When starting a trucking company, navigating the many requirements and regulations can be challenging. However, a failure to obtain the proper documentation can put your fledgling business at risk for noncompliance, which can be costly and, in some instances, prevent you from operating.
The proper identification and authority must be obtained through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This documentation ensures you can legally transport goods and people. Many trucking companies will need both the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT, commonly shortened to DOT) number and the motor carrier (MC) number.
While obtaining these numbers may seem daunting initially, the process is much easier when you understand the difference between the DOT and MC numbers.
What is a DOT number?
A DOT number is provided by the United States Department of Transportation when you register your truck with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This number is used to identify your commercial vehicle.
The FMCSA requires a DOT number for:
- All commercial motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight of 10,001 pounds or more, whether they operate in their home state only or cross state lines.
- Commercial vehicles engaging in interstate commerce.
- Vehicles transporting nine or more passengers for compensation.
- Vehicles transporting more than 15 passengers without compensation.
- Vehicles transporting hazardous materials.
- All commercial moving companies.
Newly issued DOT numbers are eight digits in length. The FMCSA uses the DOT number to track safety and compliance information for the company.
What is an MC number?
A motor carrier number or MC number gives your trucking company the authority to cross state lines. It is also called your operating authority or motor carrier authority. Like the DOT number, the MC number is also assigned by the FMCSA. However, unlike the DOT number, not all commercial trucking companies require an MC number.
Generally speaking, the following companies require an MC number:
- Those that transport passengers in interstate commerce for a fee or other compensation, direct or indirect.
- Those that transport federally-regulated commodities owned by others or arrange for their transport for a fee or other compensation in interstate commerce.
FMCSA operating authority is often identified as MC, FF, or MX, depending upon the authority granted. Unlike the DOT number, a company may need multiple operating authorities depending on its planned business activities.
The types of operating authority with an MC number include:
- Motor carrier of property (except household goods)
- Motor carrier of household goods (such as moving companies)
- Broker of property (except household goods)
- Broker of household goods
- United States-based enterprise carrier of international cargo (except household goods)
- United States-based enterprise carrier of international household goods
The type of operating authority you seek can impact the level of insurance your company is required to secure by the FMCSA. In addition, the FMCSA does not refund application fees if you select the wrong operating authority. Therefore, it’s vital to review all operating authority classes before determining the one(s) required for your company.
Certain companies are exempt from needing operating authority. These include:
- Private carriers (those that transport their own cargo)
- For-hire carriers that exclusively haul exempt commodities or cargo that is not subject to federal regulation
- Carriers operating in a federally-designated ‘commercial zone’ are exempt from interstate authority rules. A commercial zone is a geographic territory that includes multiple states bordering major metropolitan areas, such as around Washington, DC.
- Carriers operating across state lines in a radius of less than 100 miles from where the vehicle is based.
How Do You Get a DOT and MC number?
You can have a professional third-party filing company, such as Authority Express, handle your authority paperwork for you. The advantage of this is that you will have an expert staff available to address any potential filing issues that may arise. However, the downside is that outsourcing the work to a third party is more costly compared to completing it yourself.
If you are determined to complete the work yourself, both DOT and MC numbers can be obtained by registering with the FMCSA’s Unified Registration System and completing the application process. Alternatively, you may submit the registration forms through USPS. Printable registration forms can be found on the FMCSA website, although they strongly urge applicants to apply online.
Before completing an application through the Unified Registration System, you should be sure you have all the required information. This includes:
- Business information, including the name, address, and other contact information.
- The owner’s personal contact information. This ensures that the FMCSA can contact you with any questions that may arise during the application review phase.
- The proper operating authority you seek if requesting an MC number.
- Identification of the type of materials you intend to transport.
Any questions that arise during the application process can be directed to the FMCSA by calling them or accessing the chat function on their website.
The DOT number does not cost anything to obtain. The MC number has a $300 filing fee. The $300 fee is required for each type of operating authority you seek for your business (carrier, broker, etc).
Once you have completed an application through the Unified Registration System, you will receive a DOT number immediately unless there is a problem with the application. For the MC number, the FMCSA will issue it within 24 hours. However, all new MC numbers are required to go through a protest period, which will take between 20 and 25 days before it is activated and ready to be used. Those that are subject to additional review can take eight weeks or longer. Applications going through the US mail may take 45-60 days to complete the review.
After submitting an application, you can check its status by visiting the SAFER website.
Starting a trucking company often involves navigating a complex web of regulations and requirements. This process can be made easier by partnering with an experienced company that can handle these activities. This expertise can streamline and expedite the process and ensure compliance with all applicable regulations.