Are You Operating Under the DOT Radar?

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What’s the definition of a commercial motor vehicle according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)?

You may be surprised to learn that private or for-hire vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 or more are considered a commercial motor vehicle for purposes of most of the Department of Transportation (DOT) safety regulations under FMCSA §382.107.

While a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and drug and alcohol testing is not required to operate this size of vehicle, companies are required to obtain a DOT number.

US DOT Number Required if Vehicle (FMCSA § 390.5):

  1. Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater; or
  2. Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
  3. Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  4. Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C.

In addition to a US DOT number, companies are subject to the FMCSA regulations in Parts 390 through 396, including maintaining a driver qualification file, hours of service, inspection, and maintenance requirements.

For purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the minimum requirements for a driver qualification file.

Who’s Required to Have a Driver’s Qualification (DQ) File?

A misperception exists that a DQ file is only needed if a company employs drivers with a commercial driver’s license.

However, this is not necessarily the case.

The weight criterion for requiring a DQ file is 10,001 pounds (FMCSA §391.51). So, interstate drivers with vehicles above the 10,000 pound threshold need to have a DQ file.

To further complicate matters, state regulations can be different than the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for intrastate operations.

Some states have increased the weight limit to 12,000 pounds and above.

A few states have other exemptions that may exclude carriers from having to keep certain portions of a DQ file on select drivers.

Therefore, you should consult with you legal counsel regarding the local and state regulations that may be applicable to your organization.

Basic Driver Qualification File Checklist

Persons who drive commercial motor vehicles are subject to minimum qualification as specified in 49 CFR Part 391, and every motor carrier must have a qualification file for each regularly employed driver.

The file must include:

  • Application for Employment (§391.21) – The application must be made on a form furnished by the motor carrier and signed by the driver.
  • Motor Vehicle Records (§391.23) – Obtain a copy of the motor vehicle record(s) from each state where a driver held a motor vehicle operator’s license or permit during the preceding three years. A copy of each state’s record, or response that a record does not exist, must be kept in the driver’s file. The regulation also requires that an employer obtain an MVR each following year, covering the past 12 months.
  • Employment Verification (§391.23) – Investigate the driver’s safety performance history with DOT-regulated employers during the prior three years – general driver identification and employment verification, details regarding accidents, and information regarding violations of DOT drug and alcohol resting regulations.
  • Road Test Certificate (§391.31) or Equivalence (§391.33) – All drivers must be given a test to evaluate and determine whether they are capable of operating the commercial motor vehicles assigned to them.
  • Medical Examiner’s Certificate (§391.43) – The driver must pass a medical examination conducted by a licensed medical examiner. Non-CDL drivers who are subject to the medical exam requirement must have a valid medical certificate (DOT medical card) in their possession while driving, and their employers must have a copy of the certificate in the driver’s qualification file.
  • Annual Review of Driving Record (§391.25) – The motor carrier must annually review/certify the driving records for all drivers operating a commercial vehicle to determine whether or not they meet the minimum requirements for safe driving and have no disqualifying offenses pursuant to 49 CFR section 391.15. A note stating the results of this review should be included in the Driver’s Qualification File.
  • Annual Record of Violations (§391.25) – At least once every 12 months, a motor carrier must require each driver that it employs to prepare and furnish a list of all violations of motor vehicle traffic laws and ordinances, other than violations involving parking, during the preceding 12 months.

While small business owners or small to medium sized fleets may not be familiar with the applicability of these regulations, violations can be numerous and penalties quite expensive.

It pays to research these requirements at both a State and Federal level to ensure that your company is complying with all applicable laws and regulations applying to commercial motor vehicles.

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Steven Spencer

Steven is the managing director for the transportation and heath care business lines at HireRight. He brings more than 25 years of experience in business development, operations, sales and product innovation. Steven joined HireRight in 1999, where he created the account management program for the transportation division and was responsible for building deeper customer relationships and driving revenue growth.

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The HireRight Blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and is not a substitute for and should not be construed as legal advice. HireRight does not warrant any statements in the HireRight Blog. Any statutes or laws cited herein should be read in their entirety. You should direct to your own experienced legal counsel questions involving your organization’s compliance with or interpretation or application of laws or regulations and any additional legal requirements that may apply.