Driver qualification

A thorough driver qualification program is critical to the success of any business in which the operation of motor vehicles is conducted. While federal and state regulations mandate minimum requirements for some drivers, management must decide how to select drivers to meet their specific needs. This report provides information on establishing a driver qualification program.


Establishing and maintaining a meaningful and realistic driver qualification program is important to the successful operation of any fleet, whether it be a coast-to-coast interstate operation or an incidental fleet where the primary operation is other than the transportation of freight. Surveys of fleet safety professionals have identified driver selection and hiring as one of the most important safety management practices. [6] By placing sufficient emphasis on selecting the best available driver, a company helps to avoid future financial losses resulting from crashes and abuse of equipment.

Qualifying a driver to operate an automobile or other light-duty vehicles may be as simple as confirming that the person has a current driver’s license; does not have an unacceptable driving record or other disqualifying characteristic; and can perform the essential job functions (e.g., lifting, sitting, recordkeeping, etc.) related to the job. If the driver will be operating a vehicle regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or state regulatory agency as a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), more formal qualifications procedures will apply.

The FMCSA regulations for qualifications of drivers are found in 49CFR391 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). [5] The requirements in this section vary depending on whether the specific vehicle or operation requires the driver to possess a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). For more information, see CDL on our Auto Safety Page and Engineering and Safety (E&S) Commercial Vehicle Report CV-15-01, Motor Carrier Identification and Vehicle Marking (available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S—sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings).

There are a number of different hiring practices that may be used as part of a driver qualification program to assess the safety risks of driver applicants, such as records checks, standardized interviews, driving tests, and medical examinations. This report provides information on establishing a driver qualification program as part of an overall hiring process.

Job description

The first task in any employee selection process is to determine the specific requirements for each job category. The employer must determine exactly what the employee must do, how it must be accomplished, and what skills are required. Once these facts are known, management can establish standards that will reflect the specific nature of the position and make it possible to recognize the best applicant and avoid discrimination based on disability.

Job descriptions should be written and identify the type of driver’s license that is required to operate the specific vehicle being used, extent of driving experience required, and any qualification needed to show that the driver is able to operate the vehicle safely. In addition, the description should indicate whether the employer will be reviewing the applicant’s driving record along with any safety-related criteria that will be used to make hiring decisions. Such criteria might include the number/types of moving violations or prior crashes that would disqualify the applicant from consideration.

The descriptions should identify the essential functions of the job that must be performed in addition to driving (e.g., the ability to load and unload the vehicle) and the physical capabilities needed to perform these functions (e.g., ability to climb in and out of a cab-over tractor up to ten times per day and to frequently lift cartons weighing up to 50 pounds). Physical requirements should be carefully considered to avoid discriminating against a qualified disabled applicant under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See Engineering and Safety (E&S) Liability Report LB-70-21, Americans with Disabilities Act – Hiring Practices, for additional information. This file is available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S. Sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings.

Human resource professionals should be consulted during development of the description to ensure that the description conforms to current legal standards related to employee selection.

Physical requirements—CMV drivers

Drivers of CMVs must pass a required medical examination initially and as necessary to indicate that they are medically qualified to drive a CMV. States may also adopt additional medical requirements, in addition to those required by FMCSR. Drivers who are required to hold a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) must also submit to testing for the use of certain controlled substances to comply with the FMCSR.

See Physical Qualifications for Drivers. Engineering and Safety (E&S) Commercial Vehicle Reports, CV-50-04, Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing is available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S. Sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings.

Application form

Employers should create an application to collect information that may be used to evaluate the prospective driver’s qualifications. The application form should only contain questions that pertain to the applicant's ability to satisfactorily perform the job. Information about the applicant that should be requested on the form includes:

  • Driver's license(s): Issuing state, type of license, and any restrictions and endorsements
  • Driving experience
  • Accident record, traffic violation convictions, and forfeitures for the past three years
  • Past employment (previous three years; ten years for drivers required to have a CDL)
  • Education
  • Ability to perform job-related functions
  • Criminal history
  • Special training related to transportation
  • Authorization to investigate the applicant’s background

The form should be completed in the applicant's own handwriting to determine the legibility of the handwriting, if necessary to perform the job, and it should be signed and dated by the applicant. The signature on the application should be compared with the applicant's driver's license as an identification check.

