Toy cars from the collection of Cliff Lundberg.

How to read a driver license print-out

Before hiring or leasing to a driver, a taxi manager should carefully review a recent driving record issued by the state motor vehicle licensing authority. These examples are from California, where the driving record is known as a "DMV print-out." The standard California Department of Motor Vehicles print-out covers a recent three-year period and is sufficient for most purposes. On request, the DMV will provide a ten-year print-out, also known as an H-6 Report.

Always insist on seeing original documents. Examine both the front and back sides. Photocopies are easily manipulated and should never be accepted. If there is more than one page, study the page break to ensure that there are no missing pages. Note especially the continuity of dates between pages.

Example: a perfect printout

Image of a driving record print-out

Key items to note in this "perfect" print-out are the dates of issue and expiry. Instead of the usual five-year term, this driver has a ten-year term indicated, from year 2000 to his birth date in 2010. That means there were no big problems with the first five-year license and that the renewal in 2005 was allowed via mail without a personal appearance by the driver.

The lower portion of the print-out shows that there were no actions during the last three years. Combined with the ten-year issue-expiry range, there is sufficient evidence to regard this driver as a good bet for safe and accident-free driving.

Normally a license is issued or reissued on the person's birth date. In this case, note that the issue date is not his birth date. Sometimes that is a warning sign, but in this case it probably means that the driver moved to California at about the date indicated.

In these examples, identifying information is removed. Obviously you want to verify that the name is as expected and that the physical description is correct. Be sure to examine the actual driver license as well as the print-out.

If you are located anyplace other than California, details may vary, such as the standard term of issue, but the general principles of what to look for should be the same.

Example: a red flag appears on an otherwise perfect printout

Image of a driving record print-out

California usually issues a driver license for five years, but in this case (above) the term between issue and expiry is four years. Sometimes the shortened period is because the person has obtained a change in license classification, such as adding a certification to operate a motorcycle. However, no obvious reason for the shorter period appears on this print-out, so there is reason to believe that the licensing agency is keeping this driver on a shortened leash.

The ten-year print-out for the same driver (below) shows why. The numerous problems, even though they are not recent, suggest that you don't want to give this person the keys to your taxicab.

Image of a driving record print-out

Of special note on this ten-year print-out are multiple suspensions of the driver license. At best they suggest irresponsibility, even if the suspensions were due to "minor" violations such as failures-to-appear (FTA) that were set aside after payment of the fines. If he won't pay government fines, why should we expect him to pay when he owes money to the cab company?

Likewise, repeated violations of the same sections of the vehicle code, even if they are not major offenses, suggest that the person is a slow-learner with little respect for the law.

Example: clean record but the time period is short

This driver, a recent immigrant, presents a clean print-out but he has a relatively short track record. We would like to see more than three years of driving history.

Image of a driving record print-out

Example: multiple problems

This print-out reveals two accidents in commercial vehicles, suggesting lack of care when using another person's vehicle. Add three recent moving violations, and you have a driver that the insurer won't touch.

Image of a driving record print-out

Example: believable excuses, but not good enough

The three-year print-out below has numerous problems, including a suspension and two accidents, as well as a four-year term between issue and expiry. The driver explained everything away more-or-less credibly, and even had a letter with him that exonerated him for one of the accidents.

Image of a driving record print-out

Due diligence required a look at his ten-year print-out (below). It is hopelessly bad.

Image of a driving record print-out

Example: perfection not required

This driver's print-out shows a four-year term between license issue and expiry, but five years is typical for California. That is always sufficient reason to ask for a ten-year print-out. In this case, the driver had presented an old print-out. He returned with fresh 3 and 10-year versions. First, the three-year print-out.

Image of a driving record print-out

A look at the ten-year record (below) revealed a single violation in a non-commercial vehicle, and no other problems. On closer look, the shortened term is probably due to him adding a motorcycle certification.

The verdict - OK to hire.

Image of a driving record print-out

Example: documentation is just part of the picture

The situation with the following print-out is similar to the preceding one. The term however is for the full five years. There are no tickets but there is a single accident in a commercial vehicle. On its face, this is not a terribly alarming picture when presented by a long-time cab driver.

It is essential however to interview the driver and to ask questions. Asked about the accident, he said it was not his fault, then produced from his pocket a letter from an attorney saying that he is being sued regarding the accident. (Hmmm.) He went on to say that his brother is on the board of directors at another cab company. (Um, why are you applying to drive here and not there?) Then, when asked to show his driver license, he produced a photocopy, explaining that he forgot to bring the real license. (Uh huh, but you remembered to bring a photocopy?)

In short, the driver offered one reason after another why we should not lease him a cab. Despite a reasonably good print-out, we declined to welcome him aboard.

Image of a driving record print-out

Reading a print-out is not easy, but it is a crucial defense against high-risk drivers. I am learning from a colleague who over many years has had to deal with the aftermath of mistakes. He generously takes time to explain to me what's right and wrong with each applicant.

I'd like to hear from taxi managers about how you use documents to screen and assess prospective drivers. If you have specific examples to share, please send them along.

- Charles Rathbone, August 2009

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