DQ Files- The Basics

Written by Jason Reid
May 25, 2024

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) considers the driver hiring process and ongoing checks of your drivers to be a critical element in building and maintaining a safe carrier operation. Managing your driver requirements can be challenging and unfortunately, they can cause a lot of confusion, hefty fines per violation, and penalties for any size trucking organization. 

Here are some key elements to help give you a little more piece of mind. 

What is it?

A Driver Qualification File, also known as a DQ File, or DQF is a set of documents required by the FMSCA for all drivers as a record keeping document to be available to prove your drivers are safe enough and healthy enough to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV). You must always maintain these files and must have all the appropriate files in place to pass a safety audit. 

Note: If you’re a new authority, you will be audited within your first year as part of your New Entrant Safety Assurance Program. A completed Driver Qualification File is one of the most tedious portions of the new entrant safety audit. So, it pays dividends to get things organized correctly upfront and once they are, keep them maintained that way. 

Baseline Requirements 

As far as the basic qualification requirements are concerned, Part 391 requires that the driver: 

  • Be at least 21 years old (18 in some states for intrastate drivers), 
  • Be able to read and speak English well enough to converse with the public and law enforcement, 
  • Be medically qualified — this means a driver will need to undergo a physical every 2 years, or sooner, depending on the length of the current certification, 
  • Has a valid driver’s license of the correct class for the vehicle being driven, 
  • Completes the necessary paperwork (DOT driver’s application, certificate of violations, etc.- see below for details), 
  • Has undergone a Safety Performance History background check (including checking with the driver’s previous DOT-regulated employers, if applicable), 
  • Has the necessary training and/or experience to safely operate the equipment, and 
  • Has passed a road test (or has a CDL- if applicable)  

The regulations also require that proof of all of the above, which would go into your Driver Qualification File. You will also need a MVR report for the previous 3 years as well as proof of an annual review of the driver’s motor vehicle record and performance. *Note- don’t toss out the original MVR report. You must always have that one on file. 

Documents that must be in the DQ file include: 

  • Driver’s application 
  • Road test and copy of the road test certificate or a road test certificate issued by another carrier within the last three years or a copy of a valid CDL 
  • Initial MVR for all states the driver had a license in for previous 3 yrs plus an annual MVR from all states the driver had a license of the last 12mos. Note– Failing to keep this initial MVR is one of the most common mistakes.
  • Annual MVR 
  • The annual “Certificate of Violations” completed by the driver and signed by the employer 
  • A record of management review of driver safety performance, and 
  • Copies of medical certificates (cards) for all physicals taken over the last three years.  
  • Hazmat Certs- if applicable 
  • The application, background check records, and road test records must be kept the entire time the driver is employed with that carrier, plus three years.

Who is responsible for maintaining the DQ file? 

For Owner Operators (O/O)

If the driver is an owner-operator operating under his/her own DOT number, then the owner-operator is responsible for making sure they meet the qualification requirements and remains qualified. The O/O must maintain his/her DQ file. 

For an O/O the DQ file, the only thing they need outside assistance with to accomplish is the road test unless they already have a CDL, then the road test is not needed. An owner-operator needs to find someone who is competent at evaluating drivers operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) on the road and have this individual conduct and document the road test. 

Since the O/O is both driver and the employer they are allowed to manage they’re own file, however they must adhere and include all the same requirements in a DQF. 

For Companies with Independent Contractors/Leased on Drivers 

If the owner-operator leases onto a carrier, then the carrier the O/O is leased onto becomes responsible for the driver’s DQ file and ongoing qualifications. They are required to make sure the owner-operator’s credentials (license and medical card) stay current and for conducting annual reviews. In this case the owner-operator is responsible for maintaining their personal qualifications (license and medical card) however the company is responsible for overseeing the owner-operator and maintaining the DQ file. The carrier must also keep proof of the O/O’s insurance and business license on file. 

For Companies with Employee drivers 

If the company employs drivers that fall under the FMCSA requirements they must keep and maintain all documents for that employee. They must also keep them for at least 3 years post-employment.  

This stuff can be a pain, but it doesn’t have to be 

We get it, compliance is tough and is easy to overlook because you’re busy running other parts of your business, however when you’re not in compliance things can go from a nuisance to worse. Filing inaccuracies, manual error, and unnecessary time-consuming record keeping practices are just the beginning. (See our blog about digital DQ Files) Beyond that, you risk incurring violations, fines or even worse costly litigation that can negatively impact your operations in the short-term or worse. 

ComplyDQ can help you get these files organized in an easy and efficient way for your new drivers as well as your current drivers. Start getting your DQ files in place TODAY. Click here to give us a try for free! 

Drive Safe! 


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