Truck Driver Background Checks: An Employer's Guide to CDL Requirements

Stephanie Colestock
January 24, 2024
7 min read

Employers hiring commercial truck drivers are regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and, as such, are required to conduct background checks on candidates. These background checks help employers properly vet commercial driver’s license (CDL) truck drivers before hiring to promote workplace safety, maintain compliance with state and federal laws, and reduce injuries or accidents.

For companies hiring CDL truck drivers, here’s a look at what truck driver background checks include, the laws and regulations that apply, and how to run these background checks on your own or through a background check provider like Checkr.

What is a truck driver background check?

A CDL truck driver background check is a comprehensive records request that helps employers establish candidates’ eligibility and qualifications for CDL positions. These background checks enable employers to view and assess a potential candidate’s driving record, employment history, previous drug and alcohol testing results, and criminal record.

Interstate CDL truck drivers are regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and are required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to submit to pre-employment background checks. The FMCSA is a federal agency within the DOT that is responsible for interstate commerce safety regulations and helps to reduce roadway accidents, injuries, and fatalities among commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).

Employers of interstate truck drivers generally need to follow minimum DOT background check guidelines, while truck drivers who only drive in-state are not subject to federal DOT guidelines. However, many states have their own laws regulating state and intrastate commerce, so employers should consult their legal counsel to learn which laws apply to their business. If these regulations are not followed, the employer not only risks public safety but also opens themselves up to consequences that could include compliance penalties and fines, suspension of business licensing, and more.

Even if their candidates aren’t subject to DOT guidelines, employers may still choose to add additional background screenings based on their company’s unique policies, roles, and requirements. Many states have also already adopted those same federal standards as their own intrastate trucking standards, so the requirements often overlap.

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Types of background screenings for truck drivers

There are several different types of background screenings and checks that trucking companies can conduct prior to hiring a candidate, some of which will be required by state or federal law. This may include a criminal background check, physical exam, motor vehicle records (MVR) request, and drug and alcohol testing.

The DOT requires the following background screenings for CDL truck drivers:

    • Comprehensive three-year DOT employment verification report, including information on previous accidents and the driver’s safety performance history

    • Three-year MVR report for each state in which the driver holds a license, accompanied by a Medical Examiner's Certificate (also called a Med Cert, ME Certificate, or MEC)

    • Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse report with the driver’s previous drug and alcohol testing results

    • Physical health exam

    • Drug test

A criminal history report is recommended as part of the truck driver background check process, but is not always required. In some states or with certain employers, a trucking background check may also include a credit report.

Why should trucking companies conduct background checks for CDL drivers?

Background checks for CDL drivers are an important part of the hiring process, helping trucking companies maintain federal and state compliance. By reviewing a potential driver’s qualifications and safety record, employers can help promote workplace and public safety, and make more informed hiring decisions.

Even if a trucking company is not required to conduct a DOT CDL background check on a candidate, these reports can help establish if a candidate is eligible for employment and give a snapshot of their previous driving, safety, employment, and drug testing history. Background checks can also help reduce liability, lower insurance premiums, and protect your organization’s reputation.

What shows up on a trucking background check?

Depending on the screenings required by law or company policy, a trucking background check may provide employers with the candidate’s driving history, current license status, previous drug and alcohol testing results, road test and roadside inspection results, and physical exam results. Employers may also request a candidate’s criminal history records in many cases, even if it is not required. 

Here’s what shows up on a few common CDL background checks:

    • Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse records check: These FMCSA records provide previous drug and alcohol violations.

    • Medical certificate: Medical certificates (also called med certs) demonstrate that a driver’s fitness to operate a CMV has been evaluated and they have passed their examination.

    • Motor vehicle record: These state-specific records provide an overview of a driver’s current license status and violations.

    • Drug and alcohol screenings: The DOT requires CDL candidates to pass a 5-panel drug test that detects the presence of five substances (Amphetamines, Cannabinoids/THC, Cocaine, Opiates, Phencyclidine/PCP), and employers may choose to conduct a pre-employment alcohol test. State and local laws may also regulate how employers conduct drug screenings, especially in regard to testing for marijuana (THC).

