Many individuals looking to start a trucking company may quickly need clarification navigating the many requirements and regulations that apply. For example, among the many requirements to operate legally in the United States is a Department of Transportation (USDOT) number.
What is a USDOT number?
The USDOT number is assigned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to signify that you are operating a commercial vehicle that is at least 10,000 pounds GVW or carrying at least eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation. It provides the authority for a truck to operate in its home state. Failure to obtain the DOT number may result in stiff penalties and fines. All trucking businesses must obtain the proper DOT number before transporting any materials.
The number itself is typically eight digits in length. A DOT number is the same as a USDOT number but may include the letters “US” in front to indicate it’s an American company for those truckers that work internationally. They are the same thing. All commercial vehicle operators that drive in the US are required to have a DOT number. Canada uses a Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) and Canada Carrier Code (CCC). Mexico uses an MX number.
The FMCSA uses the DOT number to track safety incidents and compliance information for the company. DOT numbers are not just for companies transporting hazardous materials or those crossing state lines or international borders. DOT numbers are required for all commercial transportation, including trucking companies transporting cargo, passengers, and hazardous materials.
How much does a DOT number cost?
The DOT number is free. However, you also need to be granted operating authority for your class of operations if intending to cross state lines. Operators that work strictly in their home state do not need this.
How do I get a DOT number?
You may obtain a DOT number by registering with FMCSA’s Unified Registration System. The FMCSA registration process requires companies to define their business operations based on self-classification using criteria such as cargo, operation, and company type. Business operation classifications include Motor Carrier, Broker, Intermodal Equipment Provider (IEP), Cargo Tank Facility, and Freight Forwarder.
The steps to apply online with the FMCSA include the following:
- Determine your federal authority requirements based on the type of operations you plan to engage in.
- Complete the FMCSA application process for all required filings, including obtaining the required insurance for your operation type.
- Determine if there are additional state requirements for your state or any state you plan to operate in.
- Prepare for the New Entrant Safety Audit.
- Determine required renewal/update schedule for your authority filings to ensure ongoing compliance.
There are several requirements within the Unified Registration System that you will need when obtaining your DOT number. These include:
- Basic information about your business, such as name and address.
- Personal contact information so the FMCSA can reach you with any questions about your application.
- Information about the operation classification you are seeking.
- Identification of whether you intend to transport people or cargo.
- A valid address.
- An appropriate insurance policy for your business. Proof of insurance must be filed by the insurance company (Form BMC-91 or BMC-91X)
- A BOC-3 form, if the trucker is traveling across state lines.
If you have any issues using the Unified Registration system on FMCSA’s website, a chat function is available to ask a representative for assistance. Once you have submitted your application and paid the associated filing fees with a valid credit card, you should receive a DOT number immediately unless there is a problem with your application. However, if you applied for it, you must still wait for the operating authority to be granted before you can begin operating; this generally takes approximately twenty-five days.
Are there any exemptions from the DOT number requirements?
Companies that operate commercial vehicles transporting passengers or cargo in interstate commerce must have a DOT number. In addition, commercial intrastate hazardous materials carriers who haul types and quantities requiring a safety permit must also register for a USDOT number.
Very few companies are exempt from obtaining a DOT number. Currently, nineteen states do not require DOT registration for intrastate operations. Therefore, if you live in and operate in these states, you may be exempt from the DOT regulations. However, your trucks may not leave the state if they meet any other required categories, such as those over 10,000 lbs, those transporting hazardous materials, and those providing commercial transportation for individuals.
Not crossing state lines may be challenging for many trucking companies, particularly in small states. Therefore, even if there is a small chance that you will need the DOT number, it may be better to obtain it anyway since the fines and penalties may be stiff if you are caught operating without it in a scenario where you need one.
When in doubt, please check with the FMCSA website or your state Department of Motor Vehicles for additional information.
What is the difference between a DOT number and an MC number?
Most trucking companies need a motor carrier number (MC number) and the DOT number. An MC number is required if:
- The commercial transportation company moves passengers across state lines.
- The company transports federally-regulated materials that belong to a third party or moves them across state lines.
Companies that operate solely within one state do not need an MC number. There are also designated commercial zones that are exempt from this requirement. These zones are generally found where states are close together, and the free movement of materials and people is essential for maintaining trade. One example of a commercial zone like this is Washington, DC.
If you need an MC number, you can register on the FMCSA’s website using the same process as required for the DOT number. It is a good idea to register for both numbers simultaneously.
Starting a trucking business isn’t easy, but breaking down the steps and completing the tasks one at a time can make it easier. And it’s a good idea to get the ball rolling on the DOT number as soon as possible, as it is the foundational filing required for every other filing you will need. Acquiring this number is one of the first steps to successfully starting your trucking business.