The differences between a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and a non-CDL driver’s file is a point of confusion for many that employ both driver types.
Motor carriers that employ CDL and non-CDL drivers need to know the requirements for each type of driver's qualification (DQ) file.
- 49 CFR 391.21 — Application for employment
- 49 CFR 391.23 — Investigation and inquiries
- 49 CFR 391.25 — Annual inquiry and review of driving record
- 49 CFR 391.27 — Record of violations (Editor's Note: This section is removed and reserved, effective May 9, 2022)
- 49 CFR 391.31 — Road test
- 49 CFR 391.33 — Equivalent of road test
- 49 CFR 391.41 — Physical qualifications for drivers
- 49 CFR 391.44 — Physical qualification standards for an individual who does not satisfy, with the worse eye, either the distant visual acuity standard with corrective lenses or the field of vision standard, or both.
- 49 CFR 391.49 — Alternative physical qualification standards for the loss or impairment of limbs
- 49 CFR 391.51 — General requirements for driver qualification files
- 49 CFR 391.53 — Driver investigation history file
- Commercial driver’s license (CDL): A license issued to an individual by a state or other jurisdiction of domicile, in accordance with the standards contained in Part 383, which authorizes the individual to operate a class of a commercial motor vehicle (as defined in §383.5).
- Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) (Parts 380, 382 and 383): A motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property if the motor vehicle is a:
- Combination vehicle (Group A) — having a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), whichever is greater; or
- Heavy straight vehicle (Group B) — having a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater; or
- Small vehicle (Group C) that does not meet Group A or B requirements but that either:
- Is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or
- Is of any size and is used in the transportation of hazardous materials as defined in §383.5.
- Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) (390.5): Any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:
- Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
- Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
- Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
- Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding.
- Driver: Any person who operates any commercial motor vehicle.
- Previous employer: Any DOT-regulated person who employed the driver in the preceding three years, including any possible current employer.
Summary of requirements
Most of the elements in the driver’s qualification (DQ) file are the same for both the CDL and non-CDL positions with the exceptions noted below:
|Document||Non-CDL vehicle driver||CDL Driver|
|391.21: Driver-specific application||Lists only the past 3 years’ worth of all employers.||Lists the past 3 years’ worth of all employers, plus an additional 7 years of just CDL positions (if the history exists).|
|391.23: Safety Performance History||Sent to the past 3 years’ worth of DOT-regulated former employers. You may not receive back NOTE: If a non-CDL vehicle driver holds a CDL, a Clearinghouse query must be run to ensure the driver is not prohibited from driving a CMV.||Sent to the past 3 years’ worth of DOT-regulated former employers (not the entire 10 years’ worth listed on the application).|
|391.23: Motor vehicle record (MVR) from time of hire||Requested within 30 days of hire.||CDLIS MVR may be needed before the driver operates a CMV based on the medical certification date(see below).|
|391.41: Medical examiner’s certificate (i.e., Fed med card)||Needed as proof of medical certification. Driver does not take the document to the state licensing office.||May only use the med card as temporary proof of medical certification (up to 15 days following the exam). Driver submits the med card to the licensing authority, and the DQ file needs an MVR showing the driver’s medical status no later than 15 days following the exam.|
|391.44(d)(3)(ii)(A)||Written statement from carrier certifying that a driver, for first time using the alternate vision standard, is not required to take a road test and and the original, or a copy, of the driver's certification required by 391.44(d)(3)(i).||Same.|
|391.49: ((If applicable) Skill Performance Evaluation or Part 381 federal exemption||Need copy in the DQ file.||Same.|
|391.23(m): National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners for exams since May 21, 2014||Note indicating the examiner appears on the National Registry.||Same.|
|391.31/391.33: Road test/certificate||Need a new road test/certificate, or a certificate of a test performed within the past 3 years on the same vehicle type.|
NOTE: A driver using the alternative vision standard for the first time may not use either exception in 391.33.
|Need a new road test/certificate, or a certificate of a test performed within the past 3 years on the same vehicle type. May use a copy of a CDL, providing the driver is not hired to operate a double, triple, or tank vehicle. NOTE: A driver using the alternative vision standard for the first time may not use either exception in 391.33.|
|391.25: Annual MVR||Need a new MVR(s) within 12 months of hire for the first annual MVR, and within 12 months of the previous annual MVR going forward.||Same. May use the med certification MVR for dual purposes providing the document is within 12 months of the previous annual MVR(s). (May request annual MVRs early, but never late.)|
|391.25: Annual review of the annual MVR||Need the first annual review of driving record within 12 months of hire, and within 12 months of the previous annual review going forward.||Same. May use the med certification MVR for dual purposes and document a review of it, providing the document is within 12 months of the last annual review. (May perform a review of an annual MVR early, but never late.)|
|391.27: Annual list of violations|
Effective May 9, 2022, carriers are no longer required to request the Record of Violations (annual list of violations) from drivers.
|Motor carriers must retain list of violation documents collected before May 9, 2022, for three years from the document date, unless otherwise clarified by FMCSA.||Same. CDL holders must also notify motor carriers within 30 days of traffic convictions (383.31).|
Prior to February 7, 2022, if a CDL vehicle driver had less than one year of CDL-vehicle driving experience at the time of hire, CDL holders needed an entry-level driver training certificate or proof of previous training in the DQ file.
In addition, DOT drug and alcohol testing is unique to just those positions requiring a CDL. Operating a non-CDL CMV does not require DOT drug and alcohol testing, even if the driver happens to hold a CDL.