Transport and Trucking Background Checks

Background Checks for Transport Companies

The transportation industry is much more expansive than many people realize. Public transportation alone accounts for more than $75 billion in revenue in the United States. Even though that sounds like a considerable amount, it pales compared to the nearly $1 trillion value of US freight transport by truck. There are many smaller sectors in the overall transportation industry, too, from private limousine companies to school bus drivers to those operating shuttle services to the airport. In each of these instances, those hired to operate motor vehicles assume a tremendous responsibility: to keep themselves, their passengers, their cargo, and others on the road safe. Background checks for transportation businesses have a key role to play.

In many industries, background checks are not a legal requirement but a tool that employers may use at their own discretion. That is not the transportation case. If you intend to hire someone to drive a vehicle, it is almost certain that you will face a federal requirement to conduct a background check and a series of verifications to ensure any candidate is fully equipped to work on the road. This is especially true for businesses regulated by the Department of Transportation or DOT. All DOT-regulated companies must do these checks. This regulation applies broadly, including trucking, private transportation, and any other job involving the operation of commercial vehicles.

What an employer looks for in a transportation background check may also differ from other industries. Some criminal convictions may be less of an issue for truck driver employers who will spend most of their working hours alone, for example. However, where a prior DUI is not disqualifying for someone working at a retail job, it could prevent someone from finding employment as an airport shuttle driver. Understanding your obligations and knowing how to conduct a thorough screening is essential, not just for safety but for speed and replicability. With an ongoing truck driver shortage, many companies find themselves with a pressing need to step up hiring and improve driver retention.

Expanding on our trucking industry roundup, we'll consider the specifics of why these checks remain important, look at the required types of screening for truck drivers, and cover some important compliance issues transport companies should know.

Why Background Checks Still Matter

Background checks are often referred to as part of a company's "due diligence," and for good reason. It is your responsibility to know whom you're hiring and to ensure that they can handle all the elements of the job at hand. When the job involves driving a truck that can weigh tens of thousands of pounds, carriers owe the public their care and attention in driver selection.

Suppose you hire a driver who causes a fatal accident while driving under the influence of alcohol or because they lack the proper training. In that case, your business may bear the ultimate responsibility. Civil lawsuits against negligent trucking companies can render judgments in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Even if you do not face a lawsuit, a brand that disregards public safety faces an uphill PR battle that will be difficult to win.

Consider the case of a small trucking firm that hired a man inexperienced in mountain driving to haul loads through Colorado. That lack of experience and unfamiliarity with the roads led to a crash that killed multiple people and a 110-year prison sentence for the driver, later reduced to 10 years. Although the carrier was not held liable, many believe negligence played a role in the accident. The carrier's insurance canceled their coverage, the owner faced tens of thousands of dollars in regulatory fines, and the company ultimately went out of business just five months after the crash. These and other criminal incidents in the trucking industry should give carriers pause. 

There is no need for truck driver recruitment so urgent that it is worth cutting corners or ignoring elements of the DOT-mandated background check and screening process. It's not just your business or your employees at stake–it's also the public. For these reasons, background checks are critical to responsible business ownership.

Screening Required for Truck Drivers

With so much importance placed on ensuring that only safe and reliable drivers get behind the wheel, you may worry about the complexity of hiring in transportation. However, once you lay out your policy, define the steps you must take and in which order, and equip yourself with support from a respected consumer reporting agency, you'll find it is relatively straightforward. Yes, there are multiple steps and many considerations at each stage, but once you break it down it's easy to understand background checks for truck drivers.

From searching for concerning records of past crimes to screening drivers for drug dependency and alcohol, what are the steps you should follow to recruit new and safe drivers successfully? Let’s consider the types of screening needed for truck drivers.

Criminal Record Checks

Criminal records are one of the first aspects employers want to consider when exploring someone's background. Even though truck driving tends to be an isolated profession, there is still the potential for liability if a driver commits a crime while driving on your behalf. Of course, past criminal behavior does not necessarily indicate an inclination towards wrongdoing in the future. Even so, employers have a right to consider this information within the boundaries of the law.

You should screen the driver’s records for any troubling warning signs or charges that may be potentially disqualifying for such a position, such as a recent DUI conviction. Because drivers may live in many places over the course of their careers, a far-reaching screening process is ideal. Checking these records helps to show that your business did its due diligence in the event of any future claims of negligence.

MVR Reports 

A motor vehicle report is like a driver's "permanent record" of their time behind the wheel and is a critical cornerstone of hiring truck drivers. An MVR report contains more than an individual's driver license information; it also shows you endorsements and restrictions they have on their license. Many types of commercial driving require specific license endorsements demonstrating the completion of a specified training.

An MVR also contains records of infractions on the road, from speeding tickets to records of accidents and other incidents. While minor infractions may only stay on an MVR for a few years, accident reports and others can linger significantly longer depending on a state's laws. The MVR also shows you how many infraction "points" a driver has on their license, if applicable.

