Transport Insights

Incomplete Driver Qualification (DQ) Files

Mike McConnell, CDS, CSP

Date: 9/23/2021

The qualifications for drivers are outlined in 49 CFR Part 391, including physical qualifications (also known as the medical certification or medical examiners certification, aka, the MEC), along with mandates that carriers must follow when hiring commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.


Also outlined are the requirements for what must be included on a CMV driver’s application, the different types of background requests that are required, and ongoing requirements for carriers and drivers in the way of expiring documents that must be updated. For example, the MEC must be updated with a new physical exam on or before the expiration date of the current one (carriers are also required to run a state driving record. i.e. MVR within 15 days of receiving a new/updated MEC). Annual updates include the state driving record, the driver’s annual certification of violations, the annual review of the driving record by the company, and annual queries to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Retention periods for the different documents are also covered in this part.


As a best practice, carriers should periodically audit their own records (annually at a minimum) to ensure that all required documents are being updated in a timely manner. It’s recommended carriers audit at least 25% of their fleet annually for errors, expired documents and/or omissions. For larger sized fleets (over 500 trucks), it may be wise to hire an outside auditor to come to their place of business and conduct the audit if staffing is an issue.


Any time you discover a DQ deficiency, it’s imperative you correct the issue immediately. If the issue involves an expiring document(s), correct it as soon as you find the error and place a note in the file to explain the oversight and what you are doing going forward to ensure the same type of mistake doesn’t recur, or at the very least is kept to a minimum.

Listed below are the types of violations that apply in a compliance review of part 391:


  • 391.11(b)(4) Using a physically unqualified driver (acute)
  • 391.15(a) Using a disqualified driver (acute)
  • 391.45(a) Using a driver not medically examined and certified (critical)
  • 391.45(b) Using a driver not medically examined and certified during the preceding 24 months (critical)
  • 391.51(a) Failing to maintain driver qualification file on each driver employed (critical)
  • 391.51(b)(2) Failing to maintain inquiries into driver's driving record in driver's qualification file (critical)
  • 391.51(b)(7) Failing to maintain medical examiner's certificate in driver's qualification file (critical)


Monetary penalties for these violations can cost as much as $1,307 per day for each occurrence up to a total of $13,072. So, as you can see, properly maintaining your DQ files is a practice that should not be taken lightly, and you should evaluate the risks by having an audit conducted on a regular basis.

M. McConnell

Mike McConnell, CDS, CSP

With over 40 years of experience in the transportation industry, Mike is a highly knowledgeable consultant specializing in safety, fleet, and operations management. He is also a Certified Director of Safety (CDS) and a Certified Safety Practioner (CSP). Mike believes that organizations that manage safety well are those that often excel in other facets of their business. The successful companies of tomorrow will be those that have embraced a culture of compliance, safety and resilience.

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