You need a DOT number if you are involved in interstate commerce and you:
- Transport passengers
- Transport hazardous materials
- Use a cargo vehicle with a gross weight of 10,0001 lbs or more
You do this by registering with the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assocation) and getting a DOT number.
A DOT number is a Unique identifier used by the FMCSA to monitor the safety record and other information about trucking companies. The FMCSA uses it during compliance reviews, crash investigations, audits, and inspections.
If you own a fleet of vehicles or you only have a single truck for hauling cargo across state lines, you will need to get a DOT number to ensure compliance with FMCSA regulations.
In this article, I will explain regulations regarding DOT numbers and show you how you can get your DOT number.
The Legal Reasons When You Need a DOT Number
This legal provision applies to all cargo vehicle operators including commercial operators that meet the qualifications outlined below:
- You are involved in trade or transportation between a state and a location outside such a state (including a location outside the United States).
- You are involved in trade or transportation between two locations in the same state while passing through another state or a place outside the United States.
- You are in transit between two locations in the same state as part of trade or transportation originating or terminating outside that state or the United States.
- You use a cargo vehicle with a weight or gross combination weight of 10,001lbs or more.
- Your cargo vehicle is designed or used to carry 8 passengers including the driver – for compensation.
- Your cargo vehicle is designed or used to transport more than 15 non-commercial passengers, including the driver.
- Your cargo vehicle is used to transport hazardous materials that require a safety permit.
If the qualifications listed above apply to you, federal law demands that you have a DOT number.
Examples of Cargo Van Owners Needing a DOT Number
- A landscaping services company that sends a truck that exceeds the 10,001-pound weight limit to service locations in other states, you need a DOT number
- Farm owner with a farming territory that crosses state lines and you operate a farming vehicle that exceeds the 10,001-pound weight limit, you need a DOT number
- A non-profit using a cargo van to transport 15 or more passengers across state lines without compensation, you need a DOT number
- A commercial trucking fleet with vehicles above the 10,001lbs weight limit that regularly cross state lines, you need a DOT number.
If you are still not sure that you need a DOT number, you can use the interactive quiz on FMCSA’s website to determine if you need to register.
Some states require all CMV operators to obtain a DOT number, whether they operate only within the state or across state lines. These states include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
If you are a CMV operator in any of the states listed above, you need to register for a DOT number.
How To Get Your DOT Number
If you operate a fleet of trucks that fall within DOT regulations, you only need one DOT number. They assign the same number to all your cargo vehicles.
Below is a step-by-step guide to show you how to get your DOT number:
Step 1. Check if Need a Motor Carrier (MC Number)
You may be required to obtain both a Motor Carrier (MC) and DOT number if you transport cargo or passengers across state lines.
While the FMCSA uses a DOT number to track all interstate carriers, the MC number is used to identify interstate CMV operators that transport passengers or regulated commodities as for-hire carriers.
Your operating authority will also determine the types of cargo you can carry, the type of operation you can run, and the insurance coverages you must obtain.
The following CMV operators are required to obtain an MC number if they:
- Transport passengers across state lines for a fee or other compensation.
- Transport regulated commodities or arrange for the transportation of such commodities across state lines for a fee or other compensation.
However, you are not required to obtain an MC number if you:
- Transport your own cargo
- Haul non-regulated commodities
- Operate within a federally designated commercial zone.
If you need an MC number, then you also need to form a company. It can be an LLC, a C corporation, or any type of company that works for you.
After forming your company, apply for your MC number through FMCSA’s Unified Registration System. The fee is $300 and there is a 21-day vetting period before your MC number becomes active.
When filling the form, make sure you input the correct information and choose the right operating authority.
If you choose the wrong operating authority, there will be no refunds, and you will still need to pay the $300 to apply with the correct operating authority.
There are many types of operating authority and the main types are:
- Motor Carrier of Property (excluding Household Goods) Operating Authority: this applies to CMV operators that move regulated commodities for the use of the general public in return for compensation. These operators must provide proof of public liability insurance during registration.
- Motor Carrier of Household Goods Operating Authority: this primarily applies to moving companies that transport household goods for compensation. These companies must provide proof of both public liability insurance and cargo insurance during registration.
- Broker of Property (excluding Household Goods) Operating Authority: this applies to individuals and companies that organize the transportation of property (excluding household goods) for compensation.
- Broker of Household Goods Operating Authority: this applies to individuals and companies that organize the transportation of household goods for compensation.
- Freight Forwarder Operating Authority: this applies to individuals and companies that organize the transportation of cargo in return for compensation. However, unlike a broker, a freight forwarder will take possession of the cargo and assume responsibility for it. A freight forwarder must provide proof of public liability insurance and cargo insurance during registration.