The MVR is just as important, if not more important than a criminal background check—not least because reviewing an applicant's MVR is a requirement set by the Department of Transportation. You must order MVRs for every state in which a driver was commercially licensed to operate over the previous three calendar years.

Drug and Alcohol Screening

All prospective commercial drivers must submit to a drug test to attain employment. Unlike other industries where there are seldom any requirements to drug test, the Department of Transportation has made this step mandatory. The risks created by driving while impaired by any substance are simply too great. Because cannabis remains federally illegal and Schedule I, even medical marijuana is unacceptable to the DOT. Any positive test result must disqualify the driver, and they may temporarily lose their CDL as a result.

Additionally, you must also consult the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's drug and alcohol clearinghouse system using the applicant's information. This system reveals three years of an individual's prior violations of the drug and alcohol policy, which you may also use as the basis for employment decisions. The clearinghouse also contains records of when drivers complete remedial "return to duty" programs.

Medical Screening

Commercial drivers may not have serious health conditions that could cause them to suddenly become a danger to others on the road. As such, you must work with a qualified and licensed medical professional to conduct screenings of any prospective drivers. Disqualifying conditions typically include heart disease, epilepsy, sight issues that cannot be adequately corrected, and specific medications that may cause impairment. In some cases, drivers who fail their medical screen can apply for exemptions from the FMCSA. If granted, you can choose to employ those individuals without worrying about regulatory violations.

Certification of Road Safety Test Passage

All commercial drivers must maintain their own professional files which include their most recent road testing results and DOT certifications. As a transportation carrier, it is part of your duty to ensure that every individual driver has a current license with fully updated qualifications. This can include the specific endorsements on a license, some of which may require periodic re-testing. 

Carriers cannot simply accept a driver's word that they have the correct certifications. Hiring a driver without viewing these documents and confirming their authenticity and recent behavior rises to the level of potential negligence and is a violation of DOT requirements. Just as an employer in another industry might want to verify that a nurse or a contractor has the appropriate licensing, carriers must not overlook this simple but important step.

Verification of Safe Driving With Prior Employers

When hiring drivers who do not need to hold a CDL to operate vehicles for your company, they must provide you with information about all their employers for the previous three years. CDL drivers must provide that information for the last ten years. You must verify that your candidates drove safely for their previous employers and did not incur any serious infractions. Think of this process the same way any other business would think about contacting an applicant's references. Don't miss the opportunity to understand your candidate's history with other employers—there could be red flags in those records you need to know.

What to Do When Screening Truck Drivers

Knowing the types of vetting you must perform and what to look for is just the first part of the process. To be successful, you'll need a policy that is fully-informed on issues of compliance, easy to replicate, and simple to follow every time. Because Department of Transportation-regulated industries must consider so much more information compared to other sectors, this can be a daunting task at first. No one wants to risk running afoul of the law or incurring fines or civil actions against their business.

So what do you need to know to ensure that you're meeting all your obligations and providing job seekers with a fair and equitable process? Whether it's understanding the nuances of the law or figuring out how to choose a reliable partner for supplying your background checks, we can help you understand your responsibilities. 

Know the Laws Governing Background Checks

From the Fair Credit Reporting Act's rules about background check disclosures to the Civil Rights Act's definitions of discrimination, there are many rules and regulations to follow. That's before even considering the many extra layers mandated by the Department of Transportation.

Before you order a background check or even think about starting the screening process, you must ensure you have a clear and fully informed understanding of your responsibilities when hiring drivers and using background checks. Even leading trucking companies such as JB Hunt have run afoul of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and faced potentially major class action suits. Understanding how to fairly and legally make hiring decisions based on background checks should always be your starting point.

Hire a Reputable Background Check Provider

How can SMBs navigate the historic truck driver shortage without compromising on quality? Confidence in your due diligence processes comes from two places: a fully-informed, well-written policy, and support from a consumer reporting agency with a proven track record. Selecting a partner to provide your business with the background screening, MVR reports, and verifications you need is a decision that requires care. Choose a business that has years of experience with your industry, the right products to supply the information you need swiftly, and a proactive approach to customer service. When your background check provider plays an active role in supporting your efforts to select the best and safest drivers, you can enjoy greater confidence in every new hire.

Use the Same Process for Every Applicant

No one should get special treatment during the hiring process. Using background checks for transportation screening products legally and reliably, you must create a background check procedure that you repeat precisely the same for every individual. This holds true for how you choose to dismiss applicants based on background results, too. Anything less than a highly consistent effort opens the door to claims that you have discriminated against an applicant or have otherwise been unfair. 

While nothing may come of such claims, being served with notice of a lawsuit is not an impossible outcome. To avoid legal risks—and to ensure that you evaluate every applicant on a level playing field—always rely on the same process.

