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Carrier acquisitions have increased based on 2022 trucking industry data. During and after an acquisition, questions arise regarding driver qualification (DQ) files and Clearinghouse queries for the acquired fleet's drivers.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) allows an acquiring carrier to accept the DQ files from the acquired company and forego a pre-employment query. Below are FMCSA's requirements in more depth and industry best practices to mitigate DQ file and query risks at the time of an acquisition.

FMCSA guidance

1. DQ files - An acquiring carrier does not have to create a new DQ file for drivers when:

  • The acquired company deactivates their United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) number and Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), and
  • There is no break in employment for the drivers.

"No break in employment" means that the acquired company's drivers did not have to reapply for their job.

Best Practice: To avoid confusion during an FMCSA audit, put a note in each file showing that the driver files were part of an acquisition, along with the date the drivers started working for the acquiring company.

2. Clearinghouse queries - There is no need to run a pre-employment Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse query for the acquired company's commercial driver's license (CDL) drivers if there is no break in employment. However, an annual query must be run within one year of the last query while at the acquired company. The dates of the prior annual query may be a different date for each driver, which is not easy to track.

Best Practice: Run the annual query on the new drivers before they operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) requiring a commercial driver's license (CDL) for the acquiring company. This query is to verify that no driver is in a "Prohibited" status due to a positive test and missing a negative return-to-duty test. The query also resets the next annual query date to a known day a year in advance for each driver.

What are the risks of not creating new DQ files?

The acquiring company owns all errors and omissions in a DQ file. If, for any reason, a driver is not fully qualified and all documents are not current, the acquiring carrier is responsible.

Suppose serious violations on a new driver's motor vehicle record (MVR) do not meet the company's hiring criteria. If an MVR wasn't run as is normally required for new-hire DQ files, a plaintiff's attorney may accuse the acquiring company of negligent hiring in post-crash litigation.

Best practices:

  • Audit each file for compliance gaps as part of the acquisition process.
  • Document violations along with remedial actions, if any.
  • Review the MVR and any other performance history available for each driver.

If documents are missing or incorrect, the acquiring carrier would still be subject to a violation if audited by FMCSA. Acknowledging errors and documenting "meaningful action" could mitigate penalties.

Keys to remember: Audit the DQ files of an acquired company's drivers and document compliance issues and remedial actions. Also, run an annual query to detect drivers prohibited from driving a CMV.