1. Knowledge Base
  2. Compliance & Regulations

Demystifying DQ File Regulations with Brandon Wiseman

***This article is courtesy of Brandon Wiseman, transportation attorney and president of Trucksafe. Trucksafe is a leading provider of DOT consulting services and online compliance courses and content. Learn more at www.trucksafe.com.***

As most know, driver qualification is one of the most critical aspects of managing a regulated fleet. Failing to properly qualify drivers regularly leads to DOT enforcement and, more importantly, heightened exposure in highway accident litigation. Needless to say, understanding the driver qualification rules and what is expected of you in that regard is crucially important to running a safe and successful motor carrier operation. In this article, we’ll take a close look at the federal regulations that govern so-called driver qualification or DQ files, what exactly they need to contain, how often to update records, and record retention

What specific documents must be included in a DQ file?

Part 391 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) specifies exactly what types of documents must be included in a DQ file, both initially and on an ongoing basis. We'll briefly summarize each document type below. The FMCSA maintains a checklist of required DQ file documents here. Note: included on the list below are certain drug/alcohol testing documents (e.g., pre-employment test results). While many carriers consider these part of the DQ file, the regulations technically require them to be kept separately in a “secure location with controlled access.” See 49 CFR 382.401(a). Accordingly, although we reference them here, we recommend all drug/alcohol testing documents be kept in separate files with restricted access (i.e., the Company’s Designated Employer Representative). 

Primary documents include:

  • Copy of Driver's License or CDL

    It should go without saying, but you'll need a current copy of each driver's license or commercial driver's license (CDL), as applicable, to keep in their DQ file. And as with most other documents in this list, you'll need to track the expirations of the drivers' licenses, make sure they are renewed before they expire, and update the DQ file with each renewed license. 
  • Driver Application

    All commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are required to complete a driver application, and a copy of the completed application must appear in their DQ file. The application must contain all of the required data points set forth in Part 391 of the FMCSRs, including, for example, the driver's employment, licensing, and driving history.
  • Safety Performance History Request

    Each prospective employer of a CMV driver is required to request specific safety performance history information (e.g., employment verification and accident history) from any DOT-regulated employer for whom the applicant worked within the 3 years prior to his/her application with that carrier. Applicants must provide written consent for these requests, and the consents must accompany the requests. Carriers must document their good-faith attempts to obtain this information from the previous employers in the DQ files. 
  • Medical Examiner's Certificate

    Drivers are not qualified to operate a CMV in interstate commerce unless they meet the FMCSRs physical qualification standards, as certified by a licensed medical examiner that is listed on the FMCSA’s National Registry of Medical Examiners. The FMCSA’s physical qualification standards ensure that drivers with certain medical conditions that would impair their ability to safely operate a CMV do not do so. In order to demonstrate they meet these standards, CMV drivers must be evaluated by a DOT medical examiner pursuant to the examination standards set forth in the FMCSRs. If the driver meets these standards, the examiner will issue him/her a medical examiner’s certificate (a/k/a med card), which is valid for a period of time designated by the medical examiner, up to a maximum of two years. Drivers must be reexamined and re-certified prior to the expiration date of their most current med card in order to remain qualified to operate a CMV. Further, drivers who are subject to the CDL requirement must provide documentation of their updated medical certification to their state licensing agency in order for their CDL to remain valid. 
  • Road Test Certificate or Equivalent

    As part of the driver onboarding process, carriers must normally administer a road test to driver-applicants to ensure they can safely operate the types of CMVs that they will be expected to operate for the carrier. Upon successful completion of that road test, the examiner must complete a certificate, a copy of which is to be provided to the driver and another kept by the carrier in his/her DQ file. For driver-applicants who have already successfully passed a road test administered by another carrier within the past 3 years and those who already possess a CDL at the time of hire, the carrier can (but is not required to) accept that prior road test certificate or CDL in lieu of performing and documenting its own road test.
  • Motor Vehicle Record

    Within 30 days after a CMV driver is hired or otherwise engaged, the motor carrier must obtain and review a Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) from every state in which the driver has been licensed within the 3 years preceding his/her application date. A copy of the MVR must be kept in the DQ file.
  • Annual Review of Driving Record

    At least annually, carriers must review each driver’s MVR, as well as other information described in 49 C.F.R. 391.25, and complete an Annual Review form to place in the driver’s DQ file as proof that the driver remains qualified to operate a CMV.

