Do You Have a DQ File?

Driver qualification requirements apply to all drivers, no matter how big or small the company.

March 2013, - WebXclusive

by Thomas Bray, Editor, J.J. Keller & Associates

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The driver qualifications regulations, which are found in Part 391 of the FMCSA regulations, apply to all interstate drivers and most intrastate drivers that operate a commercial motor vehicle – no matter whether your company employs one driver or 1,000.

The only thing that “changes” is who is responsible for making sure the driver is qualified (including the paperwork).

The qualification requirements

As far as the basic qualification requirements are concerned, Part 391 requires that the driver:

  • Be at least 21 years old (18 in some states for intrastate drivers),
  • Be able to read and speak English well enough to converse with the public and law enforcement,
  • Be medically qualified — this means a driver will need to undergo a physical every 2 years, or sooner, depending on the length of the current certification,
  • Has a valid driver's license of the correct class for the vehicle being driven,
  • Completes the necessary paperwork (DOT driver's application, certificate of violations, etc.),
  • Has undergone a Safety Performance History background check (including checking with the driver's previous DOT-regulated employers),
  • Has the necessary training and/or experience to safely operate the equipment, and
  • Has passed a road test.

The regulations also require that proof of all of the above, as well as proof of an annual review of the driver's motor vehicle record and performance, be kept on file at the company for which the driver is operating. This “proof” is referred to as the Driver's Qualification, or DQ, file. Documents that must be in the DQ file include:

  • Driver’s application
  • Records of the background check conducted by the company. This needs to show that you verified employment with any DOT-regulated employer the driver worked for during the previous three years, including dates of employment, drug and alcohol testing, and accidents, and the driver’s motor vehicle record (MVR) from all states where he or she held a license in during the three years previous to hire.
  • Road test and copy of the road test certificate (which is issued to the driver after he/she passes the road test), or an acceptable equivalent (such as a road test certificate issued by another carrier within the last three years or a copy of a valid CDL)
  • Annual (that is, every 12 months) review record for all annual reviews conducted over the last three years, including:
    • An annual MVR from all states in which the driver had a license over the previous 12 months,
    • The annual “Certificate of Violations” completed by the driver,
    • A record of management review of driver safety performance, and
  • Copies of medical certificates (cards) for all physicals taken over the last three years. The driver must pass a physical before the one that is on file expires.

The application, background check records (MVRs and SPH), and road test records must be kept the entire time the driver is employed with that carrier, plus three years.

Who is responsible for maintaining the DQ file?

If the driver is an owner-operator operating under his/her own DOT number, then the owner-operator is responsible for making sure he/she meets the qualification requirements and remains qualified. The owner-operator must maintain his/her DQ file.

As far as the qualification process and DQ file is concerned, the only thing an owner-operator needs outside assistance to accomplish is the road test (unless an acceptable equivalent is used, such as a CDL). An owner-operator needs to find someone who is competent at evaluating drivers operating a CMV on the road and have this individual conduct and document the road test.

Owner-operators are allowed to self-manage and administer their application, the background checks, the medical certificate, and conducting annual reviews. In effect, the owner-operator is both the driver and the company.

If the owner-operator leases onto a carrier, then the carrier he/she is leased to becomes responsible for the driver’s DQ file and ongoing qualifications, such as making sure the owner-operator’s credentials (license and medical card) stay current and for conducting annual reviews. In this case the owner-operator is responsible for maintaining his/her personal qualifications (license and medical card) and the company is responsible for overseeing the owner-operator and maintaining the DQ file.

Thomas Bray is an editor in the Transportation Publishing Department of the Editorial Resource Unit at J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc., specializing in motor carrier safety and operations management. 


  1. 1. Berle Tate [ March 05, 2013 @ 07:44AM ]

    What about the pre-employment drug testing requirements?

  2. 2. Daren Hansen [ March 12, 2013 @ 11:00AM ]

    Berle, according to 49 CFR 382.103(b), "an employer who employs himself/herself as a driver must comply with both the requirements in this part that apply to employers and the requirements in this part that apply to drivers." In terms of your question, this means an owner-operator must have the (negative) results of a pre-employment drug test in hand before operating a commercial motor vehicle that requires a CDL. There are no exceptions for owner-operators. As Tom's article suggests, if the O/O leases onto a carrier, then that carrier is responsible for the testing and the negative pre-employment test is needed before driving for that carrier. This could mean multiple pre-employment tests if you switch carriers often. The only exception for pre-employment testing is found in 382.301(b), but that entails getting detailed records about past test results (including being tested in the past 6 months or being enrolled in a testing program for the past year).

    - Daren Hansen, Editor, J.J. Keller & Assoc.

  3. 3. Becky [ February 05, 2014 @ 11:22AM ]

    I am needing information on DQ files. What is required to remain in the vehicle? Any KOP(Keep On Person) paperwork? I am not having much luck trying to find this information.

  4. 4. Barb [ March 14, 2017 @ 07:37AM ]

    We are a carrier that uses owner/operators and drivers for fleet owners. I have all required files for all drivers/contractors. One of our fleet owners is being audited by DOT and they are concerned that they need DQ files on the driver also. Is this correct? If it is correct to what extent must they have in the files at their location?

  5. 5. James Lee [ March 26, 2017 @ 06:20AM ]

    Barb, that is correct - the owner operators themselves require a complete DQ file at their home office (or wherever it is they keep all their logs, documents, and otherwise legally necessary files).

    I help small and solely-owned owner operators deal with audits and compliance. If you'd like, I can reach out to your owner-operators through you if they need assistance

  6. 6. Mira [ April 18, 2017 @ 07:27AM ]

    We hope to hire a driver who previously owned/operated his own business. Does he need to supply additional proof of previous drug tests, safety records etc. Is the information he completes in the DQ application packet sufficient. He's operated his own business for many, many years? Please advise.

  7. 7. Erica [ May 15, 2017 @ 06:18AM ]


    I work for a company that employs owner-operators. We currently have 50+ owner-operators. Some we use regularly and others from time to time. Most own their own trucks/trailers. Some lease our equipment. We keep company files on each. That contains the following: Company owner information i.e. social security card, DL, Medical card (if applicable) DOT number snapshot, insurance COI, truck registration, trailer registration, W-9 form, copy of federal ID number, copy of workers comp or exemption. We also ask for their employed drivers information i.e. Social security card, DL and medical card.

    My question would be do we need to have DQ files for all drivers? Is there anything missing from what I have listed above that we should include?

    Thank you,


  8. 8. Ashley [ August 09, 2017 @ 06:48PM ]

    Is a background check and mvr the same thing?

    My husband and I just started our own company. I dispatch and he drives. I have his app, drug and alcohol preemployment test, mvr, copy of cdl license in his file. Have I missed anything?

  9. 9. Dan [ October 22, 2017 @ 12:21PM ]

    My question is, my employer for the past 3 years is no in transportation, do I have to get a background check done?
    I do have my 3 year DMV record.
    Thank you.


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