If you’re paying attention to the trucking industry, you already know the trucking industry is suffering a driver shortage, according to many sources. In fact, the most recent survey published by the American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI) listed “Driver Shortage” as the biggest current industry concern, followed by “Driver Retention” and “Driver Compensation.”
Carriers are revising their pay rates and bonus structures to address at least the first two on the list. Many carriers are raising compensation rates, and many are offering hefty “sign-on” bonuses to help attract and retain drivers.
If you’re considering making a change in your career, whether you plan to apply as a company driver or an independent contractor, keep in mind that any carrier you apply to will conduct background checks in accordance with federal regulations. It’s important that you know what they will find in that check — BEFORE they find it.
One very large reason for this is your credibility. If you listed three prior jobs on your application and your record turns up nine, the safety professional at the carrier you applied to won’t be impressed with your honesty. This is especially true if the jobs you didn’t list report derogatory information. Even if you only attended orientation and never went to work for the company, list it.
Driving records are another area of scrutiny. If moving violations show up on your record that you didn’t report, it could keep you from getting hired. There are sometimes legitimate reasons for not reporting a citation, such as tickets you thought were old enough to have fallen off the record, or violations that were set aside through a court-sponsored adjudication program, such as defensive driving school. By making sure you know what will be reported, you can avoid embarrassing explanations later.
If you’ve moved to a different state in the past few years, you should have a driver’s license number for each state. If you’re still driving on a CDL from your old state, get it changed. The law gives you 90 days to do so. Some carriers won’t make a hire unless the state on your application and your CDL match.
Situations such as these are all too common among trucking applicants.
There simply isn’t a good reason for the information on your application to be different from that in your record. The good news is that you have access to most of the same reporting information that prospective carriers do. However, that only helps if you take the initiative to order the reports and read through them, before you apply.
Always order your Motor Vehicle Report, sometimes called a driver’s abstract, from the agency that issued your CDL. It can be hard to remember how long ago you received a citation or whether it remains on your record. Don’t guess — this is info you should know. If a violation falls within the period requested on the application, be sure to list it.
The “DAC Report” is used by many carriers to obtain drivers’ employment history. There are other services that provide similar information, but the DAC Employment History issued by HireRight is currently the most popular. Carriers that order this report usually also report your information once you leave the company. The report can list accidents or incidents that occurred while a company vehicle was in your possession, even if they were not reported to the police. Some carriers report accidents, and some report every instance where money was spent, such as a broken mirror or needing a tow truck to get unstuck.
In this report, carriers can report if your performance was satisfactory — or not — without leaving details. They can also report the circumstances of your leaving the carrier, noting such things as “truck left in unauthorized location” if you didn’t return their truck to a specified terminal, or “fraudulent use of funds” if you advanced cash on your fuel card before quitting.
Some carriers are meticulous about what goes in your report. Unfortunately, some may leave the task to a disgruntled safety clerk who may have an ax to grind.
Regulations give you the option to contest anything in your report or to have your rebuttal statement included with the information provided. Rebut with facts, however, not emotional outbursts. For example, you could contest an “unauthorized equipment location” with something like “instructed by dispatcher John Doe to leave truck at…”
In any case, it’s best to review your record and make your case before you start applying for another job. You can get one for free by calling 866-521-6995, or online at hireright.com/applicant-assistance/answers/requesting-a-copy-of-your-background-report-file.
There are two reports from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that you’ll need.
The Pre-Employment Screening (PSP) report is important because it contains information that can catch you unawares. For example, if you were issued a citation in conjunction with an inspection, that citation may still be listed on your record — even if you were found to be not guilty or the charge was dismissed. Some carriers use a point system for PSP violations to determine how much risk there might be in hiring you.
Further, if you worked for a carrier briefly — so briefly that you didn’t include it on your job application — any inspections done will result in that carrier showing up on your PSP report.
The PSP report is easy to obtain. Simply go to psp.fmcsa.dot.gov/psp/public to order a copy of yours. There is a small fee, but it’s worth it.
Since January 2020, carriers are required to check with the FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse for all new hires. Carriers, MROs and others are required to report any positive testing results, refusals to test and other information to the Clearinghouse.
Before January 2020, carriers usually had to contact each of an applicant’s former employers individually to get this information. That’s still the way it’s done for any drug or alcohol testing done prior to the effective date.
To obtain information from your Clearinghouse file, you must give your consent. That consent must be given electronically, online at clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov.
By making sure you know what your record says about you, it’s easier to navigate the sometimes complex hiring process at the carrier you want to work for.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.