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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingJanuary 16 - January 22, 2019

Driver Qualification

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By Brian J Riker

Are your drivers qualified?

It is increasingly difficult to hire drivers, let alone good drivers. Few people seem to want to respond to calls at all hours of the day or night in all weather conditions. Many of us have been tempted to look the other way for minor things when hiring just to fill the position.

As an industry we have a bunch of criteria to meet to say someone is qualified. Besides the towing-specific training and qualifications that many police agencies require (criminal check, formal training, city or county license, etc.), we also have a duty to ensure the driver is legally qualified to operate the vehicle we assign to them.

Qualifications are equally common across America, governed mostly by 49 CFR Part 391. There are a few states with unique additional requirements. New York, for instance, requires a tow truck endorsement on state driver licenses, even for trucks that would not require a commercial driver license in most other states.

The basic driver qualifications are quite simple and apply to anyone that is engaging in interstate commerce as well as most intrastate drivers. A few states exclude light-duty trucks from these rules when operated solely intrastate; however if you use these federal regulations as a baseline, your drivers will always be qualified:

• Must be 21 years of age or older to engage in interstate commerce.

• Must be medically qualified by a DOT-approved examiner.

• Must possess a valid driver license for the appropriate vehicle class.

• Can by experience, training or both safely operate the vehicle.

Interstate commerce drivers must be able to read, write and communicate in English in a manner sufficient to respond to official inquiries, read road signs, converse with the general public and make entries on official reports.

As an employer, you are required by federal regulations to obtain a written application for employment that lists all their previous employers for the last 10 years. This application has specific content and wording requirements that must be met for it to be valid. You are required to investigate the last three years of employment history including making written inquires to all DOT-related employers regarding the driver's safety performance history and controlled substance testing history.

All commercial drivers are required to self-certify their driving history during the application process and annually afterwards, and you as the employer must verify the accuracy of their certification. It is a requirement to perform a pre-employment road test in the same type of vehicle they will be regularly operating.

There are some exceptions to this for experienced drivers, although I would never recommend hiring someone you have not road-tested. The road test must evaluate specific skills including but not limited to: backing, highway driving, coupling/uncoupling of combination vehicles, pre-trip inspection and basic control skills like parking.

As the motor carrier you must maintain copies of all this information in a driver qualification file and retain the file for three years after the termination of employment. You are required to respond to safety and controlled substance history inquiries by other motor carriers. It is very important that all the required information be current in the driver qualification file. This file should be maintained separately from a general employee file since it has sensitive and sometimes confidential information that not everyone in your office has a legal right to access.

Proper investigation and skills assessment prior to hiring combined with regular evaluation and corrective action when necessary will help ensure you have qualified drivers operating your company equipment. It is not enough to simply speak to an employee when something is wrong. It must be documented in their file for future reference during a post incident investigation.

You must keep current with regards to reviewing driver's motor vehicle records and safety performance records. Action must be taken to correct any deficiencies noticed before they lead to injury, damages or loss of life.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at

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