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Driver qualification files: What to keep, for how long, and why

Driver qualification files: What to keep, for how long, and why

By Steve Binkley
InfoStream Safety Consultant

Ask yourself the following:
  • Do we have the required documents in our driver qualification (DQ) files?
  • How long should we keep these documents?
  • Should some files be held in the driver’s human resources or personal file, or both?
  • Are we prepared for when FMCSA sends an audit notification?

Remember, FMCSA auditors often request an inspection of motor carriers’ DQ files. During these audits, we begin to understand how vital DQ files are to the business. It’s the reason I recommend that you qualify your drivers per the FMCSA regulations.

The purpose of the FMCSA regulation 391.51 is to ensure carries maintain the required documentation in one place. The DQ file proves to the auditors that the driver is qualified to operate a commercial vehicle. For carriers, knowing what files to keep and for how long are the first steps in maintaining sound DQ files.

What needs to be in the driver qualification file? Part 391.51 of the FMCSA regulations specify the requirements:
  • Include the driver’s application for employment.
  • Add the pre-employment questionnaire (if not included in the application).
  • Have on file a record of the initial Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) document.
  • Include the MVR used for the annual review.
  • Certificate of road test—this is not required if the driver had to take a road test to obtain their Certified Driver’s License (CDL).
  • Any certificate of violations.
  • Your annual review documentation.
  • The driver’s medical certificate.
  • If you have a driver with a medical exemption, then include the skill performance evaluation certificate or the medical exemption document.
  • Through June 22, 2025, for drivers required to have a CDL, include a note relating to verification of medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners as needed by regulation §391.23(m)(2).

How long should these documents be kept?
  • Maintain driver qualification files – for as long as the driver is employed and three years after that.
  • Within the driver qualification files, after 36 months, you’re allowed to remove the following:
    1. MVR associated with the annual review
    2. Certificate of violations
    3. Notes relating to the annual review of the driver’s driving record
    4. Notes relating to verification of medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners
    5. MVR associated with the medical card

Good business practice keeps additional documents related to the driver file (but not required by 391.51) in the driver’s HR or employment file. However, I also suggest keeping a driver’s qualification checklist with the DQ file to conduct routine compliance checks. It’s also a good idea for data integrity to control who can access driver files.

You may choose to keep electronic files or paper files, and either one is permitted. The number of drivers may help you decide which is the better option for you and your company. Proper training of your personnel responsible for DQ file compliance is vital for sound file management.

It’s important to know what documents the FMCSA auditors often request and why. This knowledge is why I recommend carriers perform routine internal audits of their driver files. Doing these mock audits can help your company avoid costly fines.

Take the time to review FMCSA regulation 391.51 and get familiar with this essential regulation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of subject matter experts. My experience is that these experts can save your company a lot of money and save you many audit headaches.

Steve Binkley is a safety professional with 38 years of experience, including 26 years with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, where he retired as captain of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division. He also worked as an associate instructor with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration National Training Center and as vice president of safety at a large-tier motor carrier. Today, Steve serves as a safety and compliance consultant/instructor at North American Transportation Management Institute and speaks publicly about trucking safety.

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