Motor carriers subject to the FMCSR are required to obtain specific information on the application form. A Motor Carriers Guide to Improving Highway Safety, published by FMSCA, provides model applications which may be used for CMV driver applicants. [2]

See E&S Client Handout CH-10-18, Application Addendum for Drivers of Automobiles, Vans, and Light Trucks. This file is available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S. Sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings.

Interview process

Job interviews are a commonly used practice for qualifying driver applicants. [3,6]. The purpose of the interview is to obtain detailed information regarding the applicant's qualifications and experience, as well as his/her general suitability as an employee. A standard interview pattern should be followed for a given job classification in order to obtain all desired information and to afford a means of comparison between applicants. Questions must focus on the applicant's ability to perform the tasks required of the position, not on any driver disability.

The interview should be used to resolve any questions regarding the information obtained or omitted on the application form. A visual check of the driver's license should be made to ascertain that the driver has the proper class of license, whether there are any restrictions, and if the license is current.

Reference checks

A check should be made with previous employers to develop information about the driver's general character and professional ability. Factors, such as length of employment, job(s) performed (including operation of vehicles), accident record, and whether the previous employer would rehire the individual, should be included. This check can be accomplished by a telephone interview, a letter, or a personal visit.

Records should be maintained to verify that these checks were made and should record the responses received. Motor carriers subject to the FMCSR are required to investigate the driver's employment record for the preceding three years (see 49CFR391.25). If the position requires the driver to have a CDL, FMCSA requires the employment record to be checked for ten years.

Previous DOT-regulated employers must respond to the safety performance history information requests within 30 days after the request is received. If there is no safety performance history information to report, the previous motor carrier is required to send a response confirming the non-existence of data, and identification information and dates of employment of the driver. When a previous employer cannot be contacted, a certified letter should be sent to that employer's last known address to help verify that an effort was made to complete the reference check.

See E&S Client Handout CH-10-19, Reference Check Addendum for Drivers of Automobiles, Vans, and Light Trucks This file is available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S. Sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings.

Motor vehicle record

Past driver performance is one of the best indicators of future driving behavior and the likelihood of an accident occurring. A recent report, published by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), confirms that past driving performance is indicative of future accident probability, citing that "Drivers with a reckless driving violation were 114 percent more likely to be involved in a crash." [1] Further, "Failure to yield right of way violations were also associated with a significant increase in future crash probability, increasing crash likelihood by 101 percent." A survey of best highway safety practices performed for FMCSA identified traffic record check as one the most effective means of assessing safety risk of driver applicants [1].

Motor vehicle records (MVRs) should be obtained and analyzed for all applicants who will have driving responsibilities and, preferably, at least yearly for current drivers. FMCSA requires this for drivers of CMV. MVRs are available from the state where the driver holds a license – typically through the Department of Motor Vehicles. A person’s driver’s license should be from the state in which the driver resides. Any exceptions to this should be carefully evaluated. Drivers may change their state of licensure to “spread” their accident and violation record and to make their record in any one state look better. Thus, it is very important to request information from all states a driver-applicant has held a license in, for at least the past three years, and to monitor any changes in the licensing state of an existing driver.

Companies should establish criteria for what constitutes an acceptable MVR and the penalties involved in not meeting such criteria. However, caution should be exercised to assure that all applicants/employees are being evaluated under the same criteria.

In 2010, FMCSA established the Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP), a voluntary program that motor carriers may use to collect information on the safety performance of driver applicants. A PSP record contains a driver’s most recent five years of crash data and the most recent three years of roadside inspection and violation data from the FMCSA Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) database. MCMIS is a federal government database, which is different from the state data sources used to generate MVRs. An assessment of the first two years of the program found that motor carriers using the PSP program to assess their new hires lowered their crash rates and out-of-service violations more than motor carriers that did not use the program. [4]Information on the PSP program is available here. 

See Motor Vehicle Records, on our Auto Safety page, for more information.

Driving skills

Driving skill evaluations are important to assess whether the applicant/employee can competently and safely drive the specific vehicle that they will be assigned. It is recommended that all drivers be subject to a driving skills evaluation, based on the type of vehicle they will be operating. In the case of CMV, FMCSA requires drivers to successfully complete driving skill evaluations (i.e., road test) as part of their driver qualification procedures. Driving skill evaluations are typically broken up into three distinct parts as follows:

Pre-trip inspection

The first part of the road test that should be conducted is a pre-trip inspection, which should include vehicle inspection, operation of any specialized equipment, and, in the case of trailers, coupling and uncoupling procedures. Vehicle inspections should focus on the roadworthiness of the vehicle. To be effective, a pre-trip inspection of CMV must be thorough and systematic and the individual inspecting the vehicle must know what to look for. FMCSR 49CFR392.7 provides additional requirements for CMV pre-trip inspections.

