Trucking is one of the most highly regulated industries in the United States. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for overseeing regulations for this lucrative industry and does so through a variety of laws contained within Title 49.

Not even the drivers are safe from oversight by the DOT—truck drivers in the United States must comply with Section 391 of the aforementioned legislation, which outlines strict qualification requirements in order for them to legally work.

This resource article acts as a driver qualification (DQ) file checklist, explaining how commercial vehicle operators/drivers qualify for employment in the United States. By the end, you’ll understand the DOT truck driver requirements enough to put together a DQ File of your own!

Driver Qualification and Disqualification

Drivers are qualified or disqualified automatically from employment in a variety of ways. In order to qualify, drivers must be over 21 years of age, have a working knowledge of the English language, possess the capacity to safely operate the vehicle, and successfully undertake a road test, physical health examination, and a criminal background check.

Drivers are made directly responsible for the safety of the loads that they transport and must be familiar with proper procedures for distributing and securing cargo in the vehicles that they operate.

Drivers can be disqualified from driving commercial motor vehicles for several reasons: when their licenses are suspended, withdrawn, or denied by the issuing authority, as a result of committing criminal or other offenses, as a consequence for violating an out-of-service order, and as a consequence for being convicted of texting or talking on a mobile phone while driving. Each criterion has its own guidelines for the length of the suspension, with the severity increasing each time a violation is repeated.

Background and Character

Legislation concerning background and character checking of drivers requires employers to collect specific information on employment applications. The applications require extensive disclosure from prospective hires in regards to their past driving experience, any history of violating motor vehicle laws, any history of license suspension, as well as details of past employment. This is done to ensure that motor carriers are conducting thorough inspections of the backgrounds of their hires and enforcing any disqualification criteria that have been met by the applicant.

Road Testing and Equivalents

Commercial vehicle operators must complete a road test that is administered by the motor carrier or a person designated by it. The test requires the driver to perform all of the core functions of driving a vehicle along with the operation of features that are unique to large commercial vehicles. Drivers will be asked to:

  • Couple and uncouple combination units
  • Place the vehicle into operation
  • Utilize the vehicle’s controls and emergency equipment
  • Drive the vehicle in traffic, and while passing other vehicles
  • Turn the vehicle safely
  • Safely brake while driving the vehicle, as well as slow the vehicle down by means other than braking
  • Drive safely in reverse and park the vehicle

Successful applicants will receive a certificate that can be placed in the driver qualification file held by the driver.

The DOT Physical Examination

The last of the DOT truck driver requirements for operating a commercial motor vehicle that we’ll discuss here is the DOT Physical Examination, a comprehensive assessment that’s filled out by a doctor. In order to pass the examination, drivers must not possess any physical disabilities that would prevent them from operating a commercial vehicle safely and effectively.

Drivers will not pass the physical examination who have been diagnosed with diabetes, any kind of cardiovascular disease that is known to be accompanied by syncope, dyspnea, or a risk of collapse, any muscular or neuromuscular illness, any psychiatric diseases or epilepsy.

The physical examination does a good job of ensuring that our roads are safe by ensuring that only drivers with an acceptable healthy history can get behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle.


Once you’ve satisfied the four above items, you’ve satisfied the requirements to operate a commercial vehicle in the United States. While DOT compliance can be tricky, it’s necessary to become a licensed commercial trucker.

The driver qualification criteria, background and character investigation, required road test and physical health examination ensure that everyone driving a commercial vehicle has the capability, ethics, skills, and wellness to be trusted with the keys to a large commercial vehicle like an 18-wheel truck.

There are a few more DOT truck driver requirements that we’ve skipped for brevity, and although the above will get you in the door, this text should not be considered an exhaustive description of the legislation. For more information, check out the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations online. Please note that this article should not be interpreted as legal advice.