One thing most adult Americans share is that they drive a lot. You could argue, along with a substantial majority of armchair sociologists, that our culture is built around the automobile. But when a person climbs behind the wheel, he takes his personal traits and characteristics with him: his driving is a reflection of who he is, and the record of it is an important part of his personal background.
Regulating the Car Culture
We have decentralized our cities and connected them to each other with the Interstate system, the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in America. Our commercial and retail services depend on parking lots. Our average daily work commute is 25.5 minutes each way, according to the Census Bureau, and almost 11 million “megacommuters” travel an hour or more each way.
Even though there is some evidence that young people, beginning with Millennials, are less interested in driving, the number of vehicles on the road continues to increase year over year. One report shows that registered vehicles increased from about 193,000,000 in 1990 to almost 254,000,000 in 2012 (the number flattened out during the Great Recession). With a lack of public alternatives in most of our communities, individuals in independent vehicles will continue to use the highways for personal and commercial transportation.
As the car culture became a pervasive fact of life, states and localities responded by regulating the use of the streets and highways the public built to accommodate it. Ordinary drivers are required everywhere to get a personal license (passing your first driver’s test to get a license is still a rite of passage for most teenagers) and vehicles are registered to owners who are responsible for maintaining the vehicle’s safe condition. Commercial vehicles, especially large ones like semis, are registered under different regulations, and people who drive them are required to get licensed under stiffer standards.
The purpose of these regulations is to promote safety as well as facilitate a smooth flow of traffic—the unregulated alternative would be a chaotic mess. We spend large amounts of money to mark roads, install controls, and enforce the law with cruisers, judges, and even jail sometimes. Almost everyone has had a moving violation or two—or more—and suffered the consequences.
The Driving Record as a Measure of a Person
A side effect of this regulation has been the creation of an enormous database of driving history for both drivers and registered vehicles. This data reveals whether an individual meets the legal driving requirements (e.g. holds a valid license), and provides a record of that person’s driving behaviour.
The information contained in these databases complicates things since many states and localities have varying laws and requirements. Even though there are variations between the municipalities, the available driving data gives you a view into the way a person conducts himself not only on the road but in life in general. This is one of many reasons people are urged to “drive responsibly.”
This is also the reason why many employers have made a background check into an applicant or employee’s driving record a routine part of employment decisions. There are a number of ways DMV and MVR records can provide insight into an applicant’s suitability for employment.
Evidence of proper licensure:
One of the most obvious uses of the data is to ensure that job applicants are qualified and legally authorized to do the job. A background check into a commercial driver’s license can show whether or not the driver is legally qualified, but may also corroborate or refute an applicant’s claims of experience.
Evidence of compliance:
You may have contracts or insurance policy stipulations that make you responsible for your employees’ driving behavior. A driving records background check will be part of your “due diligence” in demonstrating your compliance.
Evidence of responsibility:
Some drivers have more tickets than others, and some drivers have violations that indicate severe lapses of judgment. If an applicant for a driving job has a conviction for vehicular manslaughter, he is obviously not a good candidate for that job. Under the EEOC guidelines for using arrest and conviction history in employment decisions, this would be a good example of a non-discriminatory way to exclude someone.
Evidence of character:
Even where an applicant’s driving history does not include deadly moving violations, it may suggest dimensions of an applicant’s character that require deeper research. For example, a DUI/DWI conviction could be an indicator of drug or alcohol problems that would make the applicant a risky hire. A pattern of moving violations, like speeding, might be a clue that the applicant has behavioral issues that could trigger serious problems at work.
Why Should Employers Consider Driving Records?
You may think that people who claim to be licensed are usually telling the truth, but in fact unlicensed drivers are fairly common. Many times these drivers are unlicensed because they have poor driving records, and they are actually the more dangerous drivers because of it. The Austin, Texas police conducted a review of their records and found that 21 unlicensed or invalidly licensed drivers were involved in 19 out of 72 deadly crashes in Austin in 2013, a much higher proportion than you would expect.
Employers need to know these things. Failing to conduct driving record checks and use those driving records as part of an employment background screening could expose you to subsequent negligent hiring lawsuits if that applicant causes a bad accident. A professional background screening agency that knows all the various state and local databases can help mitigate these risks at a modest cost.
Just remember, it’s important for organizations to look at the totality of the individual they are considering for employment. A driver’s license record is just one piece of the puzzle. It should be part of a broadly-scoped assessment.
This article originally appeared on HR.com.