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Truck Driver Requirements: How to Get Hired at Top-Paying Carriers

April 5th, 2024

Cory Tesch

Cory Tesch

Cory joined the team at ATS as a driver recruiter in 2022.

Are you sick of working for a carrier that doesn't respect you? Ready to work for a high-paying trucking carrier with good benefits and great home time?

If you want to work for a carrier that values you, pays you for your experience, and invests in your career, then you need to be the best driver you can be.

While quality trucking carriers pay more and focus on keeping you happy, they don’t hire just any driver: They hire the best. 

Each carrier has slightly different guidelines, but there are three main things all reputable, quality carriers look at: safety, work history, and longevity. 

Carriers follow Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, but they may also follow guidelines set by the customer. For instance, the DOT requires you to meet specific physical requirements. Some customers may require drivers to meet certain requirements to haul their freight, so the carriers may do a background check on drivers.

As a driver recruiter here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), I’ll give you a better understanding of truck driver requirements and what top carriers are looking for.

When you finish reading this article, you’ll understand basic truck driver requirements and the importance of being a well-rounded driver.

Truck Driver Requirements 

In addition to having a valid CDL, truck drivers like you must meet numerous requirements — especially if you're looking to get hired at a top-paying carrier. 

Age Restrictions

A driver must be at least 18 years old to get their CDL, but per FMCSA regulations, that will only allow them to drive intrastate (within the state). To drive interstate (across state lines), drivers should be at least 21 years old. 

Because of these FMCSA regulations, most trucking carriers — especially over-the-road (OTR) companies —  will not hire drivers under 21. 

A trucking carrier with local routes that keep drivers intrastate may only require you to be 18.  

There is no maximum age limit for drivers per the FMCSA.

Language Requirements 

The FMCSA requires that all drivers must be able to read and speak the English language sufficiently enough to carry on a conversation, understand traffic signs and signals, keep logs and records and respond to inquiries. 

A carrier may hire a driver whose first language is not English, but the driver must be proficient in English as their second language.

Good Work Experience and Safety Score

Safety requirements vary widely from carrier to carrier, but you can be sure that leading carriers will have strict safety standards. Your safety record is a direct indicator of your attention to detail and your ability to follow the rules.  

A driver with a poor safety record is a liability for the carrier. Not only can a driver with a poor safety record be involved in costly accidents that cost the carrier money, but they can also be the reason a carrier isn’t able to get better freight with high-profile customers.

While your past experience as a personal driver will not weigh as heavily as your professional driving record will, it can still be a factor. If you have countless speeding tickets on your personal driving record and you’ve only been driving professionally for a couple of months, a carrier may not hire you. A couple of months incident-free does not give carriers enough time to tell if a driver has corrected that lead foot habit.

Every reputable carrier looks at several consumer reports to get a feel for a driver’s past work experience and their safety record. 

This helps the carrier determine the driver’s impact on the carrier’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability score (CSA).

The following are the reports carriers look at: 


1. Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS)

The CDLIS is the first report most trucking carriers pull when they're considering you as a candidate. This report lists all the states you currently hold or have held a driver’s license in. 

Once carriers can see which states you hold or held a license in, carriers can pull the proper motor vehicle records (MVR) for each state. 

2. Motor Vehicle Records (MVR) 

Your MVR provides information on your driving history from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DOT requires carriers to gather records from each state a driver has held a CDL for the previous 36 months. It helps potential trucking carriers determine if you're a safe driver. DOT-regulated businesses must look at the MVR.

The MVR lists the type of license you hold (or held), when it was issued, when it expires (or expired), any endorsements you hold, weight limitations, whether you can drive intrastate or interstate, and the state of your medical certification. Carriers will pay extra attention to whether or not you can drive interstate and if you have travel restrictions. 

The MVR also lists any violations or convictions on your driving record. It will show every traffic violation, accident, suspension, vehicular crime, and unpaid parking ticket. Depending on which state you’re licensed in, it may even show unpaid child support. 

