Interstate Operating Authority: 4 Frequently Asked Questions

March 24, 2023

The world of commercial trucking can be confusing to new entrants to the industry. One term that may cause additional confusion is interstate operating authority. This article addresses some of the most common questions about interstate operating authority.

What is interstate operating authority?

Interstate operating authority is authority granted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to allow your commercial trucking company to transport across state or national borders. 

Interstate operating authority is required by companies that haul loads across state or national borders or haul someone else’s property, including household goods, for a profit. Although some exceptions exist, most companies meeting these two criteria need interstate operating authority. 

Interstate operating authority differs from intrastate operating authority, which is required for companies that haul only in one state. This distinction is crucial since companies with only intrastate operating authority would violate United States federal law if they transported goods across state lines or international borders. 

Interstate operating authority is also different from a USDOT number. While your interstate operating authority is tied to your USDOT number, you must still complete an application and seek FMCSA operating authority to transport across state lines. 

What are the three types of carrier authority?

Three primary types of authorities in the transportation industry are related to companies that move freight. All three types involve freight and getting it to its final destination, but how each entity does so and the type of authority required for each differs. 

The three types include:

  1. Motor carrier authority: Motor carrier operating authority is required for companies transporting goods from different locations for compensation. They are for-hire trucking companies that take responsibility for the property while it is in the custody of the motor carrier. There are two subcategories under motor carrier authority, motor carrier of property (except household goods) and motor carrier of household goods ( moving companies). While the first subcategory does not have a federal requirement to carry cargo insurance, the second does. Given this, they are generally required to have cargo insurance to cover the property if there is a loss. Despite the lack of a federal requirement for cargo insurance for motor carriers of property, every single broker a freight hauler will book will require it. No broker or shipper will load a trucker’s truck without cargo insurance. 
  2. Broker authority: Broker authority is required for companies that arrange the transportation of material goods by a motor carrier. Brokers do not transport property. Rather, they are for-hire entities that arrange the transportation of property from two points. They differ from motor carriers in that they do not take responsibility for the property at any time. 
  3. Freight forwarder authority: Freight forwarders do everything related to the storage and shipping of property on behalf of the shippers, and often, they specialize in moving freight across national borders. These companies provide transportation of material goods for compensation in the normal course of business. They put together and combine shipments and perform break-bulk and distribution operations of freight. Freight forwarders also take responsibility for transporting material goods from the point of origin to the destination. They may transport using rail, commercial motor vehicles, or water carriers, all of which must adhere to FMCSA regulations. 

While all three types of operating authority are different, they are all granted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FMCSA operating authority may be requested by applying through the FMCSA’s Unified Registration System. In addition, you may request operating authority while applying for a United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) number. 

What is the difference between interstate and intrastate DOT?

Interstate commerce is defined as driving a commercial vehicle:

By contrast, intrastate commerce is when you drive a commercial motor vehicle within a state without meeting any of the descriptions for interstate commerce. Since you will require different operating authorities, it’s natural to wonder if there are differences with the USDOT number.

There is no difference between the interstate and intrastate DOT. However, when a carrier applies for a DOT, they will have to check a box that tells the FMCSA whether they are going to be operating as intrastate or interstate. This is indicated by the ‘Carrier Operations’ section of their authority with SAFER. 

This screenshot of SAFER shows the trucking company’s authority. Carrier Operation shows whether they are interstate or intrastate. They can change this designation at any time if they wish.  

interstate operating authority

Being able to easily change the DOT from interstate to intrastate may allow greater flexibility for companies that want to expand operations. This task can be done in the FMCSA’s Unified Registration System.

Who needs interstate operating authority?

In addition to a USDOT number, the FMCSA requires that companies that do the following also have interstate operating authority, also called an MC number. 

There are different regulations for those who plan to transport hazardous materials. When in doubt about what type of authority you need, it may be best to consult with experts before completing an FMCSA application to request authorization.

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