Are you familiar with Regulation Part 391? Regulation Part 391 exists to help ensure motor carriers are hiring truck drivers qualified to operate on North American roads and highways. Trucking companies must ensure they are paying close attention to who they hire to operate their motor vehicles. Regulation Part 391 applies to physical health, experience, and historical record and it applies to every motor carrier operating, no matter how many truck drivers they have on the payrolls.
The rules state that even owner operators must perform the same duties as would a large motor carrier. So, whether these rules apply to you or someone else, it is critical that they are followed to the letter. This regulation applies to anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle weighing at least 10,001 pounds, carrying more than 9 passengers or transporting hazardous materials.
Whether it be for a fleet of truck drivers or a single owner-operator, there must be file on each person operating a commercial motor vehicle, a driver qualification file (DQF) is comprised of the following segments:
- DOT-Compliant Application
- Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate
- Medical Examiner’s Certificate
- Medical Examiner Registration Verification
- State-Specific Motor Vehicle Reports up to three years back
- Photocopy of driver’s CDL
- Road Test Certificate
- Written authorization for previous employer contact
- Response copies from previous DOT-regulated employers
Complete DQF files are not the end-all. There are ongoing steps that must be taken to ensure they stay within regulatory compliance over time. One must be constantly watching the flow of reports and the expiration dates on licenses and certificates. Yet, the most important aspect of maintaining a DQF file is ensuring your DQF files are secure.
There is a lot of sensitive information contained in DQF files. There is an even greater responsibility to keep them secure if you are a fleet manager operating files for many truck drivers. DQF files must be kept in a secure location where no one other than those who have specific access authority can gain access to them. If there are any breaches in security, the FMCSA can levy heavy fines.
Some companies offer online solutions that allow fleets to access secure truck driver portals. Secured cloud accounts often fully compliant solutions that take the heat off fleet managers and back-offices attempting to sort out the DQF files. Let’s dig a little deeper into each aspect of the DQF and different solutions that exist to help trucking companies better manage it.
Truck drivers must have a DOT-certified medical evaluation every two years. This could also be determined by how often a medical examiner deems it necessary. The purpose is to ensure the truck driver is psychically able to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Each time the physical is completed, it updated medical certificate must be operated within the file. In some cases, truck drivers who have certain medical conditions, such as heart disease and apnea, might require more frequent medical examinations. In those cases, each examination must be updated within the file. There are also variance renewals to consider.
If a truck driver has a physical impairment, they are required to have a state-issued variance. Whenever they are operating a commercial motor vehicle, they must ensure they always have their variance with them in the vehicle. For truck drivers that have a special handicap, such as an impaired or missing limb, they must have a specific variance type, called a Skill Performance Evaluation, or an SPE.
Regardless of the variance type, they must be renewed periodically, and expiration dates must be tracked. It is the same rule that applies to the overall medical certificate. Paying attention to date validity is one of the most important aspects of keeping a proper DQF. Consider this, tens of thousands of truck drivers are cited every year for carrying invalid medical certificates. In 2017, it was one of the most common violations cited during roadside inspections.
A missing, altered, falsified, or incorrect medical certificate can result in a hefty fine. The problem is, too few motor carriers pay close attention to medical certificate and variance expiration dates. Truck drivers must be given enough time to have a medical evaluation or submit a new variance application before the expiration date arrives.
Licensing and Records
It is also important that operators pay close attention to license expiration dates. Truck drivers must have a valid CDL and all appropriate endorsements to operate a large commercial motor vehicle. It depends on the state and mode of operation regarding how long a CDL is valid for. Usually the spread is a CDL renewal somewhere between 4 and 8 years. With such a long time between renewal dates, it is virtually inexcusable for someone with an expired license to be operating behind the wheel.
Expired CDL license fines are not low. You can expect a fine in the thousands for operating without a CDL. Also consider that 98% of those caught driving without a CDL are taken off the road. The last thing you want is to be taken out of service over something so simple as ensuing your CDL is still valid.
For fleets, an annual driving record and motor vehicle report (MVR) must be obtained for each truck driver. It should clearly outline all moving violations, accidents, suspensions, or revocations. This is especially important to keep these records up to date when hazardous materials are being transported. Furthermore, are there any public safety driving violations on their record?
Trucking companies who want to stay in business and ensure they have a spotless record must have as spotless a record as possible and ensuring annual driving records are kept current is a no brainer. Truck drivers are also required to notify their fleet of any moving violations that may have occurred in the last 12 months. This list should even include things like parking violations. A record clear of violations must be certified and presented by the truck driver.
Whenever a truck driver is going through an annual review, they must first fill out a Driver’s Certification form. Upon completion of the review, the results should be kept on record, along with an MVR. All of this should then be updated in the DQF. It all sounds quite confusing, yet there are solutions that exist in the marketplace to help fleets and owner-operators keep this information organized. When trucking companies utilize forward-thinking solutions to address age-old industry problems, everyone benefits.
It’s About Risk
The law says that trucking companies must run an MVR on an annual basis. Yet, many trucking companies keep a closer eye on what is happening in their MVR throughout the year. Imagine missing something or finding wrong information on it that could threaten the business. That’s the last thing any fleet would want.
MVR monitoring programs exist to provide fleets with the ability to access continuous MVR monitoring. These types of products and services pull real-time information from a truck driver’s record. When something new is detected, it is immediately reported in an online panel and the fleet manager or other interested party is alerted.
Continuous MVR monitoring can also be linked up to the status of a truck driver’s medical certificate. If it has been revoked or updated, the fleet will be notified. When multiple systems, from MVR monitoring to annual reporting and medical alerts can all be combined into one solution, it takes a lot of pressure off fleet management. These programs, products, and services exist to streamline efforts to gather the information for – and properly maintain – a DQF.
This all relates back to meeting the requirements set forth in regulation Part 391. Trucking operators can access pre-built, DOT compliant web-based applications and software tools that allow them to gather critical information on interested candidates. Applications can be posted in recruiting portals.
As the trucking industry adopts a more digital-forward approach to operating, companies are popping up everywhere to address bottlenecks. Imagine being able to select a candidate and using the information you got in the application in a database that gathers all the DOT information you need. Updating the DQF at this point becomes a simple matter of time.
In the end, this is all about compliance. The trucking and transportation sectors are going through an incredible realignment as the economic outlook shifts and companies grapple with change. Those that focus on safety, compliance, and efficiency, will be rewarded and – if nothing else – live to see another day and keep families fed.