What Does a DOT Background Check Consist of?

by | Jul 20, 2021 | 0 comments

The DOT requires motor carriers to maintain a driver qualification file for all employees who operate a commercial vehicle. Per the checklist published by the DOT, you are responsible for maintaining records for each employee on the below categories of information that would be collected in a DOT background check.

The DOT background check requirements are distinct from the categories of information that you might review during a general pre-employment background check.

The important components of a DOT background check listed below will help you make informed and fully compliant hiring decisions involving any employee who will operate a commercial vehicle on the job.

You can face serious penalties for noncompliance with the strict DOT background check requirements, which is why it is prudent to rely on the expertise of an experience vendor to handle drug and alcohol screening as permitted by the FMCSA.

Drug and Alcohol Screening

You are required to screen employees who will operate commercial vehicles for drug and alcohol use. This involves consulting the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program (Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse) to verify that the candidate has not violated any laws regarding controlled substances or alcohol in the past three years.

Unless a candidate can show that they were screened for drugs within the past six months or underwent random drug testing over the past year, they must submit to a pre-employment drug screening test as part of a DOT background check.

Medical and Physical Exam

A medical exam is necessary to verify that a job candidate does not suffer from any serious medical condition that would prevent them from safely operating a commercial vehicle on the road for an extended period.

The exam must be certified by a medical professional who is listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

Past Employment Verification

DOT Rule 49 CFR Part 391 describes what is required by DOT on an employment verification report. Generally, the DOT requires you to verify an applicant’s Safety Performance History with their past employers for at least the past three years.

Similar to a standard pre-employment background check, past employment verification for a DOT background check informs you as to whether a job applicant was truthful in their application with respect to their job experience.

Verifying a candidate’s past employment will also provide important information on their commercial driving history, including the list of states where they may have previously held a CDL.

Driving History

For at least the past three years, you must review the driving history of a job applicant for each state in which they held a CDL.

Road Driving Test

Per 49 CFR 391.31(e), you must verify that every driver you employ has passed an official road test and maintain their certificates in their official driver qualification files.

This aspect of a DOT background check should not be overlooked because it ensures that a job applicant is capable of safely operating the vehicles your company uses. If your company has a fleet of vehicles that are oversized or have unique features, it is prudent to make sure that an applicant has the requisite skills and knowledge to pass a road test in the same commercial vehicle that they will be driving for you.

As an Employer, When Do I have to Do a Background Check on a “DOT” CDL Driver?

The trucking industry is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FMCSA enforces safety regulations to ensure that truck drivers and carriers are operating safely on the nation’s highways.

One component of ensuring that commercial drivers are safe and qualified is completing DOT background checks. These employment background checks for CDL drivers help to mitigate against the risks that trucking companies face, including accidents, fines, lawsuits, and legal fees.

Companies that operate the following commercial trucks in interstate commerce are required to comply with the regulations of the FMCSA and should complete DOT background checks on their drivers:

  • Commercial vehicles with a gross weight of 10,001 or more pounds
  • Passenger vehicles carrying from nine and 15 people even when they are not used for profit
  • Trucks of any size that transport hazardous materials under 49 U.S.C. §§ 5101-5126


Drivers who drive these types of vehicles must have Class A, B, or C commercial licenses. If they drive trucks transporting hazardous materials, they also need to have a HAZMAT endorsement on their CDLs. If you employ these types of drivers in interstate commerce, you will need to complete DOT background checks on each of them.

What Is a Driver Safety Performance History and When Do I Need to Perform Them?

In 2004, the FMCSA amended its regulations under 49 CFR Parts 390 and 391 to specify when employers need to perform driver safety performance history checks for prospective and newly hired employees. The purpose of getting a driver safety performance history check is to ensure that the commercial drivers you hire are qualified and have safe records.

Under 49 CFR 391.23, trucking carriers must perform all of the following checks for prospective drivers:

  • Motor vehicle records in each state where a driver has held an operator’s license or permit during the previous three years within 30 days of the start of employment
  • Safety performance history from the Department of Transportation for each regulated employer during the past three years

The safety performance history information must be obtained from each DOT-regulated carrier for which the driver worked. The results of the investigation must be maintained in the employee’s personnel file. If the new driver did not have any previous DOT driving history, that should also be noted and placed in his or her file.

What Is a Driver’s Certification of Violations and When do I Need to Perform Them?

Motor carriers are also required to complete the driver’s certification of violations for each driver once every 12 months under 49 CFR 391.27.

Every driver must provide the motor carrier with a complete list of all traffic violations within the previous year that have resulted in convictions or the forfeit of collateral or bonds, excluding parking offenses. This must be certified and maintained in the motor carrier’s driver qualification file.

What Do Trucking Companies Look for in a Background Check?

Above all, a trucking company relies on DOT background checks to verify that an applicant has all the requisite licenses, qualifications, and experience to perform their job safely and effectively.

While compliance with DOT and FMCSA requirements in hiring safe and qualified drivers is essential for your company, the in-depth background screening process is also an opportunity for you to vet the best candidates for your company.

