Employees who drive for Gateway, a pipeline construction and surveying company, are subjected to drug tests as a condition for employment, as well as testing on an ongoing basis, for reasonable suspicion and after an accident.
From the interview to requirements for employment, every fleet should have a clear driver hiring process. Are you doing all you can to minimize liability?
A mix of transportation experts, fleet management advisers and several small fleets share their best practices when hiring drivers.
A Hiring Policy is a Must
One of the first steps to proper hiring is to become familiar with any state or federal rules that involve hiring and the interview. As Bob Rose, a J.J. Keller & Associates transportation management editor, points out, every state is different.
Rose notes that companies need to make sure they’re following Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. You might not think your fleet falls outside of DOT rules, but, for example, if any of your vehicles travel between states while hauling trailers and/or carrying equipment that put the vehicle over the 10,001-pound threshold, you must adhere to DOT regulations. Rose adds that he sees companies violating DOT regulations all too often.
All companies under DOT rules must maintain a qualification file for each driver, which includes a series of requirements such as driving records, road test certificates, a medical examiner’s certificate and an annual driving review.
(Click the next page at the bottom of this story to help you figure out if your fleet falls under DOT regulations.)
A formal hiring policy is also important, including rules specific to hiring drivers. It’s important to reflect any fleet changes or service changes into the driver hiring policy.
Mike Zalas, director of business development at Ewald Fleet Solutions, a fleet management services provider, says that this policy should include the company’s requirements and any state or federal regulations regarding employment. By instituting a policy, a company ensures that every driver has been properly and consistently vetted before getting hired.
“With smaller fleets, we usually see that there’s no policy in place,” Zalas says. “Often there is no defined role of responsibility for the fleet, so who is taking ownership of that MVR?”
Art Liggio, owner of Driving Dynamics, a fleet risk management company, suggests starting the interview off not with questions, but with statements. Relay to the applicant what will be discussed in the interview and that the company will be requiring an MVR and background check. This should be introduced by giving a short statement on how the company values safe driving and that it’s an integral part of the job duties.
“This approach is necessary so applicants understand that whatever questions are asked of them during the interview process, they will be subjected to a validation process,” Liggio says. “This does two things: it helps the interviewer obtain factual responses and sets the ground rules for safety if the applicant does get hired.”
From here, Liggio says the employer should ask open-ended questions about candidates’ driving history, including traffic violations, suspensions and accidents over the last three years. Also ask them what they have done to improve their driving skills. “Appropriate follow-up questions can then be used to drill down as necessary,” he says.
To get other safety-related behaviors from the applicants, Liggio suggests asking if they have ever taken a defensive driving course, and why they did or have not. “The applicant’s response could be quite telling about their attitude on safe driving or other behavioral issues,” he says, adding that a more recent concern in the last few years is getting an idea of the applicant’s cell phone and texting habits while driving.
Other traits can also be identified in the interview, such as a person’s self-accountability and responsibility. “This also tells you something about how they conduct their life, and that would include how they go about driving,” Rose says. “Are they coming into work on time? To get to work, you have to allow enough time to get to work safely.”
Answers to these types of questions can also be directed to the potential hire’s references.
However, don’t use personality-directed questions too strictly. They may help you find a better driver, but they might not help you find who is better for the job overall. “For a sales job, for example, in the interview process you’re probably looking for a high-energy approach — and those that have this personality are probably going to be your more risky drivers too,” Zalas says.
MVRs: Know Every Risk
According to NHTSA, the average cost per non-fatal crash with no injuries is more than $16,000 (not including wage-risk premiums). If there was an injury, that rises to more than $70,000. For every fatality? More than $500,000. These per-crash costs are why it’s important to know the driving records of your employees — to prevent accidents from ever happening.
The value of MVRs often goes unnoticed with smaller fleets. Part of this stems from a lack of awareness, but is also due to the costs of MVRs, which are minimal per inquiry but can add up. That’s why Zalas and Liggio remind fleets about negligent entrustment and what that could mean for their business.