- Enterprise Carrier of International Cargo (excluding Household Goods) Operating Authority: these are United States-based companies controlled by a citizen of Mexico or a resident alien (55% or more ownership) that transport international cargo (excluding household goods).
- Enterprise Carrier of International Household Goods Operating Authority: these are United States-based companies controlled by a citizen of Mexico or resident alien (55% or more ownership) that transport international household goods.
Depending on your status and the nature of your operation, you may need to apply for multiple operating authorities.
Step 2: Obtain Insurance Coverage
You have two weeks from the time you apply for your operating authority to obtain the required insurance coverages. If you fail to get them within the deadline, your application will not succeed.
All motor carriers and freight forwarders are required to provide proof they have the specified insurance coverages. The type of coverages you need will depend on the type of operating authority you applied for.
Public liability and cargo insurance coverages are always required.
Motor carriers and Freight forwarders are required to have minimum public liability coverage of $750,000 depending on the commodities being transported, and a $5million coverage if passengers are being transported.
Household goods motor carriers and freight forwarders must have cargo insurance coverage of $5000 per vehicle and $10,000 per occurrence.
Getting proper insurance coverage is not only important for regulatory compliance, it also shows your customers that you can be trusted. Few customers will work with a CMV operator who doesn’t have proper insurance coverage.
Step 3: Complete Other Preliminary Registrations
There will be a 21-day vetting period before your MC number becomes active, and during that time you are not allowed to transport passengers or haul goods.
You can use that time to complete the following registrations:
- UCR (Unified Carrier Registration System): All CMV operators that cross state lines or are involved in international travel must register for UCR. The registration fee is based on the size of your fleet, and it must be renewed every year.
- IRP (International Registration Plan): All interstate CMV operators with vehicles that exceed the 26,000lbs weight limit are required to register for IRP. The fee depends on your base state, and upon registration, you will be given an Apportioned Licence Plate for your power unit.
Step 4: Complete The New Entrant Safety Assurance Program
Obtaining your DOT number starts with completing the 18-month New Entrant Safety Assurance Program. Without completing the program, you can’t operate as an interstate carrier or get a DOT number.
To apply for the program, you must complete the MCS-150 form and go through an 18-month monitoring period during which the following will be observed:
An applicant must:
- Operate safely
- Keep up-to-date records
- Perform periodic CMV inspections and maintenance
- Pass the safety audit that will be conducted by the FMCSA
General audits will occur intermittently, and the safety audit will take place after 12 months from the time you commence operations.
The following violations will lead to an automatic failure of the audit:
- Alcohol and drug violations
- Operating your CMV with a driver that lacks a valid CDL
- Using a driver that is medically unqualified
- Operating your CMV without the required insurance coverage
- Not keeping out-of-service records of your drivers
- Operating a vehicle that is not periodically inspected and maintained
If you fail the audit, they will revoke your DOT registration. However, if you pass, your DOT registration will succeed.
Step 5: Get Your DOT Number
After the successful completion of the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program, you go on the FMCSA website and apply for your DOT number.
You will be asked to provide your credit card number, which will not be charged but be used to verify your identity. Your credit card number will effectively become your digital signature.
On the website, you will be directed to fill any of the following forms depending on the profile of your business.
- MCS-150B: DOT registration and hazmat application
- MCS-150C: DOT registration and Intermodal Equipment Provider application.
Take the time to fill your application form correctly, and after you complete your application, you will pay the one-time filing fee of $300.
How Long To Get Your DOT Number
Your DOT registration will be processed immediately and your entire cargo vehicle fleet will be automatically registered under the number you obtain.
The effect of successful registration is that your vehicles, records, staff, medical cards, and more, are now subject to periodic inspections by the FMCSA.
Your DOT and operating authority information must be kept up-to-date, and CMV operators are required by the FMCSA to update their DOT information every two years. If you are no longer in business, you must notify the FMCSA of your status, or else you must continue the biennial updates.
Where To Display Your DOT Number
You must display your DOT number on the exterior of your CMV and the following rules apply:
- It must be displayed on both sides of the vehicle
- The letters should be in easy-to-read fonts
- The minimum height of the letters should be 2 inches and the letters must be visible from 50 feet away
- The colors of the letters must be in contrast to the rest of the vehicle
- Your CMV must be marked with the legal name of your business
It is the responsibility of every CMV owner that operates across state lines to comply with all state and federal regulations. Obtaining your DOT numbers is an important part of complying with the relevant regulations.
This article has shown you if you need a DOT number and how to get one. Now, it’s up to you to do what is required to obtain your DOT number if you need to get one.