by Bill Bebron, NBIS Program Manager, Specialized Transportation

If you’ve been in the transportation industry for any length of time, then you’re likely familiar with driver qualification files, or DQ files. The DQ file is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) record-keeping requirement that motor carriers must meet for every employed driver.

An accurate, up-to-date DQ file is a must when it comes to limiting your company’s exposure to risk, particularly as it relates to negligent hiring claims and obtaining and retaining a satisfactory FMCSA safety rating. Negligent hiring can occur when an employer fails to use reasonable care in the new employee selection process, resulting in harm to others. A comprehensive DQ file will contain relevant information, such as a driver’s motor vehicle records, medical records and proper certifications, which document the driver’s eligibility to operate. This way, your company can demonstrate they’ve done their due diligence when hiring new drivers.

While DQ files are essential to reduce your company’s risk, we also realize that they are complicated and labor intensive to maintain. The general requirements for driver qualification files can be found in §391.51, but we’ve highlighted the following minimum requirements to get you started.

A DQ file shall be maintained for each driver employed, must be retained for the duration of the driver’s employment and three years thereafter, and shall include:

  1. The driver’s application for employment completed in accordance with §391.21

  2. A copy of the motor vehicle record received from each state record pursuant to §391.23(a)(1)

  3. The certificate of driver’s road test issued to the driver pursuant to §391.31(e), or a copy of the license or certificate which the motor carrier accepted as equivalent to the driver’s road test pursuant to §391.33

  4. The motor vehicle record received from each state driver licensing agency to the annual driver record inquiry required by §391.25(a)

  5. A note relating to the annual review of the driver’s driving record as required by §391.25(c)(2)

  6. A list or certificate relating to violations of motor vehicle laws and ordinances required by §391.27

  7. The medical examiner’s certificate as required by §391.43(g) or a legible copy of the certificate

  8. A Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate obtained from a field administrator, division administrator, or state director issued in accordance with §391.49; or the Medical Exemption document, issued by a Federal medical program in accordance with part 381

  9. For drivers not required to have a CDL, a note relating to verification of medical examiner listing on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners required by §391.23(m)(1)

Keep in mind that controlled substance requirements also apply, such as clearinghouse checks and pre-employment results, but are not detailed in 391.51.

There are a few exceptions to this list, especially pertaining to medical certification, and they are as follows:

  • For CDL holders, if the CDLIS motor vehicle record contains medical certification status information, the motor carrier employer must meet this requirement by obtaining the CDLIS motor vehicle record defined at §384.105. That record must be obtained from the current licensing state and placed in the DQ file.

  • A non-excepted, interstate CDL holder without medical certification status information on the CDLIS motor vehicle record is designated “not-certified” to operate a CMV in interstate commerce.


The past few years have seen widespread disruption to the trucking industry. COVID-related bottlenecks, driver shortages and evolving industry regulations are just a few of the challenges facing fleets today. Included in the task of maintaining an accurate DQ file is staying informed about industry changes.

For example, employers can no longer accept expired List B documents for Form I-9 completion after May 1, 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced. The change applies to driver’s licenses, voter registration cards and similar forms of ID. Employers also must go back and update Form I-9s that used expired documents. DHS had allowed these expired documents to be used during COVID, when renewing said documents was a difficult task, but that accommodation is over.

Similarly, the FMCSA has recently pushed for changes in CDL and CMV license requirements. We’re seeing a rise in apprenticeship programs designed to attract younger drivers, as well as accommodations being made to get younger drivers certified faster. These efforts are an attempt at stemming the driver shortage, but in the heavy haul industry, nothing has really changed. A driver must still have three to five-plus years of driving experience and be 26 years old or older to be insured as a CMV operator.

These new licensing standards are still making their way through the legislative process, so the verdict is out on if or when they will be implemented. That being said, don’t let pending changes keep you from maintaining an up-to-date DQ file for all your drivers.

In terms of the driver shortage, companies also need to be careful when it comes to hiring outside of the United States. Regulations differ in other countries when it comes to documentation. For example, medical records, including drug and alcohol test results, are considered private property in some countries, making them very difficult for employers to obtain.

As we mentioned earlier, such records are critical components of a complete and accurate DQ file. Be aware of the risk you expose your company to when hiring drivers whose records cannot be validated.

Determining what needs to be in a DQ file can be daunting, so it is paramount to have an insurance partner that can guide you through the process. NBIS is a leader in regulatory compliance, and we work with our insureds to simplify this process and protect them from risk.

For more information on regulatory guidance and driver qualifications, contact a member of the NBIS Risk Management team by calling (877) 860-RMSS or visiting www.NBIS.com.