Your small fleet may not be subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Alliance (FMCSA) safety regulations, and you might not need drivers with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). Yet when it comes to setting rules regarding behaviors that will disqualify them from operating your fleet vehicles, FMCSA’s driver disqualification criteria is a good place to start.  

Under FMCSA regulations, major offenses that result in suspension of a CDL include: 

  • Being under the influence of alcohol as laid out by state law, or refusing to undergo alcohol level testing, 
  • Being under the influence of a controlled substance, 
  • Leaving the scene of an accident involving a commercial motor vehicle, 
  • Using the vehicle to commit a felony, 
  • Using the vehicle in the commission of a felony involving the manufacturing, distribution or dispensing of a controlled substance. 

There also are violations that will impact CDL qualification, but not necessarily result in a suspension for a first-time violator. Those include: 

  • Excessive speeding — 15 mph or more over the posted speed limit, 
  • Reckless driving,  
  • Improper or erratic lane changes, 
  • Following too closely, 
  • A traffic violation that results from an accident where there was a fatality, 
  • Driving a commercial motor vehicle without having a CDL, 
  • Driving a commercial motor vehicle without having a CDL in the driver’s possession, 
  • Driving a commercial motor vehicle without having the proper class of CDL and/or endorsements for the specific vehicle group operated, for passengers or cargo type. 

Understanding Disqualification 

Disqualified drivers are not allowed to operate commercial vehicles at any time. Disqualification periods vary depending on the offense. For example, two serious traffic violations in separate incidents during any three-year period will result in a 60-day disqualification.  

Three serious traffic violations in separate incidents during a three-year period will lead to a 120-day disqualification period. However, a driver will receive a lifetime disqualification with no eligibility for reinstatement if convicted of using a vehicle in the commission of a felony involving the manufacture, distribution or dispensing of a controlled substance. 

Jim Noble, vice president, risk management at eDriving, a firm that helps companies reduce collisions, injuries and license violations, says the FMCSA regulations, “are base guidelines that give a fleet a good starting point [for setting driver behavior rules].”  

He adds that a fleet study its own market from a liability standpoint to determine whether it should have stricter procedures, especially around driver hiring and retention criteria. 

Marc Canton, manager, Mercury Associates, a fleet management consulting firm, says, “Every organization has to determine its own risk tolerances and define policies accordingly. However, the best programs not only have policies and procedures, but also have formal training programs that are 360 degrees — there is a feedback loop from hiring, to initial training, to measured performance, to ongoing and remedial training, with formal incentives.” 

Uniform Criteria 

While FMCSA criteria apply to drivers with CDLs, both Noble and Canton believe that fleets should use the same disqualification criteria across the board, even for drivers who do not need to have a CDL. “Essentially the best practice is to use the CDL requirements as your guide for creating policies for non-CDL drivers,” Canton says. 

The Purpose of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse 

The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is now in effect. It is an electronic database that tracks CDL drivers who have tested positive for prohibited drug or alcohol use, as well as those who refused to take a drug test. The purpose of the Clearinghouse is to prevent a driver who fails a drug test to get hired to drive for another fleet without completing a return-to-duty process, which will make them eligible to drive again. 

Registration for motor carriers and drivers began in October. The Clearinghouse contains drug and alcohol violations under part 382 of FMCSA regulation. The Clearinghouse will only contain Department of Transportation drug and alcohol tests; results from any additional testing a fleet conduct will not be included. 

As of Jan. 6, 2020, companies must check the database during the driver hiring process and during annual driver reviews. Violations will remain in the database for a period of five years or until the driver completed required return-to-duty process. 

Noble of eDriving says, “The Clearinghouse is going to be great to have from a regulated fleet standpoint.” However, from a non-regulated fleet standpoint, there is no similar clearinghouse. As a result, fleets will have to rely on regular checks of drivers’ Motor Vehicle Reports to discover if there have been any violations, convictions and license status. 

As for setting those regulations, Noble says insurance companies’ loss control departments are a good resource. 

In addition, each fleet needs to examine its own performance when it comes to things like number of motor vehicle violations, number of serious motor vehicle violations, and past crashes and incidents. “Fleets have always looked at drivers’ motor vehicle records for violations and crashes when making hiring decisions,” Noble says. “However, with the driver shortage, they may be tempted to loosen those up. In actuality, because of ‘nuclear verdicts,’ they probably should be tightening them up.” 

When it comes to violations and crashes, it is all about the number and types. Driver should have no more than two violations in the last three years, no serious moving violations in the last three years (such as DUIs or reckless driving), and no more than one at fault crash.  

Your own discipline policies can be different from those of FMCSA, but you can’t override an FMCSA disqualification. 

Canton says fleets need to use all the data that is coming off trucks via sensors and telematics devices to find drivers who are in violation of your policies. “You need to analyze the data. One hard braking incident in rush hour in Chicago is different than someone who is braking hard every five minutes.”  

This data can help you identify at-risk drivers or those who are more likely to end up being disqualified because they violated FMCSA rules. 

Communicate Early and Often 

Whatever policy the fleet sets, it is important that it becomes part of the hiring criteria and gets communicated to all applicants so they understand it. “Drivers need to know that these are the basic policies and procedures that set expectations in terms of what you expect from a driver safety standpoint,” Nobles says.  

The information also needs to be in the employee handbook and communicated to new hires at orientation and reinforced during regular safety meetings. 

Canton says beyond the formal policies and procedures, fleets need to consider incentives for drivers so they do not engage in behavior that can lead to disqualification. “You need both the carrot and the stick,” he says. “Studies have shown that human nature is such that best programs have the correct combination of both the carrot (incentives) and the stick (punishments).” 

When it comes to policies regarding driver behavior and disqualification, it is not just “set it and forget it.” According to Noble, “At least once a year, fleets should do a major review of their policies and procedures to see if they are keeping up with the risk profile to determine if they need to be tightened or changed.” 

He also said fleets will want to start checking the new Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse regularly. (See sidebar.) 

Canton agrees that an annual review is a good idea. “The policies and procedures should not be sitting around collecting dust. They should be living documents.”  

Ideally, he would like to see fleets checking drivers’ motor vehicle records (MVR) every six months. “I would argue that it is probably a good idea to invest in the newer systems where you pay a subscription fee. You submit your drivers’ identification information and anytime an incident appears on the driving record, you get a notification automatically without having to run a check.” 

He also suggests that companies have a policy that requires drivers to report any incident within 24 hours. “This is important because there is always a delay from a ticket or an accident appearing on the driving record.” 

If someone other than the employee is going to be driving a company-owned vehicle, it is wise to check that person’s MVR on an annual basis as well.