See pre-trip inspection for all types of vehicles on our Auto Safety page, for detailed pre-trip checklists.


Prior to an open road evaluation of a driver, basic vehicle handling should be evaluated, for example whether the applicant can successfully back or park the vehicle. This evaluation should be designed based on the vehicle type, size, and function.

Open road

A driver should be evaluated for their ability to operate a vehicle on the road. A predetermined course should be established to present the widest possible variety of driving and operating conditions that the driver might encounter. This segment of the road test will evaluate the driver's skills in normal vehicle operations. The purpose of each segment of the test should be explained and any questions resolved before starting. Directions to the driver should be clear and concise. Ample time to safely perform the required maneuvers must be available. Any conversation during the test should be related to the test itself. When conducting a driver test, the evaluator must determine the driver's current level of expertise, and if additional training would be needed in the immediate future.

See E&S Client Handouts CH-10-20, Road Testing for Drivers of Automobiles, Vans, and Light Trucks, and CH-10-22, Road Testing for Drivers of Trucks, through the E&S link after signing in to our Partners page for additional information. Additional criteria to that contained in the forms may be necessary, depending on the type of operation and/or equipment, and can easily be added to the forms.

Written tests

Some fleets make use of commercially available intelligence and psychological tests, or company-developed tests, on such areas as driving rules and regulations. Extreme care must be taken to assure that the tests are non-discriminatory and clearly associated with the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully fill the position.

Additional information

Employers may want to consider collecting additional background information through checks with credit bureaus, police departments (where permissible), and with professional investigative agencies. Standards must be non-discriminatory, pertaining equally to all applicants.

See Pre-Employment Screening: Criminal Background Checks and Pre-Employment Screening: Background Checks, for additional information.

Driver qualification files

Driver selection is a one-time process; however, assuring that the driver remains qualified should be an ongoing process. A qualification file should be maintained for each person hired, to facilitate review of the driver's record and to provide future reference to the driver's qualifications. Information that should be kept in the file includes:

  • A copy of the driver's application form
  • Notations regarding information developed during the driver's interview
  • A copy of the current driver's license
  • The most recent motor vehicle record
  • Results of reference checks with previous employers
  • Information indicating the successful completion of a road test
  • Information indicating the successful completion of a physical examination, if applicable
  • Results of background checks for drivers of passengers or high-value cargo
  • Any information which will give management insight to a driver's qualifications, such as additional training (including dates of completion)

Motor carriers subject to the FMCSR are required to maintain specific information in a driver qualification file. These requirements are found in 49CFR391.51. E&S Client Handout CH-10-09, Driver Qualification Files for Interstate Motor Carriers, provides a checklist of these elements that motor carriers may use to self-audit their programs. This file is available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S. Sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings.


  1. American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI). Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: 2018 Update. McClean, VA, 2018.
  2. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A Motor Carriers Guide to Improving Highway Safety. Washington, DC: FMCSA, 2009.
  3. Best Highway Safety Practices: A Survey about Safety Management Practices among the Safest Motor Carriers. Washington, DC: FMCSA, March 2003.
  4. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 CFR 391. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, June 27, 2018.
  5. Safety Analysis and Industry Impacts of the Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP). Washington, DC: FMCSA, 2013.
  6. Transportation Research Board (TRB). Driver Selection Tests and Practices (CTBSSP 22). Washington, DC: TRB, 2012.

Copyright © 2018, ISO Services, Inc.

This material is provided for informational purposes only and does not provide any coverage or guarantee loss prevention. The examples in this material are provided as hypothetical and for illustration purposes only. The Hanover Insurance Company and its affiliates and subsidiaries (“The Hanover”) specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that acceptance of any recommendations contained herein will make any premises, or operation safe or in compliance with any law or regulation. By providing this information to you, The Hanover does not assume (and specifically disclaims) any duty, undertaking or responsibility to you. The decision to accept or implement any recommendation(s) or advice contained in this material must be made by you.

LC FEB 2019-089
171-1183 (12/18)