How Long a DOT Background Check Takes

The DOT (Department of Transport) background check is a required vetting process for all operators of commercial vehicles; you cannot hire a driver without following the regulations set by the government. How long will it take to achieve compliance? Explore when to consider these factors and what recruitment timetable to anticipate.

How Long Does a DOT Background Check Take?

At a time when trucking and transportation companies nationwide continue to face a critical shortage of drivers, recruiting as many new workers as possible is vital. However, this industry faces challenges the average employer only sometimes encounters. These challenges center primarily around vetting and screening drivers during the hiring process. Because transit companies face a requirement to conduct an extensive DOT background check, hiring isn't always the fastest process.

Background checks for transportation companies must necessarily account for more factors for two reasons. The first is safety—a more thorough vetting procedure increases the likelihood that you will hire a capable, competent driver to transport heavy loads. The second is compliance. The United States Department of Transportation has laid out extensive guidelines and enforces them with regulatory action. Failing to conduct the DOT background check properly could land your business in hot water.

So how long will it take to check all those boxes? Ultimately, no two DOT checks will be the same; you might be able to complete one quickly, while another driver could take days or even weeks to vet fully. 

Why is that? We will need to dig deeper into the process to answer that question. Understanding who must comply with these requirements is the first step, followed by examining each step. Let's review these facts and consider how they can impact the duration of your hiring process.

When Do You Need To Use a DOT Background Check?

Not every company needs this type of vetting; not everyone in a transportation company must go through this check. For example, the administrative staff you may hire to work in an office won't need this extensive form of background checking. Instead, you can use a regular criminal background check process—provided those employees won't be operating commercial vehicles. When such staff only use their time coordinating driver schedules and communicating with clients, you can hire more quickly.

However, any business that operates commercial vehicles with employee drivers in any capacity should explore more carefully what's required of them. According to the Department of Transportation, the following types of transportation businesses must conduct extra screening.

  • Logistics companies, over-the-road carriers, trucking providers and parcel delivery services.
  • Transportation companies, such as taxi services, airport shuttles, bus drivers, and others.
  • Any job that requires the operation of a vehicle to transport people or goods.

Another way to know if you need to engage with this process is to determine whether the job involves any of the following:

  • Transporting 9+ passengers.
  • Carrying hazardous or flammable materials.
  • Operating a vehicle with a gross weight of over 10,000 pounds.
  • Any job requiring a CDL or commercial driver's license.

If your business meets these criteria, there's no getting around it—you'll need to conduct a DOT check.

Estimating the Time Needed To Complete the Process

If you know these regulations apply to you, how long will it take to run down the checklist and officially clear a driver for duty using a DOT background check? Unfortunately, there is no one answer to that question. As with so many elements of the vetting process, "it depends on the circumstances" is the reality of the situation. Your work could be quick and easy with one driver, but it could take much longer with the next individual.

At the low end, it will usually take at least several business days to complete. That's assuming your applicant promptly submits a drug test and all the required information. At the far end of time estimates, it could take several weeks for you to complete all the legwork to satisfy each of the government's requirements. Carriers and drivers should be prepared for delays and a slower turnaround time than normal hiring.

Why is there so much variability in the process? The average non-DOT-regulated employer can standardize a hiring workflow, including background checks, so the process is usually short. It may help to scrutinize all the steps you must complete to clear someone for truck driving without potential legal peril.

Understanding the Many Steps Involved in a Driver Background Check

Criminal background checks serve to raise red flags when necessary. For an office hiring a knowledge worker, more focus lands on the interview and verifying a candidate's experience and work history than much else. The average employer may only need to verify a few things about an applicant. Depending on their location, they may only need a couple of business days to finish vetting a candidate.

A DOT-required background check, on the other hand, digs deep into a candidate's history. It's not just about their criminal record—you must also understand their driving history and safety record. Have they ever been convicted of a DUI? Did they recently fail a drug test and test positive for any prohibited substances today? Look at how many elements go into this check:

  • Verifying safe driving history by pulling Motor Vehicle Records (MVRs) from every state where the applicant has held a commercial license. You must look back three years.
  • Verifying past employment and confirming a record of safety with those carriers.
  • Drug testing and verification of no recent positive tests in the clearinghouse.
  • Certified medical testing.

With so many elements, it's no surprise that it can take weeks for some carriers to clear a new driver for the job. That's time that neither party wants to waste—so is there a solution?

How You Can Make Truck Driver Recruitment Simpler and Faster

Many issues that create bottlenecks in recruiting new drivers stem from the many steps involved in their background checks. This added length is especially apparent for veteran drivers, who may have driving records and past licenses in multiple states. You will need to check all those records while conducting a drug screen and waiting for the officially-examined results. That's before you even consider the criminal background check and verify license endorsements.

The best way to reduce how long it takes to complete the background check for truck drivers process is to enlist professional help. Many transport companies have small back offices; you may even handle this process personally as an owner. Handing off taht responsibility to a trusted and professional third party can help you streamline the vetting pipeline while enhancing the level of confidence in each new hire. The result can be a faster, more consistent, and more reliable way of turning recruits into employees.

At, we make it simple for trucking companies and transportation businesses to complete their due diligence. With a clear understanding of the DOT background check process, professional expertise on staff, and our convenient vetting products, you can confidently place this effort in our hands. Working together, we'll ensure your time-to-hire is as short as possible—even with the more complex nature of this procedure. Start considering those options now or dig deeper into your requirements by exploring our Learning Center.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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