Driver Qualification Files are more critical than ever as missing or incorrect data remains one of the leading problems when it comes to motor carriers ensuring commercial driver safety.
LexisNexis said this week that 50 percent of the files it receives don't meet federal standards for road tests, annual reviews, certificate of violations and applications. The files, or DQFs, are a major focus of CSA 2010, an FMCSA initiative that launches nationwide next month to improve truck and bus safety and to reduce crashes. Most regular route school bus drivers who are school district employees are exempt from the regulations, which target commercial driver's license procedures, hours of service, new federal drug and alcohol testing requirements, driver medical exams, vehicle maintenance, and both driver and company histories.
Most private contractor companies that engage in interstate travel, however, are held to the rules.
Still, Haley Hitchcock, director of vertical strategy for LexisNexis Risk Solutions, said that while school districts are exempt from CSA 2010, best practice dictates that they ensure compliance when it comes to their drivers. Hitchcock authored a report released publicly on Oct. 18 that found that the leading cause of DQF non-compliance is due to driver file missing documents altogether. Examples are copies of driver's licenses, employment investigations and pre-employment motor vehicle reports. Hitchcock's research also uncovered that applications and road tests are usually included in the file but more often than not they can be incorrectly completed.
But the economy can affect the resources at many districts to dedicate an employee or process to track this information. That, according to Hitchcock is a mistake. She said that many school transportation administrators or even lead driver trainers remain more concerned with actual driver performance on the road, which is important, but fail to adequately maintain driver records, which can prove even more costly down the road.
Another problem facing all truck and bus drivers and especially those who navigate school buses is fitness. Hitchcock's report found that 38 percent of all physical exams had a technical or compliance-related error. Examples include missing examiner names on the medical card and issuing medical cards to insulin-dependent drivers. Hypertension was listed as the leading reason why a driver's medical certificate is limited. While more than 89 percent of drivers had blood pressure within the normal guidelines, Hitchcock added that the remaining drivers are a cause for concern.
Other most common reasons for limited certifications are non-insulin dependent diabetes, cardiac concerns, medications that can impair driver ability and sleep apnea.
Hitchcock also found that marijuana and cocaine remain the most abused drugs by commercial drivers. Marijuana usage was found to be on the rise, increasing in positive test by 7 percent in 2008. Cocaine decreased by nearly 41 percent, which Hitchock estimated is largely due to the down economy, the more expensive cost of the drug and more people entering the marketplace looking for jobs.
But, she added, with lower testing levels implemented by the feds this fall, rates of amphetamines and cocaine positive tests are anticipated to increase by 10 percent.
Editor's note: Hitcock's title erroneously appeared in a previous version of this article. STN regrets the confusion.