If you hire a driver with a suspended license, for example, and then the driver gets into an accident, your company could get slammed with a civil judgment and even larger penalties for negligent entrustment (pertaining specifically to vehicles, this means knowingly providing a vehicle to an unqualified person).
Liggio says MVRs should be considered “standard” to a background check. “A thorough background check is the first line of defense for employers to make well informed hiring decisions and should never be deviated from,” he says.
Companies should consider that the legal risks well outweigh the costs of performing an MVR. Zalas points out there are tools in some states that allow you to access an MVR for free, while most states offer online services for a per-check fee.
And don’t forget that these MVRs should be performed routinely. Zalas recommends doing this annually.
So what should you look for once you get the results for the MVR?
Liggio suggests a clean driving record for a minimum of three years as a best practice. “Major studies have shown that individuals with ‘blemished’ driving histories are more likely to have continuing safety performance issues versus others who do not,” he says.
Be cautious on relaxing this minimum requirement; it may gain you a larger pool of applicants qualified for other parts of the position, but this could be a costly decision for your business in the long run, Liggio says. “Don’t ever compromise.”
In addition to MVR and background checks, Sure-Fire Inc., a heating and air conditioning contractor, subjects all drivers to approval from its insurance carrier.
What Fleets Say
Find Your Process
One trucking fleet that operates in New York requires a minimum of five years of driving experience, preferably a class A license and some familiarity with customer service. From here, this company does a full reference check and performs MVR checks. Drivers who qualify with a clean record are then subjected to a road test.
The company, which requested to remain anonymous, follows all Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, even in cases when they’re not required. This is to ensure that the company is exceeding all requirements if ever audited.
In the last two years the company has also been trying out a new driver hiring practice. Instead of immediately hiring them full time, they are temporarily hired on a part-time basis to make sure new hires’ personalities and workplace habits are a good fit.
The fleet manager says the company has so far only had one person drop during this short, part-time period.
Take Your Time
Go Riteway, a Wisconsin-based transportation services company, requires two years of experience for its drivers. Human Resources Director Nate Mork says the company focuses on finding employees that fit the personality needs of its business. “You want someone who is responsible and safe, but you also need a respectable personality,” he says.
The company takes its time when hiring, going through a clear interview process in narrowing down applicants. Mork says the company has a flow chart that maps out the process to keep standards consistent, such as what infractions are allowable on an MVR, as well as written interview guidelines.
After narrowing it down, the best candidate is given a contingent job offer depending on the results of the MVR and criminal background checks. Potential hires also have to make it through a small amount of training before officially getting behind the wheel. Mork says rarely have they had a person perform poorly at this level in the hiring process.
“You may take longer in your hiring to do these things, but hiring good people is more important than hiring many people,” Mork says.
Policies and Drug Tests
Kristin Paule, human resources/insurance administrator for the Oklahoma-based Gateway Companies, says every hire must take a drug test and sign a fleet policy.
The policy outlines expectations and requirements, such as an annual MVR, and is re-visited as much as possible, Paule says, adding that not only are pre-employment drug tests given but also ongoing drug tests administered randomly for reasonable suspicion and after an accident.
Prior to hiring and getting an MVR, Paule says the company asks applicants about their driving records. “If there are any inconsistencies, this will raise a red flag for us,” she says.
Gateway will not accept anyone with a DUI/DWI on record to drive a company vehicle. Applicants might be hired for a non-driving position at the company, but Paule says they are required to sign a policy stating they are not allowed to drive a company vehicle under any circumstances.
Casey Malesevich, risk manager at HVAC company Sure-Fire Inc. in Horicon, Wis., says his company also performs MVRs and background checks, as well as an insurance approval with the company’s insurance carrier. “Company vehicles are significant assets of our company,” he says. “Vehicles carry thousands of dollars of equipment and parts, have our logo and company information, and are highly visible to our customers.”
Sure-Fire also does credit background checks to ferret out bankruptcies and legal judgments.