    • Criminal background check: A criminal background check isn’t always required, but these screenings will show a driver’s criminal records and arrests as permitted by local, state, and federal laws.

    • Safety record check: The FMCSA database maintains each driver’s roadside safety inspection reports and violation records.

These background check reports can give an employer a more comprehensive view of a candidate’s performance, experience, reliability, and fitness for the position. The results of these reports can also indicate whether the candidate could pose added liability to the company, or if they should be disqualified from the position altogether. 

Can what shows up on a CDL background check disqualify a job candidate?

Sometimes. Depending on the circumstance, employers may disqualify candidates based on FMCSA regulations or company policies related to background checks. It’s also possible to be permanently disqualified or just disqualified for a specific period of time (usually a year or more). The DOT may allow individuals with certain violations to return to duty if specific requirements are met and their employer wishes for them to resume work. These might include completing a drug or alcohol program, working with a qualified substance abuse professional (SAP), and successfully passing a drug test. Ultimately, each employer is responsible for their hiring decisions and compliance.

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How to get a CDL background check

Employers can get a CDL background check by requesting reports directly from each of the relevant agencies, or by working with a professional background check provider, or consumer reporting agency (CRA), to facilitate these requests. 

Hiring managers may request background check reports directly from each relevant database, typically after notifying the candidate and obtaining their written authorization. Some DOT background check reports can be obtained online, including state driver records through applicable Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) where allowed. Other background screenings may require in-person appointments, such as drug testing and in-person physical exams, or submitting requests by mail to the appropriate agency.

Requesting and gathering the results of these requests can be time-consuming, and it’s important to keep candidates updated along the way. Employers who want to speed up and streamline the background check process might consider working with a CRA, like Checkr. With advanced machine-learning technology, Checkr makes requesting and reading the results of background checks faster, easier, and safer. An easy-to-navigate candidate portal keeps employers and candidates notified with automated status updates, and allows employers to access and document all relevant information in one place.

How trucking companies can maintain compliance

To maintain compliance with federal, state, and local requirements surrounding background checks, trucking companies need to closely follow and adhere to the various regulations involved with their industry. Here are some guidelines to consider.

1. Follow DOT regulations

Per DOT regulations, interstate commercial trucking companies and employers of CDL drivers across all industries are required to conduct background checks on eligible truck driver candidates within 30 days of employment.

Companies will need to review background checks—including employment verification, driving record, drug and alcohol testing, and physical exam reports—and confirm employment eligibility to maintain federal DOT compliance. Trucking companies can also choose to conduct additional background checks, such as a criminal records check, even if their state or jurisdiction does not mandate such. 

2. Create a CDL background check policy

A company background screening policy should be established prior to evaluating and hiring candidates, which outlines guidelines such as:

    • Which screenings are required for CDL positions

    • The process for ordering required screenings, either directly from each relevant agency or through a background check service

    • Guidelines for assessing and adjudicating background check results

Companies should then follow that policy closely and train their teams on relevant workflows. Putting these together well in advance can help companies maintain compliance by ensuring consistent checks, meeting advance notice requirements, and mitigating potential bias and discrimination in the hiring process.

3. Focus on FCRA compliance

When using a CRA like Checkr to conduct truck driver background checks and screenings, it’s important to note that employers need to comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA mandates that employers disclose their intent to run a background check and receive written consent from candidates prior to conducting any screenings. 

If the result of a background check provided by a CRA disqualifies a candidate, companies are also required to follow the adverse action process. This includes sending a pre-adverse action notice to the candidate, allowing a reasonable waiting period for the candidate’s review, and then either reconsidering the candidate or sending a final adverse action notice.

CRAs like Checkr can make managing compliance simpler and faster with a robust online portal, compliance tools, and easy access to candidate updates. When you partner with Checkr, you can streamline your adjudication and adverse action processes, tracking progress along the way with just a glance. Building a process that enables compliance also helps create consistency across organizations and reduces the burden on adjudication teams. 

