DOT Background Checks: A Complete Guide for Employers

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Posted by: David Garcia March 12, 2023

Ground transportation is vital for many companies across the country. If your company employs people to operate commercial vehicles such as vans, buses, semis, or freight trucks, they must comply with Department of Transportation rules and regulations. That means passing a DOT background check.

A standard background check will often pull driving records. But a DOT background check is different from a standard background check. The DOT process targets specific data points to assess a driver’s competence in commercial vehicle operations. It’s much more comprehensive than a standard background check. Importantly, they’re also required.

Learn everything you need to know about the DOT check process and ensure your drivers and fleet are compliant with DOT regulations.

What Does a DOT Background Check Consist Of?

According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, approximately 20-50 million people are injured yearly in car accidents. That number doesn’t include crashes that result in fatalities, which amount to 1.3 million per year. 

The road can be dangerous, but the Department of Transportation is trying to change that. That’s why they mandate a special record check when companies employ people to operate commercial vehicles. It’s imperative that drivers operating non-commercial vehicles feel safe on the road around operators of large, potentially dangerous vehicles like buses and trucks.

A DOT background check pulls up records in the following areas to compile a report with all the findings. The reviewer at the Department of Transportation will assess the report and either sign off or reject an applicant.

Driving History

The first criterion is naturally an individual’s driving record. Driving history comes as a three-year report straight from their state DMV. 

Called a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR), this document will include any infractions or incidents on an individual’s record. That includes moving violations, license violations, suspensions, and other tickets and fines. 

MVRs can also pull incriminatory information from other areas, such as if an individual has a license identifying them as a registered sex offender. Cross-checking with other items on the applicant’s record can be critical when hiring for a position like a school bus driver. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created a Pre-employment Screening Program to make this part of the record check easier for employers. This program can provide employers with reports on drivers’ crashes from the last five years and roadside inspection history from the past three years.

Drug and Alcohol Screening

Performing a alcohol and drug screening is also an essential part of the background check process. Under no circumstances are drivers permitted to be under the influence of alcohol or illicit substances while operating motor vehicles. 

The FMCSA maintains the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a database of all licensed drivers’ drug and alcohol violations. The FMCSA permits all employers and licensed background check servicers access to retrieve these records at any time.

If an applicant has ever failed a drug or alcohol test or violated the terms of a drug or alcohol program, it will appear on the background screening report.

Medical and Physical Exam

The DOT also mandates the performance of a physical exam on all applicants for commercial driver licenses. Beyond ensuring the driver is free from the influence of drugs or alcohol, the driver needs to be in a healthy physical condition while operating the vehicle.

The DOT-approved physical should include evaluations of the driver’s hearing and vision, blood pressure, and a urinalysis lab. The evaluation also takes into account the driver’s medical history. If any health conditions could impair their functioning behind the wheel, they will show up on the report. 

Impairments to cognition include Alzheimer’s, dementia, sensory disorders such as night blindness and deafness, and other medical conditions such as glaucoma and sleep disorders. These conditions can all impact driving. If any of these surface in the physical, the health professional will note them in the report.

Past Employment Verification

Drivers submitting themselves to DOT-authorized background screenings will often have worked in a capacity where they drove in the past. The DOT background check will check these employment records.

Any infractions in past positions that the individual accrued will appear on the screening. The DOT requires individuals to get signed forms from past employers certifying a clean driving history. They will also need to test negative for drugs and alcohol consistently.

DOT Rule 49 CFR Part 391 outlines the questions applicants must answer in the employment verification step.

Road Driving Test

Getting all this information about past behavior is important, but seeing how individuals drive now is equally vital. The DOT requires that individuals be able to pass a road driving test. If you’re a driver, you will need to perform the test in the type of vehicle you’re applying to drive.

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Why Are DOT Background Checks Important?

The DMV and Highway Patrol only have limited power in enforcing road safety. The Department of Transportation, and its associated agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration and the FMCSA, take road safety one step further. 

When employing individuals to operate commercial vehicles, regulatory bodies have established more stringent standards. Trucks, buses, and vans have the power to cause more destruction on the road than personal automobiles. As such, the DOT has implemented its background check process to decrease the likelihood of crashes. 

Those who operate commercial vehicles must possess commercial driver’s licenses. The DOT oversees this process as well. Companies must work with the Department of Transportation to ensure the highest safety standards.

Who Needs To Use DOT Background Checks?

Every driver who operates a commercial vehicle as part of their job needs to submit to DOT-approved background screenings. However, there are some exemptions for drivers who operate smaller vehicles, even if they do deliveries for work.

The requirement comes down to the weight of the vehicle. For example, pizza delivery drivers operate non-commercial vehicles to do their jobs. They only need a standard-issued driver’s license and a clean record. Drivers who work on a contractual basis for rideshare companies also won’t need a CDL.

Your business does need to implement DOT and FMCSA regulations if the drivers you employ operate any of the following vehicles:

  • Vehicles that require Class A, B, or C commercial licenses to operate
  • Vehicles that transport hazardous materials
  • Any vehicle used to transport nine or more passengers for compensation
  • Any vehicle used to transport 16 or more people, whether or not there is compensation for transport
  • Any vehicle weighing over 10,000 pounds

Everyone who passes a DOT background check must update their file annually. Passing once does not authorize you for life. These annual checks are one more safeguard to ensure commercial vehicle drivers follow all the rules and regulations laid out by the DOT and FMCSA.

How to Run a DOT Background Check

1. Contract a Background Check Service Provider.

If your company is mid-large sized and reviewing multiple candidates simultaneously, you’re best off partnering with a background check service provider. These companies mitigate the logistics of coordinating multiple checks across different agencies off your hands.

Your job is to focus on recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding. But because DOT background checks are mandatory, you can’t leave them to inexperienced administrators. These results must get approval from the Department of Transportation, an agency of the federal government. Make sure they are correct and compliant by hiring a qualified servicer.

2. Ensure Compliance with All DOT Regulations

Stress to your background screening servicer that these background checks are not standard-issue. They must be compliant with Department of Transportation regulations. Confirm with the provider that they intend to contact the DOT and FMCSA, follow DOT Rule 49 CFR Part 391, and use the FMCSA’s Pre-employment Screening Program and the Drug and Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

3. Ensure a Certified Medical Review Officer is on Board

A certified medical review officer must conduct the physical exam portion of the background check. Only they can verify the results of drivers’ drug and alcohol screenings. The DOT will look for their certification, so verify your background check servicer has one on board.

4. Obtain Permission and Follow FTC Guidelines

The Federal Trade Commission protects the rights of individuals during the hiring process. These rights extend beyond federal employment to private employers as well. Two rules are paramount:

1. Employers must inform candidates and employees when they intend to run a background check on them. The consent form includes informing individuals that the information obtained during a background check could inform their decision to hire, fire, or promote them.

2. Employers must hand over a copy of the background check summary to employees and applicants before making any hiring, firing, or promoting decisions. If that information had any bearing on the staffing decision, the individual must be aware of it.

How Long Does A DOT Background Check Take?

The time to complete the DOT background check depends on the company’s size, the particular role, and the background check servicer. 

It can be a time-consuming process. The amount of coordination and organization is immense and requires large agencies to pull up old files, create reports, and send them over.

Going through a professional background service provider will expedite the process.

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Need Help? Get in Touch With ScoutLogic Today

ScoutLogic can provide companies with all types of background checks, including DOT background checks. Our Scout service model will provide a dedicated liaison who takes work off your recruiter’s plate so that you can focus on the important stuff.

Call ScoutLogic today to make background checks easier and find great talent.

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