Have Drug and Alcohol Testing Reviewed by a Medical Officer

Drug and alcohol screening results are of critical importance in the transportation sector, but you cannot rely on your own intuition or understanding to interpret them. In some cases, a driver may test positive for a prohibited substance but only because the test detected an actual prescription medication with a similar structure instead. Denying someone on the basis of a legitimate, non-disqualifying medical condition could be discriminatory.

A medical review officer, or MRO, is the answer. MROs have specific training and a certification for reviewing drug screens. By analyzing the data, they can determine whether a legitimate positive test occurred or whether there are potentially mitigating circumstances to consider. It is an FMCSA requirement for all screens to undergo review by an MRO.

Provide a Standalone Disclosure to Each Prospective Driver

The standalone disclosure requirement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act is not something you want to overlook. Unfortunately, it can also be quite confusing, with various lawsuits and court rulings further muddying the waters. Disclosures cannot be bundled into a packet of other papers, such as the regular job application. Instead, they must be a separate document provided individually to each applicant. 

You can offer this document with an application, but the disclosure cannot be a part of the application or any other statutorily required notices. Always ensure every applicant receives this disclosure. Missing even one could cause future headaches.

Obtain Written Consent Prior To Using Background Checks

Remember, the FCRA regulates background checks in transportation as a consumer report because of the amount of personal information it contains. Even though criminal history data is a matter of public record, you cannot simply access those records as a business without first asking an applicant for their permission. Obtaining written consent and maintaining records of that consent are must-do parts of the background check process.

Standalone disclosures must not contain "extraneous information" according to the FCRA, which means you should not include anything other than the legally required statements. Offer the authorization form as a separate document during the hiring process to be sure you collect the signature and avoid one of the most common legal hazards companies face today.

FAQs

Do you need a perfect driving record to become a truck driver?

No, a completely spotless driving record is not a hard and fast requirement to be a truck driver. It should go without saying, though, that the cleaner a driving record is, the more suitable an individual may be to operate commercial heavy vehicles. Transport carriers will look for evidence of patterns of bad behavior on the road or serious infractions, such as a DUI or a major at-fault accident that resulted in injuries. However, a speeding ticket or two in the past or some non-moving violations are unlikely to be seen as serious barriers or major red flags on background checks for transportation companies.

Can I still be a truck driver if I have a DUI or DWI?

Whether an individual can obtain employment as a truck driver following a DUI/DWI conviction or not will depend on several factors. First and foremost, will be the age of the offense. A single DUI from 7 or more years ago is still troubling, but it is not nearly as troubling as turning up a DUI record from six months or two years ago. The amount of time elapsed is often a major consideration. Other factors include an employer's priorities, state and federal law, and the other items contained in the driver's MVR. Multiple DUI convictions will likely result in the loss of job opportunities in the transportation industry; few carriers will want to assume that level of risk.

How far back can trucking companies check your driving record?

Trucking companies look at the last three years of your driving records in every state where you have held a commercial driver’s license. However, the length of time covered by an MVR can vary from state to state. Some states only keep records for three years, while others can offer a “lookback period” that can be as long as seven or even ten years. However, the older an incident on the driving report, the less relevance it may have to an individual’s suitability today if they have had a clean driving record for years after the incident.

What does a TSA background check consist of?

The Transportation Security Administration is a government agency responsible for activities such as securing airports against threats and protecting the public while they are in transit. TSA background checks are different from trucking background checks because they do not focus on driving history or safety, as these positions do not usually involve the actual operation of any commercial vehicles or heavy equipment. However, a “TSA background check” may also mean the vetting procedures that pilots must undergo before they can operate an airliner. As an agency of the government working in such sensitive areas, the background checks to work at the TSA or in air travel are extensive and include FBI fingerprint checks, criminal record checks, license verifications, MVR reports (for pilots), and others.

What is a PSP background check?

The PSP, or Pre-Employment Screening Program, is a system maintained by the FMCSA to provide information supplementary to an individual’s motor vehicle report. The databases the PSP draws from may not contain every driver, especially those who have only recently earned their CDLs. However, for more established drivers, using the PSP is a simple way for transport carriers to investigate a driver’s record. The PSP reports on DOT-required roadside inspection reports with results going back three years, plus five years of crash data that met DOT reporting requirements.

How long does a DOT background check take?

The length of time it takes to complete a driver vetting program can vary because some elements will depend on the applicant’s response, such as submitting to a drug screening. Others, such as waiting for the medical review officer’s report, may also take several business days as you wait on other organizations. However, some portions, such as obtaining criminal history records and MVR reports, can be very quick. For example, we can offer almost instant results on criminal records for many jurisdictions through our US OneSEARCH. Background checks for transportation workers may take a minimum of several business days to turn around a driver background check, but in some places, it can take longer.

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