When looking at the MVR, carriers determine the impact you might have on their CSA score. This score is used to help the FMCSA determine which carriers are high-risk and which are safe. 

Every moving violation you have is associated with a Driver Fitness Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC). Your score helps determine if you are fit or unfit to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) based on a lack of training and experience. Most carriers don't allow drivers to have more than two BASIC violations in the previous three years.  

Trucking carriers also look at preventable accidents, critical crash accidents, preventable and at-fault accidents involving a fatality, leaving the scene, driving while suspended, or violating out-of-service orders. If you have a set number of these violations in previous years, you will likely not be hired at safety-driven carriers.

A carrier’s CSA score is determined by looking at each driver in the fleet’s moving violations and clean inspections. Depending on these results, carriers fall into a specific bucket and are given either a satisfactory or unsatisfactory rating. 

A carrier’s rating has an impact on whether or not drivers will be repeatedly pulled over at weigh stations. Carriers that are consistently in the unsatisfactory bucket may have the DOT come in and do an internal audit. 

Learn more about CSA and ISS scores.

That’s why reputable carriers rely so heavily on the MVR. Not only do they want to ensure drivers are safe and keep the motoring public safe, but they also want to see drivers uphold the carrier’s safety reputation. 

Any pending MVR charges will typically prevent you from being hired at top carriers. You also won't be hired if a trucking carrier discovers that you've been disqualified and your driving privileges suspended per FMCSA regulations. 

You'll move this process along faster if you tell your recruiter about any violations you may have. 

3. Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP)

Most reputable trucking carriers review at least three years’ worth of PSP history — just like they review your MVR history. 

The PSP gives carriers access to a five-year crash history and three-year inspection history provided by the FMCSA.

The PSP is related to roadside stops and inspections, so any traffic convictions or warnings that come up during inspections will show up here. The report is categorized by crash summary, crash details, and inspection summary. 

Carriers can see all the details related to a crash, from the date and time it occurred to injuries, fatalities, or stowaways. Carriers will also see if the FMCSA declared it a preventable or non-preventable crash

The PSP provides a record of every time you have been pulled into a weigh station and inspected by the DOT. When you’re pulled over during an inspection, the DOT looks at everything, from your paperwork and permits to your equipment.

Reviewing this data helps the carrier determine if you’re keeping up on your maintenance and doing pre-trip and post-trip inspections

Each of these violations is tied to your CSA score. 

Any time an officer pulls you over and gives you a warning, it will go on the PSP. Even if you don’t have a charge or a citation, the carrier still defines a warning as you doing it. Charges and citations will show up on your MVR. 

Interested in getting hired at a top-paying carrier? Apply now.

4. Work History

Finally, a trucking carrier will look at your work history. The HireRight Drive-A-Check (DAC) report is often used. Not all carriers use the DAC, but carriers will need to verify your work history.

Work verifications must be completed for all jobs in the last 36 months —  commercial truck driving or not. Unemployment must also be documented and reviewed. This gives the carrier a good idea of whether or not the driver is a job-hopper

It will also help carriers determine how long you’ve been in the trucking industry. While some carriers work with and train new drivers, some will only work with drivers who have at least one year of experience. 

Your work verification report is based entirely on what your past employers have said about you.

Carriers must gather employment dates, the type of driver you were (company vs. lease and vans vs. flats, etc.), and drug test history. Carriers also look at your reason for separation (termination vs. resignation). This is where carriers can see if you have a history of truck abandonments.

Aside from the basic details, your previous employers must include information about any accidents you may have gotten into and whether it was preventable.

Trucking carriers may be hesitant to work with you depending on what's in your work history. Each carrier looks at truck abandonments and terminations differently. They'll try to determine if you made one mistake or if it’s a pattern of behavior.  

If you're trying to get rehired at a previous trucking company, keep in mind that you may not get rehired if you were terminated.

Make sure you know your work history and document everything on your job application. Again, it's a good idea to know if you had any violations at these carriers so you can tell your recruiter about them. 


