My name isn’t mud

| December 12, 2008

Kent Ferguson, longtime manager of the DAC employment history file.

Your good name in trucking is only as good as your work history. In the world of the leased owner-operator, an important part of this history is compiled by USIS, creator and manager of DAC employment history files, better known to truckers as DAC reports.

If you’re trying to lease to any carrier, your violation and employment history will be pertinent. If that carrier is one of the 2,600 that are parties to DAC Services, it’ll have much more to go on than your word.

But being “blacklisted” by DAC isn’t so much a matter of being on any one list. It’s more often a result of the compilation of several sources of information – some of them outside the scope of the basic DAC report, which is based on information provided by carriers.

Other relevant sources of information might include independents’ SafeStat scores and every driver’s state-issued Motor Vehicle Record, which will include a lifetime’s worth of moving (and some non-moving) violations, in automobiles and commercial vehicles alike.

And while a DAC report or MVR might not be the deciding factor for a carrier, both play a significant role in providing an introduction beyond your résumé, says Vickie Hymer, recruiting manager for Freymiller Inc. of Oklahoma City. Freymiller uses the DAC report as a tool, “and then you have to go on with your investigation,” Hymer says. “Most of the time, records are pretty much correct. That’s what I find. I’ve had very few where drivers have had to correct things from the past.”

All the same, managing what’s in your DAC and other reports is important, and the process begins the day you get behind the wheel. Preventive measures are your first steps toward a pristine record.

In 24 years of driving, eight in Canada and the most recent 16 in the U.S., owner-operator Richard Henderson has been stopped by law enforcement only six times. “All in the U.S.,” says the Waynesville, N.C., resident leased to North American Van Lines, “for a total of four citations, all in California.” Fortunately, they were minor equipment violations that had no impact on his standing with his carrier or his MVR.

“One was for a cracked frame on a trailer I picked up,” he says. Another was an overweight violation that he was allowed to correct on the spot by shifting the load. The others were a cracked windshield and a bridge-length violation.

“People would have less trouble with DOT and with DAC – with anybody, really – if they kept their vehicles clean, their dash clutter free, and they dressed properly,” Henderson says. “When you’re approaching the scales, for instance, you know they’ve got binoculars. If your hair’s down your back, and you’re wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Death to the Pigs,’ they’re going to inspect you.”

“Slow down,” says owner-operator Everett Bass of Taylorville, Ill., who has been leased to Dallas & Mavis, now part of Greatwide, for more than a decade. “I’ve gotten two tickets my whole life. I’ve just been lucky, I guess, or more cautious than some people. Be a little considerate with the other person out there.”

Always try to leave an employer or lessor on good terms, even if the carrier is clearly not worth working for, says Victor Zimmerman, president of DACfix, an advocacy service for commercial drivers with erroneous information on their records. Give two weeks’ written notice, he says, adding that most banks will notarize such a letter for free. Timely notice can leave a good impression, preventing carriers from ever reporting negatively to DAC.

Not switching carriers continuously also helps your DAC report. Henderson has spent almost his entire career with North American, a model of consistency that’s earned him plenty of praise from his carrier.

The vast majority of the information in DAC Services’ employment history files “is positive, as is the majority of the driver community out there,” says Kent Ferguson, who has managed the company’s database for more than 20 years.

The electronic system was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s by a team of tech-savvy types before being bought by Charles Dees, who began marketing it as DAC Services. It sold its first Motor Vehicle Record in 1983, and as it gathered carrier customers, it collected information from them on their employees and owner-operators. It sold its first employment history in 1985 and has been used by carriers large and small ever since.

Contrary to truck stop opinion, DAC always has been a private company, and something of a unique one. While other employee information database services exist, such as the Work Number, none seems so very specific to both an industry and an occupation. While carrier participation in DAC’s employment history file is far from universal, more than 2,600 motor carriers do participate, Ferguson says, including “80 percent of the Transport Topics Top 100 as well as the CCJ Top 250.”

Also contrary to rumors, the background checks and DAC files of leased owner-operators are treated no differently by employers than those of company drivers, according to Hymer and other recruiters.

DAC’s power, ultimately, is in its industrywide acceptance. But the proprietary employment history file’s susceptibility to the errors of its reporting carriers, and the range of interpretations that can be drawn from file data, have led “DAC” to become a verb synonymous with “ruin.”