Making sure that you do not hire drivers with a poor driving history, substance abuse issue, or other disqualifying condition can help you avoid serious penalties and fines along with expensive litigation for negligent hiring claims.

What Can Disqualify You on a DOT Background Check?

There are certain disqualifying conditions published by the FMCSA that legally prohibit a job candidate from driving a commercial vehicle.

A driver may become disqualified based on their record of operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, leaving the scene of an accident, negligently or intentionally causing a vehicle accident that resulted in personal injuries or damage to property, refusing drug or alcohol testing, being convicted of certain felony offenses, or a history of serious moving violations.

The driver’s criminal background and driving history, including the length of time since the offense and the frequency of convictions, will determine for how long the driver is considered disqualified if the disqualification is not automatically permanent.

How to Run a DOT Background Check

First and foremost, you must maintain accurate records on all the categories of information required by the DOT in the screening process for each employee. The multiple aspects of a DOT background check are completed in stages and involve consultation with official databases, previous employers, and medical professionals.

Obtaining Driving Records

An individual driver can access their Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP) driving record through the FMCSA Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS). You will need to create an account on the FMCSA site to register.

The individual report will include crash records from as far back as five years ago and roadside inspection records from up to three years back. The report costs $10 and may be printed directly from the FMCSA portal.

Remember that DOT background check requirements dictate that you must review the driving history of an applicant for at least the past three years in any state where they maintained a CDL.

The data available from an individual PSP driving report is based on the license number and license state for each CDL license held by the driver. This means that the report is only as accurate as the specific CDL information that you use to access it. Omitting a particular state or license number from the request form will result in incomplete and inaccurate driving reports.

One of the many reasons why you should consider using an experienced background screening vendor to perform your DOT background checks is that they can verify an applicant’s identity and CDL credentials to be sure that you have accessed all of the applicant’s required information from every state where they held a CDL.

Contacting Past Employers

When contacting the previous employers of an applicant, you should consult the DOT guidelines as to the categories of information that must be verified for the applicant’s past places of employment over the past three years.

Additional Screening

You are also responsible for completing the drug and alcohol screening, as well as procuring a medical certification from a doctor who is listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

An experienced DOT background screening vendor will be able to confirm the credentials of the doctor listed on any DOT medical certification submitted by an applicant.

This helps protect you from accepting and relying upon any fraudulent pre-employment screening reports from job candidates.

How Long Does a DOT Background Check Take?

The time that it could take you to complete a compliant and comprehensive DOT background check on a prospective or current employee will vary based upon your familiarity with the relevant databases, how accurately you can verify the employee’s identifying information, the extent of the employee’s driving history, and many other factors.

In addition, the drug and alcohol screening and medical exam are vital elements of the screening process and would be time-consuming to complete in-house or without the assistance of a trusted DOT background screening vendor.

The most efficient way to complete a DOT background check on a prospective or current employee is to work with a dependable background screening vendor that has in-depth experience with compliance with transportation industry regulations and the necessary resources to quickly obtain and process the applicant’s records.

When you request a DOT background check from iprospectcheck, we can provide you with quick and accurate results on an urgent basis.

How Is COVID-19 Impacting DOT Background Checks?

Like all other industries, the trucking industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trucking carriers are essential businesses on which the nation relies to transport critical goods to their destinations. The trucking industry was already facing a shortage of drivers, and the expanded need for the fast delivery of goods has prompted more hiring.

As a human resource professional in the truck driving industry, you understand the requirements for thorough DOT-compliant background checks.

There are a few things to know about how the pandemic has impacted the process of completing DOT background checks to get your new hires on the road.

DOT background checks may be delayed

One issue that the truck industry is facing is that some parts of DOT background checks may be delayed. This is because courts around the nation have undergone temporary and sporadic closures because of the pandemic.

When courts close, there is a delay in our ability to secure some of the records that we need for background checks. Some courts are open but are facing staff shortages, meaning that background checks that are processed through them may also face delays. While certain types of records might take longer to come back, other types of records are accessible online and are available much faster.

At iprospectcheck, we can still secure driving records, CDL records, employment verifications, and education records for you. For the other types of information that you might need, you have a few options when you are waiting for your reports to come back during the pandemic.

What to do if there is a delay in your background check reports

Conditional hiring is an option that you might consider if your drivers’ criminal history information is delayed. You can still check their driving records, ask them to submit to drug screenings, and check their CDL statuses.

While you are waiting for the remaining reports to come back, you can offer your drivers conditional positions that depend on the results of their employment background checks. If the pre-employment background check returns problematic information, you can rescind the position.

However, you must make sure that you comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s provisions regarding adverse job actions that are based on employment background checks. Consulting with an attorney to ensure that you remain FCRA-compliant is advisable.

While you might be tempted to ask candidates about their criminal histories while you are waiting on their background checks, this is not advisable. Many states have “ban-the-box” laws that prohibit this type of inquiry. Talk to an attorney before you ask about prior conviction records so that you comply with the laws of your state.

If you have already received a background check report for an employee who was unable to start working immediately, you may want to resubmit a background check if the report is more than 30 days old. This can help you to ensure that your information is up-to-date so that problems can be avoided.


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