Keys to Avoid the Top Driver Qualification Violations

Mark Schedler, Sr. Editor - Transport

April 4, 2022

 Driver wearing winter jacket

Driver qualification violations can arise during roadside inspections and FMCSA audits. Offenses that involve unqualified commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers increase potential liability. Safety management controls are needed to keep unqualified drivers from operating CMVs and avoid:

  • Roadside inspection severity points affect your CSA scores and result in out-of-service events.
  • Acute violations in an audit that require remedial action and often result in monetary penalties.
  • Critical violations in an audit when defects are found in at least 10 percent of records reviewed.


The top violations from 2021 roadside inspections and FMCSA audits are below, along with the keys to remember.


1. No medical certificate in driver’s possession. 391.41A (Roadside violation)

Keys to remember:

  • There is no grace period; all CMV drivers (see the definition in 390.5) must be medically certified. Drivers include but are not limited to mechanics, temporary drivers, and supervisors.
  • Remove drivers from service if certification has expired.
  • Track expiration dates and remind drivers.
  • Non-CDL CMV drivers must always carry a valid medical certificate (paper or digital).
  • CDL holders must carry a medical card (paper or digital) for at least 15 days after the DOT exam.
  • Watch for disqualifications thru motor vehicle record (MVR) monitoring
  • If a driver is caught a second time without a medical certificate, this is an out-of-service violation.


2. Drivers being allowed to operate a CMV while disqualified include these similar violations: 

  • Allowing a driver to drive with suspended/revoked/etc. CDL 383.37A (#1 Acute violation)
  • Driving a CMV while disqualified from holding a CDL 383.51A (#5 Acute violation)
  • Driving a CMV while disqualified. 391.15A (#10 Acute violation)

Keys to remember:

  • There is no grace period with license expirations either. All CMV drivers must have a valid operator’s license and endorsements, where applicable, for the vehicle operated.
  • There can be delays from the violation to the license status being affected. Under federal rules, states have ten days to notify the driver’s licensing state of a traffic conviction. The state then has ten days to process the conviction and post it to the driver’s record. After that, when warranted, states are supposed to disqualify drivers “as expeditiously as possible” according to the regulations.
  • Carriers should require drivers to report violations immediately despite CDL drivers being allowed 30 days to report to the carrier. Any driver notified of lost driving privileges must inform the company before the end of the next business day. The company should require immediate reporting. For CDL drivers, compare violations to the four tables in 383.51 to check potential suspension periods. Some offenses require two or more convictions before disqualification is warranted.
  • A citation is not the same as a conviction. A conviction occurs only when a driver is found guilty, pays a fine, or pleads guilty or “no contest.”
  • A license can be suspended for reasons other than moving violations, such as failure to pay child support and convictions for violations in personal vehicles, which can still result in disqualification for CDL holders.
  • Track license expiration dates.
  • Remove drivers from service if the license has expired or match the vehicle to the license and any active endorsements.
  • Watch for disqualifications, CDL class, or endorsement statuses change via MVR monitoring or annual reviews, which are the bare minimum.

3. Top critical driver qualification violations found in audits include:

  • Inquiries into a driving record not kept in the DQ file. 391.51B2 (#4 Critical violation)
  • Failing to maintain driver qualification file on each driver. 391.51A(#8 Critical violation)
  • No medical certificate in qualification file. 391.51B7(#11 Critical violation)

Keys to remember:

  • Review driver qualification policies and procedures annually to ensure a complete checklist under Part 391 is followed for each driver hired.
  • Consider updating paper files to an electronic fleet management system or outsourcing to a third-party to ensure each step is followed, and missing documents are flagged for correction.
  • Conduct a complete audit of driver qualification files to correct errors where possible. The following points are essential to follow if you find violations that could be flagged in an audit:
    • If found in an audit, the error is still a violation.
    • Show good-faith effort to comply and document what you discovered, when, and what you did to fit the error.
    • Actions to take depend on how long a document has been missing and does it make sense to attempt a fix.
    • Don’t back-date any documents. If missing information is entered on a form or a record added after the fact, note the date added, and entries on forms like the DOT application must have the initials of the person making the change.
    • Correct your procedures to ensure the error oversight doesn’t happen again.


The top driver qualification violations are easily avoided with proactive safety management controls. You can count on J. J. Keller and Associates, Inc. to help your operation be compliant and reduce the potential risk of unqualified drivers operating your CMVs.