To be “DAC’d” is to be called an out-of-route company-policy violator who abandoned his vehicle and load under dispatch, or some such other combination of violations that make their way onto drivers’ Termination Records. These reports are the ones most frequently disputed by drivers.

A negative report on a DAC can be “a killer” to a driver’s career in the short term, says attorney Paul Taylor of St. Paul, Minn., who gives informal advice as “Opie” in Truck.Net’s online law forum.

The Termination Record includes a list of reasons that carriers check off, without space for elaboration. One of Taylor’s favorites is “excessive complaints.” “Does that mean the customers complain?” he asks.

The Termination Record is not designed to be comprehensive, only a guide, says Ferguson of USIS. “There’s no way we could provide a report that’s going to cover all the possible scenarios in a driver’s work history.”

Any recruiter who uses only one report, such as a Termination Record, as the sole reason for not hiring is not doing her job, says April Benoit, recruiting director for John Christner Trucking, a 600-truck all-owner-operator fleet. “If we see something negative on a DAC, we always ask both the driver and the company about it.”

Many argue that the retaliation factor is built into any Termination Record, often written when tempers are running high. “I think it ought to be all based on drug and alcohol violations, and tickets,” says owner-operator Alvin Early, who’s had his own DAC Report problems. “What you’ve got now is too much blackballing going on.”

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, best known for its application to credit histories, also protects work histories such as DAC reports. It imposes requirements for data collection and reporting, as well as the resolution of disputes. But the easiest way to fix a problem in your DAC, recruiters suggest, doesn’t start with USIS. Instead, the first step should be going directly to the carrier, explaining the error and asking for specific steps to fix it, they say.

“We’re objective enough to understand that things do happen that could cause some errors,” Benoit says. After all, much of DAC’s reporting mechanism today is electronic, making a carelessly placed keystroke a potential disaster.

“The driver would file the dispute with us if he can’t settle the matter with the carrier,” says Chris Hobza, corporate counsel for USIS. Clicking “Consumers” at USIS.com leads to a page where forms are available to guide you through the process, allowing drivers to provide all relevant information.

“We go back to the customer [the reporting carrier] and explain what is being disputed,” Hobza says, in hopes of a final determination of whether anything needs to be changed. It’s important to note, however, that DAC is a service for carriers, not for individual truckers, and the carrier ultimately decides whether to change its report.

“What’s amazing to me about DAC is that they seem to accept the carrier’s word for it no matter what,” Taylor says.

If the carrier isn’t persuaded by DAC’s dispute managers, then you have the right to make a rebuttal that will be permanently included in the report. But be careful what you say in the rebuttal if you choose to make one, Taylor says.

“What good is a rebuttal statement if the carrier has put ‘abandonment of load under dispatch’ on the report, and the leased owner-operator then puts on there, ‘It’s true that I refused to deliver a load, but it was because I hadn’t been paid in three weeks, and I refused to keep working for this company’?” Taylor asks. “I tend to think rebuttals almost make it look worse. The driver’s trying to explain something, and they just dig themselves into a deeper hole.” Such comments would discourage another carrier from leasing that owner-operator, Taylor says. “They’d say, ‘We’re dealing with a loose cannon here.'”

Rather than file a rebuttal, a complainant can engage the services of an attorney or a driver advocate. “A phone call from an attorney,” Taylor says, “is much more likely to get the attention of the motor carrier’s employee responsible for correcting DAC Reports than a call from a driver.”

If you’ve failed a drug or alcohol test, however, options for clearing the record are limited to determining whether DOT testing regulations were followed. “If the testing regulations were met, then that is the end,” Taylor says. “I can usually do nothing. If the DOT regulations were not met, I may be able to persuade the medical review officer to cancel the test, or to get the motor carrier to agree that the DOT requirements were not met, and thus the test should not be reported to any prospective employers who contact that motor carrier about a driver.”

Attorney’s fees can be expensive. Taylor typically charges a minimum $250 flat fee. Driver’s Legal Plan, which focuses only on traffic violations, offers a retainer for $2.98 a week and a $100 flat fee per ticket nationwide, but that doesn’t include court costs and fines that may be levied by a judge. Best to call first for a free consultation, says Driver’s Legal Plan President Jim Klepper, whose Tuesday-morning show airs at 7 a.m. Central on Sirius Channel 147.

In the end, says Klepper, “every kind of citation that goes on your record is going to affect not only your trucking career but your home insurance, your personal auto insurance, everything.

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