Perform DQ File Self-Audits: Don't Take the Risk of Not Knowing

Kathy Close, Editor - Transport Safety

November 11, 2021

 Man on laptop

Each year, driver qualification violations appear in the list of top acute and critical violations discovered during motor carrier audits.

Investigations performed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) consistently reveal the use of unqualified drivers by way of:

  • Improper licensing,
  • Loss of driving privileges,
  • Medical disqualification, and
  • Incomplete or missing DQ files.

These types of Driver Qualification (DQ) file violations may result in:

  • Fines and penalties,
  • A conditional or unsatisfactory safety rating, and/or
  • An alert status under the Driver Fitness BASIC.


More than a regulatory requirement

The DQ file is more than a recordkeeping obligation under FMCSA’s rules. It is a risk management tool to identify those drivers who are a potential safety risk.

Use of a driver with an incomplete DQ file creates a liability in the event of a high-profile crash. A plaintiff’s attorney would relish the idea of a non-existent or incomplete DQ file to assert claims of negligent hiring, retention, or entrustment. In fact, the plaintiff may argue that a driver who does not have a compliant DQ file should never have been driving in the first place based on the safety regulations, no matter how safe and responsible the driver is.


DQ file compliance begins at hire

Many of the items created at time of hire are retained during employment plus three years. As a result, mistakes made during this initial qualification will be evident throughout the driver’s career with your motor carrier.

Rather than audit the DQ file for mistakes after a driver is assigned to one your vehicles, it’s best to have a new hire checklist that is referenced as the file is set up.


Ongoing maintenance

Someone at the carrier should be assigned and trained on the task of maintaining existing DQ files. Document dates are especially important for the maintenance of the file, as renewable items expire. A missed deadline will result in a noncompliant file. A reminder system (tickler file) such as a spreadsheet or software helps to ensure files are kept up to date.


Assess your efforts

An annual self-audit of your DQ files will offer a clear picture on how well your recordkeeping would fare during an audit or lawsuit.

Examine files for:

  • Timeliness: Were documents completed within a specific deadline?
  • Accuracy: Do documents contain all required data elements?
  • Completeness: Are drivers and motor carrier representatives entering required and complete information on the forms? Are documents retained in accordance with 49 CFR 391.51 and 391.53?

If a motor carrier has a small number of drivers, it is advisable to review all the driver files. If the carrier has too many drivers to make this task feasible, it could take an annual sampling of files.

A self-audit can be done in-house or through the objective eyes of a DQ file management or consulting service.


What happens if you find errors?

Any issues discovered during the self-audit must be addressed immediately to show a good faith effort in the event of an audit. The motor carrier’s actions following a self-audit aid in reducing fines and penalties. Never try to hide a violation (e.g., backdate a document).

Some violations can never be resolved, such as new hire documents that were never created or missed a deadline. The most you can do in these instances is generate a note acknowledging the error and what you are doing going forward so the violation does not happen again (e.g., reassign the role of DQ file administration, retrain staff). For those items that are currently overdue, the carrier needs to request the document as soon as possible. Late is better than never.