The Importance of Motor Vehicle Record Check Programs

This is the 16th in a series of columns on emergency vehicle safety. The columns are a component of VFIS' "Operation Safe Arrival" initiative, aimed at heightening safety awareness and reducing the frequency and severity of incidents involving emergency response vehicles.

Drivers have a great responsibility when driving their personal vehicle or a department's apparatus to the emergency service station or incident scene. After all, they are responding under your department's policies, and emergency vehicles are arguably the most important physical assets that your organization possesses. The safe operation of these vehicles, particularly during any response, depends greatly on the ability and skills of the driver. But how much do you know about the person driving your apparatus?

Selecting, training, and maintaining good, safe drivers should not be left to chance. While many departments participate in driver training programs and refresher courses, many don't inspect the motor vehicle records (MVR) of their drivers. Consider this recent blunder:

In December 2003, a 16-year veteran of a New Mexico fire department was charged with drunken driving. Fire administrators of the 600-employee department didn't know that the firefighter had been previously convicted 10 times of driving while intoxicated (DWI). In fact, the firefighter faced his first DWI charge three years before joining the department. Shocked fire officials were unaware this respected coworker's drivers license was suspended five times during his tenure with the department.

(Source: VFIS Employment Practices Update, Vol. 04 No. 03 - Background Checks)

Based on this story, does your organization need to take steps to implement a motor vehicle record program immediately? Or perhaps, it is time to update those dog-eared old files and give your program more validity.

Do You Know Your Drivers?

Knowing your drivers on- and off-duty driving habits and records is an important tool in both selecting and maintaining the safest drivers for your emergency vehicles. Routine administrative reviews of all drivers motor vehicle reports or records(MVRs) is the most effective way to know the specific driving habits of individual drivers. VFIS Risk Control recommends that all MVRs should be reviewed annually or minimally every three years, and that a copy be retained in each member's personnel file.

If the department chooses to conduct the MVRs on a less-than-annual basis, then interim activities should also be completed. According to VFIS Risk Control, these activities include an annual requirement of each driver to produce a valid driver's license and financial responsibility card (proof of insurance), and retain a photo copy in the member's file. Equally as important is how these MVRs are evaluated. An evaluation criteria should be included as part of the evaluation process and should be used so that everyone's records are evaluated equally.

Monitoring Assistance

There are also programs that can assist emergency service organizations to monitor their drivers' records. Some state specific regulations and statues exist to help emergency service agencies with MVR reports. Organizations must check with local/state authorities for guidance. An example is the New York State License Event Notification System (LENS) program. LENS can give you important information about the driver records of your employees or volunteers. LENS automatically notifies you of any driver license events that occur. This program is free to volunteer fire departments in New York. Check with your state to find out if they offer a program similar to LENS.

SAMBA, a company based in Albuquerque, NM, believes that an annual record does not provide adequate information to manage company risk liability. They offer the SAMBA Fleetwatch program, which provides automated driver-record monitoring for proactive risk management. The program automatically retrieves Motor Vehicle Records (MVRs) on your entire fleet of drivers and identifies problem drivers. Based on this information, a clear report is delivered to the risk manager. The report allows you to quickly review any recorded activity so that you can determine if your employee or volunteer needs assistance, or if you must take immediate action. There is a cost for SAMBA Fleetwatch.


What should you do when you receive notice of violations? That depends on the severity of the violation. Class A violations are cause for great concern. An individual who has a Class A violation within the past three (3) years normally receives a license suspension from the Department of Motor Vehicles which issued the license. Class A violations include driving while intoxicated, operating a vehicle during a period of suspension or revocation, or reckless driving. A full list of violations can be found at the end of this article.

VFIS Risk Control guidelines call for an eighteen (18) month suspension of driving privileges for anyone convicted of a Class A violation. Additionally, any of these individuals would also be required to attend an approved driver-improvement program or equivalent training, and be re-certified to operate emergency vehicles. It is important to note that unusual circumstances with individual cases should be evaluated on a one-to-one basis.

Class B violations are all moving violations not listed as Type A violations. An example is exceeding the posted speed limit. VFIS Risk Control guidelines recommend that any individual who has a combination of two (2) Class B moving violation convictions and/or chargeable accidents in a three (3) year period will be issued a warning letter from the chief officer or administrative officer of the emergency service organization. Any individual who has a combination of three (3) moving violation convictions and/or chargeable accidents in a three (3) year period will be issued a suspension of driving department vehicles for a period of ninety (90) days by the chief officer or administrative office of the emergency service organization.

Per the guidelines, any individual who has more than three (3) moving violation convictions or three (3) chargeable accidents or any combination of more than three (3) of the formerly stated violations in a three (3) year period will be issued a suspension of driving department vehicles for a period of one (1) year. In addition, the same individual would be required to complete an approved driver improvement program and be re-certified to operate emergency vehicles. Again, unusual circumstances with individual cases would be evaluated on a one-to-one basis.


It is critical for your emergency service organization to have some type of MVR program in place. Annual reporting, once seen as one of the best methods of risk reduction, now requires interim and even monthly activities to be completed. Ensure your organization's reputation by taking this problem seriously. You must take all reasonable steps today to provide a safe atmosphere for your emergency responders and the citizens you protect and serve.


Designation of Type A and Type B violations are based on a survey of state point systems. Violations receiving higher numbers of points are classed as Type A.

Type A Violations

  1. Driving while intoxicated.
  2. Driving under the influence of drugs.
  3. Negligent homicide arising out of the use of a motor vehicle (gross negligence).
  4. Operating during a period of suspension or revocation.
  5. Using a motor vehicle for the commission of a felony.
  6. Aggravated assault with a motor vehicle.
  7. Operating a motor vehicle without owner's authority.
  8. Permitting an unlicensed person to drive.
  9. Reckless driving.
  10. Hit and run driving.

Type B Violations

  • All moving violations not listed as Type A violations. (Exceeding posted speed limit is a Type B violation).

Note: Unusual circumstances with individual cases would be evaluated on a one-to-one basis.

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