Background checks are an essential part of the driver qualification process, whether the driver will be a company employee or an independent contractor.
There are numerous tools that help carriers make better decisions. One of the most useful is the Motor Vehicle Report (MVR), issued by each state. While some items reported on an MVR might automatically disqualify a driver from hire or result in termination of employment or contract, the significance of other entries might be seen differently, depending on who’s checking the record. Because some aspects of a driver’s MVR can be viewed subjectively, it’s important to know what type of “red flags” to watch for when screening candidates.
However, the first step is to ensure your company has a written policy when it comes to driver qualifications.
“I believe it’s very important that you have a clear, concise policy that you consistently follow,” said Lori Johnson, senior consultant for Fleetworthy Solutions. “Otherwise, how are you going to demonstrate, either in an audit or in litigation, that you have a good hiring practice and that you don’t have negligent hiring or negligent retention?”
A good policy must contain achievable actions, and the policy should be updated as necessary for safety improvement, explained Andy Marquis, attorney and partner at the Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary law firm.
“Whatever you write in that policy, in that handbook — you’re going to be judged by it if there’s an accident, so there has to be a willingness to adapt policies in the interest of safety,” he explained. “Don’t just throw everything in there without a system to make sure it gets done.”
What needs to “get done” should be in the policy as well. If, for example, a particular safety violation requires counseling or remedial training, this requirement should be applied consistently.
When a carrier is named in a lawsuit because of the actions of a driver, Maquis said, the plaintiffs’ attorneys may try to prove the employer is guilty of negligent hiring or negligent retention. In other words, the driver’s employer could have done something about the driver’s behavior before the accident.
“It all connects, so (it appears) they failed in some duty,” Maquis remarked. “When they’re presented with a potential risk, do they take stock of it, or do they just look the other way?”
When screening a potential driver, it’s sometimes a pattern of behavior that should be of concern rather than a record of a serious infraction or accident.
“I have a concept of the ‘grammar of the whole,’” Johnson explained. “That was my phrase, that I coined at one of my companies.”
In other words, take a step back from the details for a minute and take a look at the overall picture.
“Look for a lot of turnover. Are they changing jobs every five months? Why?” Johnson said. “Are there gaps in employment and did they explain them? Were they in a different state? (If so), did you order that state’s MVR?”
Anything that looks like a pattern of behavior would be concerning, Marquis noted.
“If they’ve had any sort of substance abuse or alcohol issues in the past, that’s something that any enterprising plaintiff’s attorney is going to say — it represents a pattern,” he said.
Failure to appear
Another potential red flag is a failure to appear in court following a violation or accident, Marquis said.
“It’s concerning because (the driver) might be perceived as not taking it seriously when they are issued a violation,” he said. “Is this person going to be seen as being serious about safety if they’re not dealing with a violation with the courts?”
Watch for changes
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require annual certification of the driver’s record, including another MVR, but it might be a good idea to take it a step further.
“I think, what a lot of (carriers) end up doing, especially those that are relatively large, is to have a vendor or other system that notifies them of any changes in the MVR,” Marquis said. “Once that kind of service is available, then that kind of can affect whether or not they’re doing everything they can to help with safety.”
“Fleetworthy does MVR monitoring to where the service will scan and if your driver gets a hit or not,” she said. “Depending on the state, it might be immediately, or it might be up to a month later — but at least you’re going to know (about any changes) more than once a year. Then, you can have a conversation with the driver.”
When reviewing a driver’s record, don’t ignore violations, such as defective vehicles or equipment, even if they’re classified as “minor.”
“In Colorado, where I live, it’s a plea-down,” explained Johnson. “If you had a four-point violation, you could plead it down to a one-point defective vehicle violation. So, if you see a lot of those on a record, it might pique your interest.”
In short, while there’s no “magic formula” for hiring the best drivers, it’s important to pay close attention to a driver’s MVR. Be sure to ask job candidates about any discrepancies in their records, and take consistent action when issues are found.
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.