Pre-Employment Drug Testing

The FMCSA legally requires all trucking carriers to perform a pre-employment drug test. Carriers are mandated to administer a specific number of random drug tests each year as well.  

There is a certain threshold established for a number of drugs, and if you test above those levels you will fail the drug test and not be hired. The drug test looks at the levels of amphetamines, opiates, cocaine, marijuana, and PCP in your system. 

In some cases, a legally prescribed medication may produce a false positive, in which case a driver can provide proof of their prescription to dispute the false positive.

Some companies perform drug tests through urine testing, but hair follicle testing is becoming increasingly popular because it is a more reliable testing method. 

Bottom line: Carriers have zero tolerance for ANY trace of drugs or alcohol in a driver’s system at the time of testing. 

Refusing a drug test is considered a failure and a trucking carrier will not hire you. 

If a driver fails a drug test, some carriers will accept the completion of a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) Program. This decision is a carrier-by-carrier company policy and is not required or regulated by the DOT. 

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DOT Medical Exam

You’ll be required to pass a DOT physical conducted by a DOT-certified doctor. They can either pass you, fail you, or give you a “determination pending” rating. Determination pending is the equivalent of a “maybe.” 

Every DOT physical is conducted using the same guidelines. The doctor will determine if you're healthy enough to drive based on precise parameters used for every driver. They’ll look at things like your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar. If they're too high, you'll either fail or be prescribed medication and given a determination pending. 

The doctors do a vision test, a hearing test, a cardiovascular screening, and a brain and neurological screening. This is to determine if you have any potential impairments that could prevent you from doing your job safely.  

Certain illnesses or disorders will disqualify you automatically, so the doctor will get your medical history to determine if you have any physical limitations that prevent you from driving, including diseases like narcolepsy or Meniere’s disease.

If the doctor gives you the green light and sends you on your way with your DOT medical card, you may get a 30-day, 90-day, six-month, or two-year DOT medical card.

For instance, if you need to be monitored periodically, you may only get a 30-day or 90-day card. Healthy drivers who don’t need to be monitored will get a card that’s good for two years. 

If you have specific questions about getting your DOT medical card, there are a lot of great resources for drivers just like you.

Related: Tips for passing the medical exam

Criminal Background Check

Most trucking carriers run a background check on drivers before they hire them. Depending on what is found, a driver may not be hired.

Requirements and standards vary widely from carrier to carrier, and the carrier’s customer base and type of freight hauled may play a role in this. However, most reputable carriers will not hire you if you have pending criminal charges.  

Be sure to ask your recruiter if the company has any guidelines that include criminal charges. Ask for specifics.

Driver Orientation

Once drivers are invited to driver orientation, they still aren't considered hired. They have to complete orientation before they'll be offered a job.

Treat driver orientation like a long interview process. It's usually a few days complete with in-class training and a pile of paperwork.  

Your behavior at orientation can go a long way. Drivers who are rude during orientation can be sent home. Carriers want to hire team players with good communication skills. They want drivers who will build strong relationships with their driver managers and customers. If you don't show those skills at orientation, it won't look good for you. 

Here's how to have a smooth orientation experience.


Drive for ATS

The bottom line is this: Every reputable carrier looks for experience, safety, and longevity. While each carrier’s guidelines vary, you can expect them to have at least two or three pages of guidelines — some of which are DOT or FMCSA regulations, and some of which are company requirements. 

There are some factors you certainly cannot control, like age and physical disorders, but your experience and safety record will speak volumes to safety-driven carriers. Focus on being a respectful, safe driver and you can count on getting hired by the best carriers in the business. 

If you’ve got the experience and a safety score to back it, ATS wants to see what you’ve got. We're a safety-minded Top Pay Certified Carrier that’s been in the business for over 69 years. Our driver-centric culture gives you the driver the respect you deserve as the most important asset on our team. 

Fill out an application today and one of our driver consultants will get you started on the hiring process.