In addition to these primary documents, the FMCSRs require, in certain circumstances, the following additional documents:

  • Medical Examiner Registry Verification

    As noted previously, CMV drivers must be examined by a medical examiner that is listed on the FMCSA's National Registry of Medical Examiners. In addition to keeping a copy of each driver's med card in their DQ files, carriers are also required to verify that the examiner who performed the driver's examination is, in fact, listed on the National Registry and document that verification in the DQ file. This can simply be a matter of searching the examiner's National Registry number online at this link and printing off the results to place in the file. 
  • LCV Training Certificate

    Drivers who are expected to operate longer combination vehicles (e.g., double or triple trailers) must not only have the proper CDL endorsement to do so, but also successfully complete a training program that meets the requirements of 49 C.F.R. Part 380, Appendix F. Upon successful completion of that training, drivers must be issued a training certificate, a copy of which should be retained in their driver file. 
  • Hazardous Materials Training Certificate

    Drivers who are expected to haul hazardous materials must receive the training that is required by Parts 172 and 173 of the federal Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs) (e.g., general awareness, function-specific) within 90 days of employment or change in job function and at least once every 3 years thereafter. Evidence of the training should be kept in their driver files. 
  • Drug/Alcohol Policy Receipt

    CDL drivers are subject to the FMCSRs' drug/alcohol testing requirements. Carriers that engage those drivers are responsible for implementing a compliant drug/alcohol testing policy and ensuring that drivers receive a copy, as evidenced by a signed receipt that should be kept in the drivers' files. 
  • Pre-Employment Drug Screen

    Again, CDL drivers are subject to the FMCSRs' drug/alcohol testing requirements, including mandatory pre-employment drug screens. Carriers must ensure that CDL drivers are tested for drugs prior to operating a CMV that requires a CDL, and that a copy of the negative test result is placed in the drivers' files. 
  • Drug/Alcohol Clearinghouse Queries

    The FMCSRs require carriers that employ or engage CDL drivers to run queries on those drivers through their Drug/Alcohol Clearinghouse account. Copies of the query results should be kept in the drivers' files. 

Must DQ files be periodically updated?

The FMCSRs impose an ongoing obligation on motor carriers to ensure that their drivers remain qualified to operate CMVs in interstate commerce. This entails periodically updating some, but not all, of the records contained in the DQ file. Specifically, the following records must be updated periodically:

  • Driver's License/CDL

    Motor carriers must ensure that each DQ file contains a copy of the driver's current and valid license or CDL. 
  • Medical Examiner Certificate

    Carriers must also ensure that each DQ file contains a copy of the driver's current and valid med card. 
  • MVR

    At least once every 12 months, carriers must run and review a new MVR on all CMV drivers. It may be necessary to do so more frequently in certain cases, such as if a driver's license has been temporarily suspended. Running a new MVR in that situation to ensure that the license has been reinstated would be advisable. Additionally, for CDL drivers, carriers are required to run a new MVR within 15 days after the CDL driver obtains a new med card to ensure that the driver's med card details have been successfully uploaded to his/her state of license. 
  • Annual Review

    As noted above, at least annually, carriers must review each driver’s MVR, as well as other information described in 49 C.F.R. 391.25, and complete an Annual Review form to place in the driver’s DQ file.
  • Hazmat Training

    Carriers whose drivers are subject to the HMRs' hazmat training requirements must ensure that their training remains current and evidence of that training is updated in their driver files. 

How long should DQ records be retained?

The FMCSRs specify that motor carriers must retain DQ files and their contents for the entire length of time that the driver operates under its USDOT number plus an additional 3 years. That said, the following individual records may be removed from each driver's DQ file 3 years after the date of execution:

  • MVRs except for the initial MVR, which should be retained for the length of employment plus 3 years
  • Annual Reviews
  • Medical Examiner Certificates
  • Medical Examiner Registry Verifications


Keeping compliant and up-to-date DQ files is an important part of a carrier's safety management controls. This will be scrutinized by the DOT in an audit and during roadside inspections. And more importantly, it often takes center stage in highway accident litigation. Thus, keeping compliant and up-to-date DQ files is critically important.