Driver Qualification Files: What They Are and What Goes in Them

Jason Forrest

Whether you run a massive fleet or a company of one, you’ll need a driver qualification file (DQF)  for each of your drivers — including yourself, if you have your own authority.

The requirements for driver qualification files are quite comprehensive, leaving many people confused about what belongs in them and worried that they’ll fail a safety audit because their files are incomplete. This article will explain everything you need to know about driver qualification files so you can rest easy knowing that you’re in line with FMCSA requirements.

What are driver qualification files?

A driver qualification file is an FMCSA-required collection of documents and records proving that a driver can safely and legally operate a commercial motor vehicle.

A DQF is like a driver’s professional biography. It includes everything you (and, more importantly, the FMCSA) might want to know about a driver, like their employment history, driving record, licensing and physical health status.

Who needs driver qualification files?

Trucking companies have to maintain a driver qualification file for each driver that they employ. If you’re an owner-operator, you’ll have to keep one for yourself, since the FMCSA views you as both the motor carrier and the operator.

The DQF requirement applies to anyone who operates a CMV. You’ll need to keep driver qualification files for anyone who operates a vehicle that meets one of these standards:

  • Combination vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) or gross combination weight (GCW) of 26,001 lbs. and a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross vehicle weight (GVW) of more than 10,000 pounds
  • Heavy straight vehicles with a GVW or GVWR of more than 26,001 pounds
  • Any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver
  • Any vehicle used to transport hazardous materials

What should you include in a driver qualification file?

Driver qualification files are a lot less intimidating if you approach it one component at a time. You should download the FMCSA driver qualification file checklist to help you keep everything straight when you’re building out a file for a new driver (or double-checking your files for current drivers).

We’ll walk through the checklist and explain what you’ll need for each section.

Driver’s employment application

The first thing you’ll add to a new driver’s DQL is their completed and signed application for employment. The application should include the driver’s complete work history for the past three years, plus any company that they’ve driven a CMV for over the last 10 years.

The employment record shouldn’t have any gaps, so the driver should list any periods where they were either unemployed or incarcerated as well.

While this probably seems odd if you’re an owner-operator, you’ll have to fill out an employment application for yourself to keep in your file.

Employee’s safety performance history from previous employers

Next, you’ll need to reach out to the driver’s former employers for the driver’s safety performance record. This report needs to cover the last three years, so you may need to contact multiple former employers.

The FMCSA isn’t too picky about how you get this information, allowing for

  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Phone interviews
  • Letters
  • Any other method that you deem appropriate

Whatever method you choose, you should clearly document all of your efforts and interactions and keep the documents in the DQF.

Each driver’s record needs to include:

  • General driver ID and employment verification info
  • Details of any accidents
  • Any previous violations of the FMCSA alcohol and control substances rules
  • Copies of the release forms submitted by the driver to their former employers allowing them to share their safety records
  • A correction request or rebuttal if the driver disputes any of the information provided by their former employers
  • Response notes received from any investigations (if applicable)

A motor vehicle record (MVR) from every state where the driver is licensed

The next item you’ll add to a driver’s DQF is a copy of their motor vehicle record (MVR) from each state where they either hold or have held a driver’s license or permit (not just a CDL) over the last three years.

You’ll need to contact the proper agencies from each state to request the driver’s MVR. The process will be different from state to state, so follow each one’s instructions on how to request the copies. If you don’t receive a copy from a state, you’ll need to show that you made a good-faith effort to get it by following the state’s record request process.

You have 30 days after hiring a driver to get their records and add them to the file.

An annual MVR review

You should review each driver’s current MVR once every 12 months to make sure the driver is still qualified to drive a commercial vehicle safely. When you place the updated MVR in the driver qualification file, you should also include a note with the name of the person who reviewed the record and the date it was reviewed.

An annual certification of violations from the driver

At least once a year, your drivers should give you a list of every time they’ve been convicted for violating traffic laws and ordinances over the last 12 months (but they can leave parking tickets out).

You’ll need to compare that list with the driver’s MVR to make sure everything is consistent. If a driver has a clean driving record, you’ll still need a signed notice from the driver stating that they haven’t been convicted of any traffic violations over the last 12 months.

The driver’s road test certificate or its equivalent

Your drivers can’t operate a CMV until they pass a road test. If you test new drivers yourself, fill out the form provided by the FMCSA and place it in their driver qualification file. You can also include a copy of the driver’s CDL or a road test certificate issued within the last three years instead.

A medical examiner’s certificate

All drivers have to pass a medical exam every two years to ensure that they can still safely operate a CMV. You’ll need a copy of each driver’s Medical Examiner’s Certificate for their driver qualification file.

If the medical examiner says a driver has a physical impairment that could make it difficult to drive, the driver will have to pass a skills test and receive a Skill Performance Evaluation certificate for their file.

A note certifying that the medical examiner is qualified by the FMCSA

Finally, you’ll need to include a note verifying that the person who conducted the driver’s medical exam is listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME).

How long do you have to keep driver qualification files?

The FMCSA document retention rules require you to hold on to most of the documents in a driver’s qualification file for as long as they work for you plus the next three years.

But there are a few documents you can weed out after three years even if the driver still works for you. Those records are:

  • MVRs from each state licensing agency for annual MVR reviews
  • Notes stating who performed the annual MVR review
  • Annual lists of traffic violations
  • Medical exam certificates and Skill Performance Evaluation certificates
  • Notes stating that an examiner is listed in the NRCME

Managing your trucking business

Keeping records for either yourself or your drivers is a lot to juggle — especially when you’re managing hours, expenses, taxes and other FMCSA requirements for either yourself or your fleet. But, if you follow these guidelines, you can check driver qualification files off your list of concerns.

As for everything else, the Rigbooks resource center is full of helpful articles that answer your most common questions about running a trucking business — from tracking expenses to IFTA and everything in between.