DOT Background Checks: The Employer’s Guide

November 3, 2023 by Verified First

DOT Background Checks: The Employer’s Guide

In the transportation industry, driver safety is vital – not just to your business, but to every driver on the road. That’s why the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates specific safety protocols for organizations using commercial drivers, particularly pre-employment background checks. 

The Department of Transportation regulates transportation companies, trucking companies, and other businesses that utilize commercial vehicles and drivers. DOT background checks not only ensure that drivers of commercial vehicles are qualified but also help protect your business, your people, and your community. Any organization that uses commercial drivers and is regulated by the DOT must conduct background checks as a part of the hiring process. 

Let’s explore why you need to conduct DOT background checks, what DOT background checks encompass, and how you can easily start screening your commercial drivers. 

Importance of DOT Background Checks

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) data, over 180,000 commercial vehicle crashes involving large trucks and buses occurred in 2022, resulting in just under 6,000 fatalities. The risk of serious injury, fatality, and severe property damage indicates the need for commercial drivers who understand how to operate as safely as possible.

The DOT is responsible for protecting the safety and efficiency of transportation systems, which includes all drivers on the road. Therefore, the DOT requires background screening for every employee driving a commercial vehicle. DOT background checks help ensure road safety for every driver, but also help companies mitigate the risk of driver accidents, lawsuits, and fines and legal fees. 

Who Needs to Use DOT Background Screening?

Businesses may be required to follow DOT and FMCSA regulations if they employ drivers to operate any of the following types of commercial vehicles: 

  • Vehicles weighing 10,000lbs or more
  • Vehicles used to transport nine or more passengers (driver included) for compensation
  • Vehicles used to transport 16 or more passengers (driver included), regardless of compensation 
  • Any size vehicle used to transport hazardous materials
  • Vehicles requiring a Class A, B, or C Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to operate

What Are DOT Background Screening Requirements?

DOT background checks thoroughly examine all aspects of a candidate’s background, including employment history, driving record, and physical health to ensure the candidate has the knowledge and ability to safely drive commercial vehicles. 

In order to stay in compliance with DOT regulations, your DOT background checks must be completed within 30 days of hiring a new employee and meet the following requirements: 

DOT Employment Verification

DOT Employment verifications collect detailed information regarding the candidate’s employment history and driving record during the past three years. The DOT requires you (or a screening provider) to contact all former employers from the past three years to confirm a safe driving history and certify previous alcohol and drug test results. 

In addition to general employment information, such as employment dates and job titles, DOT employment verifications should also validate driving-specific information, including: 

  • On-the-job accidents
  • Alcohol or drug test refusals
  • Alcohol tests above 0.04% or positive drug tests
  • Failure to complete mandated rehabilitation programs 

Motor Vehicle Records (MVR) Checks 

A driver’s Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) must be examined as a part of the DOT background screening process. This includes their MVR from every state where the candidate held a driver’s license or permit in the past three years. An MVR checks for previous driving-related felony or misdemeanor convictions, traffic violations, and license suspensions or restrictions. 

Pro Tip: Use a screening provider that offers MVR Monitoring so you get real-time updates on any infractions or notices. 

DOT Drug Test

Commercial drivers must pass a DOT-compliant drug test prior to being hired. DOT drug tests have specific guidelines and requirements, including: 

  • Must be a urine test
  • Given prior to employment
  • Screen for marijuana, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, and PCP
  • Conducted by a certified DOT laboratory 

Drug and Alcohol History Screen

DOT background checks require employers to screen commercial drivers for drug and alcohol abuse. This requires employers to query the FMCSA clearinghouse database before hiring a new driver. The FMCSA database maintains records of FMCSA drug and alcohol policy violations for all people holding a commercial driver's license. 

DOT Medical and Physical Exam

The DOT requires all drivers to undergo a physical exam to ensure they can safely operate a commercial vehicle for extended periods of time. These exams must be conducted by a professional medical examiner listed in the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners, and check the following: 

  • Vision 
  • Hearing
  • Blood pressure
  • Manual dexterity
  • Urinalysis 
  • Medical history review, including current conditions 

Employers must collect a copy of the medical examiner’s certificate before hiring a new driver. Commercial drivers are also required to update their medical certificate every two years, depending on their health and existing medical conditions. 

Driver Qualification Files 

The DOT requires motor carriers to keep and maintain driver qualification files for all employees operating commercial vehicles. This file should contain the following records: 

  • Completed employment application
  • MVR with data going back 3 years
  • Violations of motor vehicle laws
  • Annual driving record review
  • Current copy of medical certificate 
  • Verification that medical examiner is listed in the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners

Driver qualification files should be updated annually, at minimum. Drivers are required to provide updates about their driving record and changes to health, however, you cannot always rely on this. Continuous MVR monitoring can help you stay on top of your drivers in real-time. 

How Long Do DOT Background Checks Take? 

You want to get your new driver on the road as quickly as possible, but without the help of a certified background screening provider, successfully completing DOT-compliant background checks can be time-consuming. In many cases, employers must contact multiple state DMVs and previous employers, collect all the necessary documentation, and ensure compliance with the DOT and FMCSA requirements. This process can take weeks or even months if you try to do it yourself. 

Partnering with an experienced screening solution can not only speed up the process but also ensure accuracy while saving you valuable time and money. A screening provider can also help ensure compliance with local and federal regulations, documentation requirements, and more. 

DOT Background Screening with Verified First

DOT background checks are an essential part of your hiring process, but they are also complicated and time-consuming. Inaccurate or non-compliant screening not only puts your drivers and reputation at risk but can also expose you to extensive legal fines and penalties. That’s why many organizations choose to partner with a background screening provider like Verified First

Verified First is a one-stop shop for your DOT background screening services. We can manage your entire pre-employment screening process from start to finish, eliminating the need to deal with multiple vendors. Verified First’s DOT Screening Services include: 

  • DOT Employment Verification (Drug, Alcohol, and Safety)
  • Clearinghouse Queries and Reporting
  • PSP Crash and Inspection History
  • Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS)
  • Motor Vehicle Reports (MVR)
  • MVR Monitoring
  • DOT Drug Screen
  • Breath Alcohol Testing
  • DOT Random Pools
  • DOT Physicals

Start your DOT screening process today!

About Verified First
Verified First is known for delivering streamlined background screening backed by the best client support, and for developing the easiest, fastest HR system integrations, for free. Our client support team is U.S.-based, answers calls in seconds, resulting in hundreds of positive testimonials and a 96% customer satisfaction. Verified First's patent-pending, award-winning integrations include over 100 applicant tracking systems, and provide clients a turn-key experience.

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