The Ultimate Guide to USDOT Numbers for Commercial Trucks

Certain vehicles are required to have a USDOT Number, which serves as a unique identifier for the vehicle. These numbers are used for monitoring and collecting safety information for the purpose of audits and compliance reviews, inspections, and crash investigations. If your company engages in interstate commerce or certain types of intrastate commerce (such as transporting hazardous materials), obtaining a USDOT Number may be essential for compliance with state and federal regulations.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about USDOT Numbers for commercial trucks, including requirements, uses, how to obtain a USDOT Number, and more.

When is a USDOT Number Required?

Any company operating commercial vehicles that transport passengers or haul cargo in interstate commerce is required to have a USDOT Number and be registered with the FMCSA. In addition to these companies and vehicles, any commercial intrastate vehicles that transport hazardous materials — in any types or quantities that require a safety permit — must also register for a USDOT Number.

USDOT Number Requirements

Specifically, a USDOT Number is required for vehicles used for intrastate commerce which:

  • Are used to transport hazardous materials in any type or quantity that requires a safety permit for intrastate commerce

Vehicles that are used for interstate commerce are required to have USDOT Numbers based on different requirements. Specifically, USDOT Numbers are required for vehicles used for interstate commerce which:

  • Have a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating (if greater than the gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight) of 10,001 pounds or greater
  • Has a gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight (if greater than the gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating) of 10,001 pounds or greater
  • Are designed for or used to transport eight or more passengers, including the driver, for compensation
  • Are designed for or used to transport 15 or more passengers, including the driver, but are not used to transport passengers for compensation

Interstate commerce is defined as any trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States occurring:

  • Between a place within a state and a place outside of that state’s borders
  • Between two places in a single state, but for which transportation must occur through another state or a place outside of the United States
  • Between two places within a single state that occurs as part of any trade, traffic, or transportation that originates or completes in a location outside of the state or outside of the United States

The responsibility for understanding and complying with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations falls on motor carrier operators and drivers, meaning that it’s up to commercial and passenger vehicle operators and their drivers to know whether regulations apply and take all necessary steps to ensure compliance.

In addition, 35 states, as well as Puerto Rico, require intrastate commercial vehicle registrants to obtain a USDOT Number, while the following 15 states do not:

  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

Complying with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) exist to improve highway safety for passengers as well as other travelers that share the roads with vehicles hauling hazardous materials and engaging in interstate transport. These regulations include limits on the number of consecutive hours of service drivers may clock, which aim to prevent accidents resulting from fatigue. FMCSA Driver Regulations

Property-carrying drivers may drive for a maximum of 11 hours following a minimum of 10 consecutive hours off duty, for instance, while passenger-carrying drivers are limited to 10 hours of driving following a minimum of eight consecutive hours off duty. Additionally, both passenger-carrying and property-carrying drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty within a period of seven to eight days.

While compliance with many FMCSRs is the responsibility of the operator, the hours of service regulations, as well as some other requirements, rest on the shoulders of the drivers themselves. In fact, drivers are now required to maintain electronic logs documenting all hours of service, breaks, and other information to verify that these requirements are being met. A complete summary of the hours of service regulations can be found here.

Other regulations that fall under the FMCSRs applicable to drivers include (but aren’t limited to):

  • New mobile phone restrictions, which prohibit the use of hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), including for the purposes of making a call or dialing when pressing more than a single button is required. CMV drivers may, however, use a hands-free phone while driving, only if the device is located in close proximity. Failure to comply may result in fines and penalties, and repeated violations may result in driver disqualification.
  • Drivers must have a medical examination and be deemed medically fit to perform their job duties.
  • Drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) appropriate for the vehicles they’re operating. A CDL must be issued from the driver’s home state, and it’s actually illegal to have a CDL in more than one state.

Requirements for companies include regulations surrounding periodic inspections, maintenance of commercial motor vehicles, and adequate insurance coverage, among other requirements designed to improve the safety of U.S. highways.

There are also some specific requirements pertaining to who is responsible for registering and displaying a USDOT number, particularly in the case of owner-operators. Historically, owner-operators leasing under a carrier’s authority simply used the carrier’s USDOT number and authority, although depending on the state, there are now some circumstances under which owner-operators must obtain their own USDOT Number and authority registration.

How to Register with FMCSA

There are several steps involved in registering with FMCSA. First, determine if FMCSA registration is required (any operators or drivers meeting the applicability rules outlined above are required to register). This interactive questionnaire can help to determine if you’re required to obtain a USDOT number.

Then, you need to determine if you need an interstate Operating Authority number (known as an MC number). Companies required to obtain an MC number, in addition to a DOT number, include those which:

  • Transport passengers in interstate commerce, whether direct or indirect, for a fee or other compensation
  • Transport federally regulated commodities owned by others, or arrange for the transport of federally regulated commodities, in interstate commerce, for a fee or other compensation

Operating authority under FMCSA is typically identified by the type of authority granted, including MC, FF, or MX numbers. In some cases, companies may be required to obtain multiple operating authorities, depending on what’s required to support the organization’s planned business operations. USDOT numbers, on the other hand, consist of a single application process for all operations.

