A Primer on Pre-Employment Background Checks Required by the FMCSA

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A Primer on Pre-Employment Background Checks

If you are new to the transportation industry or just a need a refresher, we’ve gathered a list of the basic requirements for pre-employment background checks on drivers mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Obtain Motor Vehicle Records

Motor carriers must submit an inquiry to each state in which a driver applicant held or holds a motor vehicle operator’s permit or license during the preceding three years from the date of the application to obtain the driver’s motor vehicle record (49 CFR §391.23(a)(1)).

A copy of the driving record from each state agency must be placed in the driver qualification file within 30 days from the date employment begins. If no motor vehicle record is received, the carrier must document a good faith effort to obtain such information, and to certify that no record exists for the driver in that state or states.

Investigate the Applicant’s Safety Performance History

The motor carrier must investigate the safety performance history with all DOT regulated employers during the preceding three years from the date of the application (49 CFR§391.23(a)(2)). The prospective employer must inform the applicant that previous employers will be contacted.

The investigation may consist of personal interviews, telephone interviews, letters or any other method the carrier deems appropriate.  The motor carrier must make a record with respect to each past employer contacted or the good faith effort to do so. Previous employer must respond within 30 days after the request is received.

The following information must be obtained from previous employers:

  1. General identification and employment verification information
  2. Information regarding accidents involving the driver that occurred in the three year period preceding the date of the employment application (as data elements as specified in -49 CFR  §390.15(b)(1)), including:
    1. Any accidents as defined by 49 CFR §390.5
    2. Any accidents the previous employer may wish to provide (not required) that are retained pursuant to 49 CFR §390.15(b)(2).


The applicant’s safety performance history must be placed in the driver’s file within 30 days from the date employment begins and must be maintained for as long as the driver remains on the carrier’s payroll and for three years thereafter.

Verify Any Drug/Alcohol Violations

Prospective employers must check with previous employers to determine if the applicant driver has violated any alcohol and drug prohibitions within the previous three years from the date of the employment application. The motor carrier must send the previous employer the driver’s written consent to release the information. If there is no safety performance history information to report the previous employer is required to send a response confirming the non-existence of any such data.

The following information is required:

  1. Whether the driver had violated alcohol and controlled substance prohibitions under subpart B of Part 382 of the FMCSA regulations or 49 CFR Part 40.
  2. Whether the driver failed to undertake or complete a rehabilitation program prescribed by a substance abuse professional pursuant to §382.605 of this chapter, or 49 CFR part 40, subpart O.
  3. Any testing violations for drivers who successfully completed a rehabilitation referral.


Conduct a Pre-Employment Drug Test

All CDL drivers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) must be drug tested with a negative result before beginning employment. The only exception to pre-employment testing is if the driver 1.) participated in a controlled substance testing program within the previous 30 days and was either tested within the past six months or participated in the random testing program for the previous 12 months (from the date of application with the employer); and 2.) the employer ensures that no prior employer has records of a violation with the previous six months. The employer must contact the controlled substance testing program in which the driver participated and obtain program verification.

Obtain the Driver’s Medical Examiner’s Certificate

The motor carrier must obtain an original or copy of the medical examiner’s certificate issued in accordance with 49 CFR §391.43 and any medical variance on which the certificate is based. Beginning on or after May 21, 2014, the carrier must verify that the driver was certified by a medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners and place the records in the driver qualification file before allowing the driver to operate a CMV. The certificate is valid for two years; however, drivers with specific medical conditions may require more frequent certifications.

Notify Driver’s of the Right to Review and Dispute Findings

Driver applicants must be notified via the application form or other written documentation of the following: (a) the right to review information provided by previous employers; (b) the right to have errors in the information corrected and for the previous employer to re-send the corrected information to the prospective employer; and (c) the right to have a rebuttal statement attached to the information if the previous employer and driver cannot agree on the accuracy of the information.

Drivers may submit a written request to the prospective employer to review information provided by previous employers immediately when applying or up to 30 days after being employed or notified of denial of employment. The prospective employer must provide this information to the applicant within five business days of receiving the written request. If the driver has not arranged to pick up or receive the information within 30 days of availability, the prospective employer may consider the request waived.


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