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CDL background check laws and requirements

Employers should be aware of the array of laws that influence CDL background check requirements, including DOT regulations, the FCRA, and state laws. Here are a few key regulations to keep in mind.

US Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations

Summary: Federal DOT regulations set by the FMCSA require that applicable truck drivers are subject to background checks within 30 days of employment. These checks can include employment verification, drug and alcohol testing history, motor vehicle records, and a physical exam. Truck drivers subject to these screenings include those operating:

    • Vehicles of any size used to transport hazardous materials

    • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 10,000 lbs

    • Vehicles transporting 9-15 total passengers for compensation, or 15 or more passengers not for compensation

CMV drivers operating in interstate commerce are also subject to federal regulations like 49 CFR § 391, which sets minimum age and driver qualification requirements such as experience, training, and physical fitness standards. 

A similar federal regulation, 49 CFR § 40, sets forth requirements for alcohol and controlled substance testing procedures for drivers in safety-sensitive positions. Part of this regulation establishes testing rules and processes, like that all DOT drug tests must be processed in a certified lab. Allowed specimens may include urine or oral fluid (a recent update).

Learn more on the FMCSA website.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Summary: This federal law requires that employers working with a CRA like Checkr provide candidates with notice of intent to run a background check. They must also obtain written consent from the candidate before conducting any screenings, and follow the adverse action process if the candidate will be disqualified based on the results of their background check. See law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and EEOC

Summary: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and protects against the discrimination of employees and job applicants on the basis of certain protected categories. The EEOC recommends using individualized assessments to achieve fair adjudication of background checks. See law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and EEOC

Summary: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and protects against the discrimination of employees and job applicants on the basis of certain protected categories. The EEOC recommends using individualized assessments to achieve fair adjudication of background checks. See law.

Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA)

Summary: The DPPA is a federal law prohibiting personal information from being disclosed publicly or to unauthorized entities. Before requesting a candidate’s driving history or MVR, employers are required to obtain written authorization from the individual. See law.

State trucking background check laws

Not all CDL truck drivers are subject to federal DOT regulations, but many states have also designed their legislation to align with these federal CMV requirements. Additionally, some states have added background check requirements for drivers above and beyond the federal compliance guidelines.

FAQs about background checks for CDL drivers

How do trucking companies verify candidate work experience?

As part of a truck driver background check, trucking companies will need to request a DOT employment verification as well as a motor vehicle record report from each state where the driver holds a permit or license. These reports will give the company a comprehensive view of the candidate’s experience, including their license history and current status.

How far back do trucking companies check driving records?

FMCSA regulations require trucking companies to request MVRs from each state where a candidate has held a commercial license for the last three years, as part of a background check for CDL drivers. 

Employers that work with a CRA, like Checkr, must also comply with the FCRA’s requirements on how far back a report can go. Some states include vehicle-related convictions (like DUIs) on driving records, and criminal convictions may be reported indefinitely under the FCRA. This means that convictions that occurred more than three years ago may, in some cases, appear on a trucking driving record check. 

How long does a CDL background check take?

The timeline for a CDL background check depends on how long the company takes to obtain candidate approval and request the individual reports. It may also hinge on how long it takes the candidate to schedule in-person testing, such as drug and alcohol screens or a physical exam. When working with a CRA like Checkr, candidates can easily schedule in-person screenings through our candidate portal, and employers benefit from faster turnaround times that get more drivers out on the road.

Get started on a truck driver background check with Checkr

Truck driver background checks help employers comply with federal and state hiring and transportation regulations. They are an important part of the hiring process and help maintain compliance, promote public safety, and hire qualified drivers. 

Checkr helps companies of any size facilitate these background checks with multiple screening options and customizable packages. Checkr’s advanced background check technology offers a streamlined process, accurate results, and an easy platform for receiving and reviewing reports. Our easy-to-use ordering and adjudication tools help you save time, maintain compliance, and make informed hiring decisions faster—so you can get qualified drivers out on the road. Get started with Checkr.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the author

Stephanie Colestock is a professional writer who covers a variety of small business and financial topics. For, her work is aimed at helping both employers and job candidates navigate the hiring and employment process in the most informed and effective way.

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