-  J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Transportation businesses often reach a point where they cannot keep up with safety compliance or find enough qualified people to do so. Outsourcing complex, time-consuming tasks such as driver qualification (DQ) entails deciding what to keep under direct control and what is better done by experts.

Four reasons to consider outsourcing DQ file management are to:

  1. Allow core personnel to focus on safety and service,
  2. Keep up with rule changes and be audit-ready,
  3. Exceed regulatory minimums and reduce potential liability, and
  4. Access files securely and protect driver privacy.

1. Allow core personnel to focus on safety and service.

Industry experts do not expect the worker shortage, including in the transportation industry, to end soon.

However, a carrier needs to focus their time and energy on the following:

  • Safe transportation,
  • Customer service,
  • Revenue generation, and
  • Cost control.

In other words, let carrier personnel do what they do best while DQ file management is in the hands of experts.

2. Keep up with rule changes and be audit-ready

Carriers must follow the rules under multiple local, state, and federal entities. Having expert personnel in every area is nearly impossible.

In 2023, a J. J. Keller and Associates, Inc. transportation industry survey of fleet managers found that the three most critical issues under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) compliance topic were:

Issue                                                                                                        Chosen as most important

  1. Having compliant and organized driver qualification (DQ) files                    42 percent         
  2. Staying up to date on regulation changes                                                         42 percent
  3. Having all files in place to manage and audit compliance                              35 percent

Outsourcing DQ file management can address each of these concerns.

3. Exceed regulatory minimums and reduce potential liability.

DQ files must be compliant to minimize potential liability and claims of negligent hiring or supervision after a crash. A finding of carrier negligence can result in a nuclear verdict.

When building and maintaining a DQ file for a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver, these are the FMCSA's requirements:

Duration of employment plus 3 years

3 years from the document date

Driver-specific application - 391.21*

Annual MVR - 391.25(a)

Motor vehicle record (MVR) run no more than 30 days after the hire date - 391.23(a)(1)

Annual review of the MVR - 391.25(b)

Road test form and certificate*-391.31, or a copy of a commercial driver's license (CDL) in place of road test or a road test certificate issued less than 3 years from the hire date - 391.33

Medical examiner's certificate* - 391.43(g) or medical MVR for CDL drivers within 15 days of the exam* - 391.41(a)(2)

Safety performance history inquiries - 391.23(c)(1) or documented good-faith efforts to obtain the information under secure storage with controlled access within 30 days of the hire date - 391.23(c)(2) and 391.53.

Verification that the medical examiner was on the National Registry* - 391.23(m)


Medical variance or exemption* (if applicable) - 391.49 or Part 381

*Documents must be on file before a driver operates a CMV.

Operators of CMVs may have titles that do not include the word "Driver" in the title but require a DQ file such as:

  • Dispatchers who operate as weekend fill-in drivers,
  • Temporary agency or leased drivers,
  • Mechanics that drive in any area where the public may travel, and
  • Leased independent contractors who run under the carrier's DOT number.

A trusted provider, such as J. J. Keller and Associates, Inc., can implement best practices to reduce risk and the chance of audit violations, such as:

  • Securely store DQ files electronically in a secure system with no inappropriate documents that add clutter or lead to further investigation.
  • Request Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP) reports with five years of crashes and three years of violations.
  • Monitor files for missing and incomplete documents from pre-hire through the driver's employment.
  • Understanding the regulatory requirements and helping companies apply them appropriately to different types of drivers.
  • Track renewable document expiration dates (i.e., medical certification, licensing, annual reviews) and provide reminders to avoid unqualified drivers and audit violations.
  • Ongoing MVR monitoring of licensing changes which may require immediate corrective action. A monitoring program can meet the annual review requirement in 391.25.

The most common 2022 FMCSA acute (most serious) audit violations were:

  • Allowing the driver to drive with a suspended or revoked CDL
  • Driving a CMV while disqualified
  • Failing to maintain a driver qualification file on each driver
  • Using a physically unqualified driver
  • No valid medical certificate in the driver's possession

Each of these violations requires action and can impact the outcome of an audit. A service provider with proper safety management controls can significantly reduce the chance of occurrence.

4. Access files securely and protect driver privacy.

Secure access to files from remote locations at any time of day is a necessity for many carriers. A carrier's entire operation is at risk if its system or its service providers cannot definitively protect access to data and driver privacy.

Potential service providers should:

  • Require personnel to sign confidentiality agreements before managing client information,
  • Maintain oversight of security processes and procedures,
  • Hold current accreditation and certifications in the required areas, which may include:
    • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS)
    • SOC 2®
    • ISO 9001
    • ISO 14001
    • ISO 27001
    • ISO 45001
    • FCRA

In closing, best-in-class DQ file management requires the following:

  1. In-depth regulatory knowledge,
  2. Best practices to reduce risk, and
  3. Secure systems to operate in today's environment.

All three are difficult to accomplish without the right mix of skills and proper staffing. Outsourcing to a trusted expert may be worth investigating to protect your business and bring consistency to complex processes.