them precisely.

Ongoing Updates

A driver’s DQF must be current. The trucking company will have to update its record with new information and results continuously. If a company has many drivers, it may need to hire someone to maintain the driver qualification files and keep them updated.

The following records should be renewed each year at a minimum to keep the information on file current. It is ideal to update the records as new information comes in, such as any violations the driver receives and new medical test results.

  • A copy of each driver’s Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) from the state. This report gives the driving history of the CMV driver. As per the FMCSA, the company must get an MVR of the driver’s previous three years before hiring the driver.
    • The MVR will include the driver’s license information, license status, driving violations, moving violations and convictions, any accidents the driver was involved in, and driving points issued against their license.
    • The trucking company will then need to get an updated annual MVR each year to keep the driver’s driving history current and perform a yearly review whether the driver is still qualified to drive for them.
  • A list of each driver’s driving certification violations. The company must update this each year.
  • An annual medical exam that certifies the driver is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle and handle the required workload.
    • Driving a truck is more intense than driving a passenger vehicle, and there are many inherent dangers. A medical exam is imperative to certify that the driver is physically capable of handling the long drives, is alert, and has the quick reflexes that they will need when driving a large vehicle.
    • If a driver takes certain medications such as anti-seizure medications, or narcotics, they can get disqualified from driving a CMV.
  • A note confirming that the medical examiner who certified the driver is on the list of FMCSA registered medical examiners. Drivers can search the medical examiner list to find examiners in their area.

Initial Driver Qualification File Documents

The commercial motor vehicle company must have the following documents on file for each driver for the company to be registered with the DOT. Review the checklist below, and keep these records for the length of the drivers’ employment plus three years after the driver leaves the company:

  • A completed and signed application for the driver’s employment. The application should include the driver’s name, current address, phone number and contact information, addresses the driver lived at within the past three years, date of birth, and social security number.
    • It should also list all driving license numbers the driver held over the past three years, the state that issued the license, the applicant’s driving experience with the type of vehicle they operated, and any accidents or traffic violations over the past three years.
  • A certificate confirming that the driver passed the commercial road test. The certificate must be signed by a certified examiner and include the driver’s name, social security number, license number, state that certified the driver, and the type of motor vehicle they are authorized to drive.
  • A three-year history of the driver’s previous employment. This is to ensure that the driver doesn’t have any previous violations that will endanger their driving. The company must conduct the employment history check within 30 days of hiring the driver.
    • The employment check should include the previous employers’ name, contact information, and whether the applicant was subject to the Federal Motor Safety Regulation and took drug and alcohol tests.
    • Obtain written consent from the driver to get their previous employment records and keep them on file. Also, keep on file any prior reports to the FMCSA from the driver’s previous employers that didn’t respond to requests for information.
  • A history of the driver’s safety and performance. The company also needs to keep a record of their request for the employee’s performance history to prove that they had investigated the driver.
  • The driver’s MVR (motor vehicle report) from the state for the previous three years. The company will need to request an updated driving record each year for the DQF.
  • Drug and alcohol pre-employment test results. The drivers must sign that they will undergo drug and alcohol testing and acknowledge that they won’t be allowed to work on safety-sensitive duties if they fail the test.
    • The company must have on file the driver’s drug and alcohol test results from the previous three years and records of any times the driver refused to take a drug or alcohol test.
    • If the driver failed or refused to take a drug and alcohol test, they may not be able to work on any safety-sensitive duties until the driver gets cleared.
  • New CDL drivers with less than a year of driving experience will need an entry-level driver training certificate on their driver qualification file.
  • Drivers of an LCV (Longer Combination Vehicle) need an LCV Driver Training Certificate or an LCV Driver Training Certificate of Grandfathering.
  • If the driver is a multiple-employer driver, some DQF requirements might not be needed. However, the employer does need the driver’s legal name, social security number, identification number, type of license, and the state that issued the license.
  • Drivers who have physical disabilities can get qualified to drive commercial motor vehicles if they get a Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) certificate.

Each driver should carry a copy of their medical exam certificate with them when driving their truck.

What Happens If the Driver Qualification File Basics Are Not Maintained?

The Department of Transportation may fine you if driver qualification file basics are not maintained. The department can audit driver qualification files whenever it gets a compliance alert from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Keeping your driver qualification files current is essential in your trucking company management process – your company may face penalties if you cannot provide the requested paperwork to support the compliance review. Failing a Department of Transportation audit may cost you up to tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

In-Summary: Driver Qualification Files

Companies with commercial motor vehicle drivers need to obtain a lot of paperwork and conduct background checks for each driver. It may seem like a lot, but each requirement is crucial. The company risks losing its DOT registration if even one driver is missing a requirement.

Make sure to keep all paperwork and qualifications up to date. Commercial Motor Vehicle companies need to be ready to show any driver’s papers at any time. Follow the checklist, and your company will be good to go.

Looking for financing for your trucking business? Check out our guide to freight factoring for trucking companies. If you’re new to starting a trucking business, check out our guide to minimize your truck detention fees.

Driver Qualification File FAQs

What is a qualified driver?

A qualified driver is a driver who can operate a commercial truck legally and complies with Department of Transportation and FMCSA requirements.

Do I need a driver qualification file?

You need an up-to-date driver qualification file for every truck driver you employ. If you fail to provide the most recent driver qualification file during a Department of Transportation audit, you may be fined.

What does a driver qualification file include?

A driver qualification file includes the complete history of employment, traffic incidents, and certifications of a commercial motor vehicle operator under your employ.

Here are the things you need to have in a driver file:

  • Employment application
  • Most current and prior motor vehicle record
  • Records of all past safety violations
  • Copies of all relevant licenses and certificates
  • Proof of medical qualification