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Voice of Experience: FMCSR Compliance: Driver Qualification Files

As I travel around the country to audit driver qualification files, I often find that requirements found in the federal motor carrier safety regulations (FMCSR) are misunderstood by many companies. In this article I will focus solely on driver qualification files and the most common FMCSR compliance failures I see when I audit those files.

Regulation 49 CFR 391.11 requires that a person must be qualified before he or she may drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). A CMV as defined in 49 CFR 390.5 is a vehicle, or the combination of a vehicle and towed unit, weighing 10,001 pounds or greater. There are also other types of CMVs, such as:
• A vehicle carrying 16 or more people, including the driver and passengers, without compensation, or a vehicle carrying nine or more for compensation.
• A small vehicle, typically a pickup truck, that exceeds the materials of trade exemption, 440 pounds aggregate amount, that requires placarding for hazardous materials.

Required Driver File Contents
One of the first mistakes a company can make is to allow a person to drive before a driver file is complete. This can be a huge liability risk for the company if an inspection is made or the driver is involved in a CMV reportable accident. The required contents of a driver file are defined in 49 CFR 391.51. File contents should include several documents usually separated into three sections.

The first section is the permanent section. This contains the original application of employment, original motor vehicle report (MVR), a certificate of a road test pursuant to 49 CFR 391.31 or the equivalent pursuant to 49 CFR 391.33, and a medical exemption if required. 49 CFR 391.51(b)(7)(ii) lists the following medical exception: “For CDL holders, beginning January 30, 2012, 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 of this chapter. That record must be obtained from the current licensing State and placed in the driver qualification file. After January 30, 2014, 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. After January 30, 2014, a motor carrier may use a copy of the driver’s current medical examiner’s certificate that was submitted to the State for up to 15 days from the date it was issued as proof of medical certification.”

The maintenance section of the driver file contains a copy of the health card, a certificate of review of license, a certification of violations and a copy of the current MVR, which is required at least once in a calendar year.

Training is the last section. It contains a record of the required review of all federal motor carrier safety regulations. I suggest a training program that reviews major points of regulations 49 CFR 380-397. That covers all the CDL random drug tests, CMV inspections, drug and alcohol testing programs, and hours of service. Note: Utility service vehicles and contractors working directly for a utility have a federal standard giving relief from hours of service and drivers’ logs. I believe most state departments of transportation (DOT) have adopted the federal regulation found in 49 CFR 395.2.

Serious Violations
A driver commits a serious violation if he or she does not have a copy of the DOT health card, a correct license and an endorsement in his or her possession at all times when operating a CMV. Failure to have a completed daily vehicle inspection report (DVIR) – one that has been signed and dated – in the CMV is a very common violation. Falsification of this document is a very serious violation. All vehicles, including trucks or trucks with towed trailers, that have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 or more pounds require a completed DVIR.

Operating a CDL vehicle without proper endorsement on the CDL license is a violation. The driver is in violation of regulations if he or she has a Class B endorsement – 26,001 pounds or greater straight truck with a trailer with a GVWR of under 10,000 pounds – and operates a vehicle requiring a Class A endorsement – 26,001 pounds and a trailer with a GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds. The company is also at risk of tort liability if the driver is in a vehicle accident.

Interstate vs. Intrastate Commerce
Interstate and intrastate commerce are sometimes misunderstood. A definition offered in 49 CFR 390.5 states the following: “Interstate commerce means trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States – (1) Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States); (2) Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or (3) Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.”

I recommend this explanation: When the intent of the transportation being performed is interstate in nature, even when the route is within the boundaries of a single state, the driver and vehicle are subject to CMV driving rules. If the transport of passengers and/or materials is intended to cross a state line, even by another driver, the portion of the intrastate trip can be considered interstate and covered by the federal motor carrier safety regulations.

Physical Requirements and Exceptions to the Rule
Physical requirements of CMV drivers have changed in the last few years. When reviewing audits, I often find errors in the blood pressure requirements area. Even medial doctors make mistakes completing the cards, sometimes entering incorrect dates or neglecting to sign them. The most commonly made error is completing the health card for two years when the driver is on medication to maintain blood pressure at or below 140/90 as required by 49 CFR 391.41. A driver requiring this type of medication should only receive a card for one year.

There are exceptions to the federal rules in every state. For instance, some states allow driving by diabetics who require insulin, which is prohibited by federal rule. States have the right to adopt or reject any and all parts of the federal standards, knowing that federal tax assistance may be at risk. Check with your state DOT compliance assistant to clarify any questions about your state’s rules. Drivers have to abide by the rules of the jurisdiction in which the CMV is operated. Be careful when crossing into different jurisdictions.

Remember: Audit your files and keep them up to date. When a new driver is hired, they should not drive a CMV until the driver file is established and populated with information to qualify the driver and avoid fines, penalties and civil actions.

About the Author: Danny L. Raines, CUSP, safety consultant, distribution and transmission, retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and opened Raines Utility Safety Solutions, LLC, providing compliance training, risk assessments and safety observation programs. He is also an affiliate instructor at Georgia Tech Research Center OSHA Outreach in Atlanta. For more information, visit

Safety Management, Voice of Experience

Danny Raines, CUSP

Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and now operates Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC.