Comprehensive Guide to Driving Record Background Checks

From the long-haul truckers driving hundreds of miles a day to the rideshare gig workers making dozens of short trips every week, many people make a living behind the wheel of a vehicle. While there are many rewarding careers to pursue in this industry, it’s not without risks. According to federal statistics, there are nearly 18,000 car crashes every day. Some are minor, but some can be life-altering or even fatal. Safety can't be an afterthought for businesses that employ people to drive on their behalf, but it has to be front and center during the hiring process. Accessing driving records makes that possible.

There are many reasons to make safe driving abilities the defining factor in your hiring process. Consider that it impacts others on the road and how the public might perceive your business. For example, despite years of efforts and public campaigns to improve measures, Uber remains in the spotlight for spotty safety practices. Because of its attitude towards safety in its earliest days, the company today still struggles with the same negative press.

So as an employer hiring for a regulated transportation position, what can you do? Starting with a review of your candidate's MVR report is step one. What is an MVR check? It's simply a reporting tool that applies a license number to access an individual's driving history based on official driving records. MVR checks are an essential part of hiring people for transportation jobs and, in many cases, federally mandated by the Department of Transportation.

What do you need to know about the driver background check process? How can employers use these tools effectively? What do they contain, and how do you interpret the information a motor vehicle report reveals? Read on to learn more about MVR checks, the information that driving records can tell, and their value as part of a comprehensive background screening policy to identify candidates suitable for the job.

MVR Background Checks: What You Need to Know

MVR background checks offer a screening tool that examines a person’s record of operating motor vehicles. Employers often utilize this check during their pre-employment vetting process when filling vacancies involving a motor vehicle, such as driving a school bus, operating a tractor-trailer or using company vehicles. 

Why Driving History Matters

Operating a motor vehicle is a privilege, not a right, and it comes with many responsibilities. Avoiding accidents is the minimum obligation. Drivers must also obey the road rules and observe safety laws. While there's no way to know how a candidate driver behaved on the road 100% of the time, minor infractions and serious incidents will appear in their driving history whenever law enforcement becomes involved. 

Employers in different driving-related industries need to review a candidate's driving history information. A driver's behavior in the past is more likely to indicate how they will continue to behave behind the wheel. Why is it so vital?

For Transport

Transporting freight is a massive business. From box trucks to 18-wheel tractor-trailers, the vehicles required in the transport industry are huge and heavy, demanding special skills to operate. Putting someone behind the wheel of these vehicles means trusting them with a sizeable responsibility. 

It's not only the truck or its cargo on the line—it's the life of your drivers and everyone who shares the highways and interstates with them. A spotty driving history that reveals a pattern of indiscretion or lawbreaking should give every transport operator pause. Negligent hiring can extend liability to carriers if a driver with a poor record causes a serious accident.

For Ride Sharing

It's no secret that the ridesharing industry has had more than its fair share of problems with driver vetting. The need to improve rider confidence demands a thorough procedure that considers how safely someone drives. A history of DUI, reckless driving or excessive speeding could all be potential disqualifiers. Although it is not the company's car at risk, but its reputation—the safety of all road users remains imperative. Besides reviewing the driver's history, rideshare providers must also include a criminal background check to protect passengers. 

For Bus Drivers

Whether we're talking about a public school bus, a senior living center shuttle or a city's public transportation, bus driver background checks are essential. Buses are large, unwieldy vehicles that require drivers to exercise many of the same skills they might use driving a big rig. More importantly, a full bus might have dozens of people on board—and every one of those passengers wants to know that the bus driver's employer took steps to ensure competency and safety.

What Is a Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) and What Does it Show?

What is an MVR? A “Motor Vehicle Record” is an account of an individual’s driving history behind the wheel. An MVR will typically include relevant facts about a candidate’s driving records, including their license class, current standing with driving authorities, license endorsements and restrictions, suspensions, and expirations. MVRs also include information on infractions incurred by the driver. Let’s examine what kind of infractions and violations an MVR could reveal.

Speeding

Speeding tickets do appear on motor vehicle records and can help determine if a driver is trustworthy. One minor speeding ticket may be nothing to worry about in the absence of other information. However, a pattern of speeding or a very serious charge, such as a felony speeding charge exceeding 100 mph on a public road, may indicate that a candidate is not the best choice.

Reckless Driving

"Reckless driving" typically refers to a wide range of behaviors that constitute irresponsible and dangerous behavior. The exact definition varies between states. For example, some states include excessive speeding under the reckless driving umbrella. Eluding police, engaging in street racing, or causing an accident due to carelessness all classify as reckless driving you may see on an MVR.

Failure to Yield

Usually, minor infractions, such as failure to yield, may occur when someone does not appropriately cede the right of way to another driver or a pedestrian. For example, in some states, it’s illegal for vehicles to drive through a crosswalk if a pedestrian is at any point in the crossing. Running a stop sign and causing an accident could also be a failure to yield. This infringement, especially repeat violations, can indicate a disrespect for the rules of the road.

No Valid License or Proof of Insurance

This item speaks for itself. All drivers must carry vehicle insurance and keep their driver’s licenses with them. Failing to produce these items can result in license suspensions and fines. Sometimes, these infractions are due to difficult personal circumstances rather than active wrongdoing. If you see these items on an MVR, consider speaking to the candidate about what happened.

Seatbelt Violations

Some states allow officers to pull over drivers for seatbelt violations at any time; others only allow for seatbelt citations when the driver was stopped for another reason. As one of the most basic safety precautions, employers should hope to hire drivers that understand and respect such simple rules. Repeat seatbelt citations could indicate a disrespect for authority.

Non-Moving Violations

Non-moving violations are not strictly tied to the act of driving but still infringe on the law in one way or another. This could be burned-out headlights, a missing license plate, a broken turn signal, or many other violations. Because there is so much diversity in this infraction category, employers should look carefully to see why the citation was issued.

Driving Under the Influence or With a Suspended License

Although a DUI is often deemed a criminal offense, it's also a violation of road laws. As such, DUI/DWI charges will appear on an MVR. Many businesses find past DUIs to be a disqualifying factor, especially if there was more than one incident. MVRs also report when someone is caught driving without a valid license. Both violations merit thoughtful consideration.

Why Is an MVR Important During the Background Check Process?

Not all companies need an MVR check as part of their process. A candidate’s MVR report is only relevant if a job always or frequently involves driving motor vehicles or operating heavy machinery. A business employing someone working the cash register at a retail clothing store, for example, wouldn’t need to consider an MVR during the hiring process. It simply wouldn’t be relevant.

With that in mind, who can expect to encounter a hiring process that requires MVR reports for employment purposes? Delivery drivers, ambulance drivers, public transit drivers, contract drivers, trucking or freight drivers, and some positions in the construction industry are just a few roles that involve driving as a core part of the job. Even a regular employee with access to company vehicles may need to submit to MVR requests.

Checking a candidate’s MVR report is as essential for these jobs as verifying a medical license for a physician’s job at a hospital. Failing to examine driving records could be a violation of the law in your area or grounds for future negligent hiring claims.

Companies must mitigate risks by ensuring that candidates for driving positions have a license in good standing. Furthermore, companies must identify candidates with the correct driver’s license type and the specific endorsements required for the position. Finally, hiring managers should verify that their applicant doesn’t have a history of reckless or dangerous behavior behind the wheel.

Any industries regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT)—including trucking, freight, and logistics—face federal requirements to conduct MVR checks as part of their hiring process.

What Do Employers Look for in an MVR?

Running an MVR background check is typical for a business to determine how qualified and responsible drivers may be for a job involving substantial transportation. When filling a driver position, companies hire an employee to drive on their organization’s behalf. On the road, those employees are your company representatives. As such, the employer will be partly responsible for anything the driver does behind the wheel. 

That responsibility means it’s a good practice to scrutinize applicants who want to drive for your business carefully. Hiring drivers with a history of license suspensions or a long list of driving infractions creates legal and financial risks for an employer. Likewise, there can be severe consequences for hiring someone whose license doesn’t match the requirements of the position if they later cause a serious accident. 

Aside from the risk of a lawsuit and financial damage, poor hiring practices can create a PR nightmare for companies and endanger the public. In 2019, four people died in a crash caused by an inexperienced driver with a history of safety violations and their employer’s poor hiring practices.

MVR reports make due diligence more convenient. Businesses must look for red flags that indicate they should not trust a candidate with a company vehicle or representing their brand on the road. What questions should an employer ask when evaluating someone’s suitability? There are several angles to consider.

Is the applicant’s driver’s license in good standing, or is it invalid for some reason? Has it expired, been suspended or even revoked? Does the driver meet those requirements if the job requires a commercial driver’s license (called a CDL) or a higher license class or endorsement level? Has the driver been involved in a disproportionate number of accidents or received several speeding tickets? Has the driver ever been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or other vehicular crimes?

MVR checks can answer these questions and others, giving an employer a full picture of the candidate and how responsible they are as a driver.

How Far Back Does a Motor Vehicle Report Go?

There is no comprehensive national database for searching driving records, which means there is also no national standard for how far back MVR checks can go. Each state has a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and its own laws that limit how far back a driving check goes.

In most cases, state laws limit the lookback period of an MVR check to three or seven years, though some states may go back ten years. Companies are encouraged to put more weight on recent driving history than on offenses from several years ago—especially if the individual has spent a few years maintaining a clean driving record.

Endorsements on Commercial Driver’s Licenses

Commercial driver’s licenses, or CDLs, can empower drivers to operate many vehicles, from buses to tractor-trailers. Because of this diversity—and the unique challenges and risks of some types of driving—CDLs often come with “endorsements.” Each endorsement signifies that the driver completed specialized training to earn the endorsement. Because CDLs require semi-frequent renewal, drivers must remain current with this additional status. 

When you review MVR background checks for CDL holders, what are some of the most important endorsements you might see?

Hazardous Materials

They are usually indicated as HAZMAT or “H” on a license. This endorsement requires a written test, a medical exam, and a Transportation Security Administration background check. “H” indicates drivers know how to transport hazardous goods such as flammable materials safely.

Tanker Trucks

The N-endorsement indicates a driver has taken a written test and practiced driving tanker vehicles. Tankers carrying liquids or gases can behave erratically compared to dry freight due to forces influencing the tank’s contents. Only N-endorsed drivers can operate tankers. Transporting hazardous materials in a tanker truck requires an X-endorsement that requires a test and holding H- or N-endorsements.

Passenger Transit Vehicles

The P-endorsement equips drivers to operate vehicles that carry 16 or more passengers, such as the typical bus used for public transportation or inter-city travel.

School Bus Driving

The S-endorsement requires the P-endorsement, a written test, and a separate on-the-road driving test. Without it, drivers cannot legally operate school buses. Drivers must pass a background check, undergo a medical exam for safety and fitness, and periodically undergo specific school bus-related training to stay current on the endorsement.

Double or Triple Trailer Driving

Many truckers look for high-paying jobs, and hauling more freight is one way to increase take-home pay. Double and triple trailering requires special skills to keep loads balanced, maintain safe speeds, and protect other drivers on the road. The T-endorsement indicates that a driver took the steps necessary to learn how to trailer more cargo safely.

Driver Restrictions

Just as endorsements showcase when a driver has extra skills you can rely on, an MVR will also report the restrictions a driver has on their license. A restriction is not necessarily the result of a traffic violation; more often, they relate to physical limitations or other safety-related measures. Restrictions a driver may have on their license could include:

  • L-restriction. Driver did not pass the air brake exam and may not operate air brake-equipped vehicles. A Z-restriction indicates the driver passed their CDL exam using hydraulic brakes. Drivers may re-test to remove these restrictions.
  • K-restriction. No interstate travel allowed–often applied to young drivers until they exceed the age of 21.
  • V-restriction. Medical variance. This could be poor vision when uncorrected or other medical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and so on. V-restrictions are informational and do not necessarily prohibit driving.

How to Get a Motor Vehicle Report

The best way to get a candidate’s motor vehicle record (MVR) is by working with a reputable background check company that can deliver a fast turnaround time. Background screening providers know which Department of Motor Vehicles databases to search and understand the unique “language” of driving history reports. Such assistance makes acquiring and interpreting results a simpler process. Otherwise, you may not recognize unsafe driving records.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is a nationwide organization governing DMVs nationwide. The AAMVA has established a “code dictionary” for MVR check reports with a code for every driving infraction or conviction. A background check company can provide the guidance and resources hiring managers need to translate, interpret, and understand driving records and their codes.

Note that similarly to other types of background checks, motor vehicle records qualify as consumer reports. Because of this classification, MVR checks are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), like searches for criminal records, resume verification checks, and other background screenings. Non-discrimination rules the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission set will also come into play.

As a result, you will need to meet the FCRA’s requirements, such as providing a standalone disclosure form stating your intent to order MVR records. If you regret an applicant based on their adverse report, you must provide a “pre-adverse action notice” and a copy of the report. After allowing a reasonable amount of time for the applicant to respond with clarifying information, you can issue a final “adverse action notice” and conclude the hiring process for that individual.

Define Your Company’s Driver Record Process

Understanding what's on an MVR and why it’s important to use these checks as a transportation provider are only the beginning. As with a criminal background check, it's essential to create a written policy that defines how you will acquire, evaluate, and ultimately use driving background checks to hire individuals. Instead of referring to a driving record FAQ page every time you need to make a choice, recruiters and hiring managers can refer to the policy.

You may declare some infractions and violations, such as DUIs, automatic disqualifiers–the same way a positive drug test would disqualify an application immediately. You can lay out guidelines for evaluating the severity of problems on someone's record and create an effective filter for choosing safer drivers. Specify what endorsements your fleet of drivers must have and decide which restrictions you cannot accept.

When possible, you may even want to include your own road test as part of the hiring process. Seeing firsthand how someone operates their vehicle or truck can prove very illuminating in the context of that driver's MVR. By taking the time to lay out the entire process from start to finish, you create a seamless hiring pipeline for your business that keeps you consistently moving toward the next step.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does MVR stand for?

This common abbreviation is short for “Motor Vehicle Record.” An MVR report summarizes a person’s driving history, including their license status, -class and -endorsements, driving violations, and more.

What is an MVR check?

A motor vehicle record (MVR) check is a reporting tool that provides employers access to an individual’s motor vehicle record. An MVR check is a mandatory part of the hiring process for any businesses that fall under the regulations of the federal Department of Transportation (DOT). Like a background check, a motor vehicle record check is critical to a safe and well-informed process for hiring drivers.

What is a clean MVR report or driving record?

A clean motor vehicle record (MVR) report displays no serious evidence of problematic behavior behind the wheel. “Clean” most often means that the driver has had no driving violations and hasn’t been involved in any accidents for the entire reporting period of the record. This period could be as short as three years or as long as ten years of driving. However, a clean MVR report does not guarantee suitability.

Before hiring drivers, it’s necessary to investigate the individual’s endorsements and on-the-road skills to confirm that they match your business purposes.

What do employers look for in an MVR?

Checking driving records is only a part of the pre-employment screening process. If businesses need to hire for driving jobs, they may use these checks to protect the company from liability risk, property damage, public image fallout, and other concerns.

An employer could use an MVR check to mitigate risk by determining if a driver has the requisite license classification for the job or red flags like unsafe driving records that make them a risky hire. They may assess if an individual has a current license and confirm they are a safe driver.

How far back do employers check driving records?

The answer to this question varies based on the employer’s jurisdiction. Department of Transportation regulations requires employers to check driving records for every state in which someone held a license for the previous three years. You may need to order an MVR for multiple states in these cases. Local laws will govern the “lookback period” for driving records. A typical average for reporting is about five years, but each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles may vary.

Why do I need to sign a special agreement to order driving record reports?

Driving record information is not classified as public information in the same way as criminal records, even though their use in individualized assessments is very similar. We retrieve MVR results directly from the respective state institution, which requires additional legal agreements.

Will a DUI show up on a driving record report?

Yes, driving under the influence (DUI) convictions will appear on MVR reports because they are traffic-related convictions. However, if you want more specific information about an individual’s criminal past or to uncover other, possibly older, DUI offenses, we recommend ordering other screenings, such as a criminal search.

Can you report CDL information?

Yes, as part of a driving record report, we relate the type of licenses the individual holds, including commercial license status.

Do you have an overview of the access costs that each state charges?

No, these vary by state and are subject to change without notice. These access charges range from a few dollars to over $20. Before you finalize your order, we will show the exact access fee for that state at that time.

What does an employer see when checking a driving record?

When employers review an MVR, they will see a driver’s name, date of birth, driver’s license number, current license status (e.g. valid, suspended, or revoked), plus any restrictions or endorsements. It contains a record of past suspensions, traffic citations, DUI convictions, and reports related to any accidents the driver was involved in where police became involved. They may also report how many infraction points a driver has in a state system, which is essential when considering how your driving record affects your car insurance rates as a commercial business.

Can I run my own motor vehicle record?

In addition to enabling employers to vet a candidate’s motor vehicle record/MVR, backgroundchecks.com offers a way for drivers to get a motor vehicle record that summarizes their own driving record. Whether you are an employer checking a candidate’s driving history or a driver interested in obtaining a copy of your personal driving report, sign up today to start ordering MVR reports with a fast turnaround time.

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