Driving behavior is the biggest contributor to road injuries and fatalities. A renowned study of motor vehicle crashes by Indiana University found that driver action, or failure to act, in the seconds before a crash was responsible for about 77 to 95 percent of collisions.

That makes the motor vehicle record (MVR)—the written indicator of driving behavior—the number one factor in determining whether an employee or potential employee drives a company car. Reviewing MVRs, and establishing a system to obtain them, not only keeps insurance rates down, it mitigates liability exposure and the potential for jury awards.

“If people take the time to evaluate MVRs and have minimum eligibility requirements established,” says Jim York, manager of Zurich Risk Engineering’s transportation team, “they’ve taken a giant leap in better managing their risk.”

At one time insurance brokers were allowed to provide companies copies of MVRs as a courtesy. However, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 and amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act have defined motor vehicle records as non-public information.

Today an insurance carrier will check MVRs and use them internally to evaluate insurability, but specific driving record information cannot be passed on to the client.

Without this convenience, some employers add new drivers to the company’s auto policy without checking MVRs first. This leaves the company vulnerable to a rate-increase surprise, or worse—the company could be unexpectedly dropped from the carrier. Thus it’s now up to you, the employer, to obtain MVRs.

Obtaining the MVR

Every state has a motor vehicle department with a set procedure to obtain motor vehicle records. (Click here for chart: How to Obtain a Motor Vehicle Record by State) Many have a form to download and mail in with a processing fee, though turnaround times can be up to two weeks. Some states allow instantaneous access to MVRs directly through their Web sites. A few states offer employers automated systems like California’s “Employer Pull Notice” program.

These notification programs involve setting up an account and then enrolling each driver over the Internet or by mail. After enrollment the employer is mailed each driver’s three-year driving record history. Reports are generated automatically every 12 months thereafter, including a notification of expiration of drivers’ licenses 30 days prior. If a violation appears in the interim, a printout is mailed immediately to the employer. In California the DMV charges a $5 one-time fee per driver to enroll in the program and $1 for a printout.

Third-Party Vendors

For those who rank dealing with state DMVs right below a visit to the dentist, third-party vendors provide MVRs as well. These services are especially helpful for processing out-of-state MVR requests and circumventing long DMV wait times. For an added fee, they alleviate the need to go through different record retrieval procedures for multiple states. Customer support is on hand to provide explanations of the myriad of different violation codes for in-state and out-of-state reports—and getting a live body on the phone takes a lot less time.

After setting up an account with a private company such as iiX, for example, employers gain virtually instant access to motor vehicle records to every state via the Internet or by fax.

When Do You Run an MVR?

When in the hiring process should you obtain and review the MVR? Some companies request driver applicants to bring a copy of their MVR to the interview. That policy emphasizes the importance of the driving record and helps weed out some risky drivers early. However, it isn’t always practical with long DMV turnaround times and hiring deadlines. Other companies will make a conditional offer of employment, contingent upon an acceptable MVR and background check. Regardless of when you run the check, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the policy of obtaining and evaluating MVRs must be stated in a separate release form. The release should be worded so that the applicant’s signature grants permission to have the motor vehicle record checked immediately, and periodically thereafter. “By making that part of the application process, you’re setting a tone right away that driver safety is an important thing,” says Phil Moser, national sales manager for Advanced Driver Training Services. “It’s part of creating that safety culture.”

Employee Drivers

It is good business practice to check all drivers’ motor vehicle records once a year, and as needed throughout the year if an accident or violation occurs. Some companies check MVRs concurrently with salary reviews. Insurance carriers check drivers’ MVRs on their client’s policies 60 days prior to the renewal of the policy. A wise practice, says Raymond Gooley, vp, limousine program manager of Managing Agency Group, is to run your own checks 90 days before the renewal. This allows time to deal with an unsafe driver and perhaps get that person into a defensive-driver program.

Who Gets Checked?

Do you check the records of all employees doing company business in any vehicle, even the accounting clerk going to the bank? For practicality purposes, some companies elect only to check employees considered regular business drivers (ones who drive over 5,000 miles a year for work). Other companies check all employees doing any driving for company business. If you have a workable system already in place, checking all drivers isn’t that much more of a hassle or expense—and it further minimizes your liability.

Check Family Too?

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA), 87.8 percent of fleets allow family members to drive company vehicles for personal use. If your policy allows employees’ family members to drive a company vehicle, you must check MVRs for each family member as well.

Why? Under the legal theory of negligent entrustment, you are responsible for the negligent acts of anyone who drives that company vehicle. You can be sued even if your employee’s son causes an accident in the company car on a Saturday night. Research indicates that the fatality rate for teenage drivers is 10 times higher than among the safest group of drivers, those between the ages of 45-55.

The requirement to check family members’ MVRs should be stated in the application as well.