FMCSA Insurance Requirements

The Operating Authority determines both the type of operation a company can run as well as the types of cargo a company is permitted to carry, as well as the insurance coverage requirements set forth by the FMCSA. The various types of authority include:

  • Motor Carrier of Property (except Household Goods) –  This authority applies to authorized for-hire motor carriers that transport regulated commodities, with the exception of household goods, for the use of the general public for compensation. These motor carriers must file proof of public liability insurance (including bodily injury and property damage) with the FMCSA in order to obtain operating authority, although cargo insurance is not required for this type of authority.
  • Motor Carrier of Household Goods (Moving Companies) – This authority applies to motor carriers that transport household goods for the general public for compensation, such as moving companies. Specifically, household goods consist of personal items that are used in a home, including items shipped from stores or factories and transported on behalf of the householder, who also pays the transportation fees. These motor carriers are required to file proof of public liability insurance (including bodily injury and property damage), as well as proof of cargo insurance with the FMCSA in order to be granted interstate operating authority.
  • Broker of Property (except Household Goods) – This operating authority applies to individuals, partnerships, or corporations that receive compensation for arranging for the transport of property, with the exception of household goods, which belong to others using an authorized motor carrier. Brokers do not take possession of the property and therefore do not assume responsibility for it.
  • Broker of Household Goods – This operating authority applies to individuals, partnerships, or corporations that receive compensation for arranging for the transportation of household goods (items intended for use in a home) that belong to others using an authorized motor carrier. Like Brokers of Property, Brokers of Household Goods don’t assume responsibility for the household goods being transported, as they never take direct possession of those goods. Companies are required to register as a household goods broker if the motor carrier providing transportation services also provides some (or all) of the following services: binding and nonbinding estimates, inventorying, protective packing and unpacking of individual items at personal residences, and loading and unloading at personal residences.
  • United States-based Enterprise Carrier of International Cargo (except Household Goods) – This operating authority applies to companies that transport international cargo, with the exception of household goods, that are headquartered in the United States but are owned or controlled by a Mexican citizen or resident alien (55% or greater control or ownership). In this case, international cargo must either be destined for or originate in a foreign country.
  • United States-based Enterprise Carrier of International Household Goods – This authority applies to any company that transports international household goods which is headquartered in the United States but owned or controlled by a Mexican citizen or resident alien (55% or greater control or ownership). This authority specifically applies to companies that transport household goods – items meant for personal use in a home – including items purchased from a store or factory for this purpose and transported at the request of the householder, who is also paying the transportation fees. As this authority relates to international household goods, the goods being transported must either originate from or be destined for a home in a foreign country.

There are also additional types of authority used in special circumstances such as:

  • Freight Forwarder Authority Operating Authority
  • Motor Passenger Carrier Authority
  • Non-North America-Domiciled Motor Carriers
  • Mexico-based Carriers for Motor Carrier Authority to Operate Beyond U.S. Municipalities and Commercial Zones on the U.S.-Mexico Border
  • Mexican Certificate of Registration for Foreign Motor Carriers and Foreign Motor Private Carriers Under 49 U.S.C. 13902

Some carriers are not required to have Operating Authority, including:

  • Carriers that transport their own cargo, or private carriers
  • Carriers that haul exempt commodities (non-federally regulated cargo) exclusively, even if on a for-hire basis
  • Carriers operating exclusively in a federally designated “commercial zone” which is exempt from interstate authority rules and regulations. These commercial zones my include geographic territories that border on a major metropolitan city, such as the Virginia/Maryland/Washington, DC metropolitan area, that include multiple states

If a company determines that Operating Authority is required, the appropriate MC Number must be obtained and the appropriate proof of insurance coverage, if required, submitted to the FMCSA. For first-time registrants who do not already have a USDOT Number should register through the new Unified Registration System here. Those that are already registered and already have a USDOT Number, such as those applying for an additional authority, can apply online through FMCSA’s legacy registration system. Application status can be checked on the SAFER website.

After determining the need for obtaining Operating Authority and applying for an MC Number if required, companies should determine insurance requirements, obtain the appropriate coverage, and submit proof of coverage to FMCSA. Note that liability and cargo insurance forms must be submitted online by the insurance company furnishing the coverage. Coverage requirements include:

  • Public liability insurance (bodily injury/property damage/environmental restoration) is required for motor carriers and freight forwarders, although non-vehicle-operating freight forwarders may opt to have this requirement waived. For freight, the required coverage is $750,000 to $5,000,000, depending on the commodities transported. For non-hazardous freight that’s moved only in vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less, the required coverage is $300,000. For passengers, $5,000,000 in coverage is required, or $1,500,000 for registrants that operate vehicles with a seating capacity of 15 passengers or less only.
  • Cargo insurance of $5,000 per vehicle, $10,000 per occurrence is required of both Household Goods Motor Carriers and Household Goods Freight Forwarders.
  • A Surety Bond in the amount of $75,000, Trust Fund Agreement amount of $75,000 is required of both Freight Forwarders and Brokers of Freight.
  • Service of Process Agents are required for all authorities.
  • Endorsement for Motor Carrier Policies of Insurance for Public Liability, under Sections 29 and 30 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, is required of Hazmat Safety Permit Carriers.

After handling proof of insurance requirements, companies must determine what state notification and registration requirements apply. FMCSA maintains a helpful resource with information on state governments, state consumer protection offices, and other entities that may have information on state-specific regulations.

Then, companies should begin the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program, which applies to both U.S. and Canada-based motor carriers. New entrants are monitored for a period of 18 months and are required to operate safely, maintain accurate and up-to-date records, perform regular maintenance and conduct periodic inspections on commercial motor vehicles, and pass a safety audit. During this initial 18-month period, FMCSA will monitor the company’s safety performance via roadside inspections, conduct safety audits on new entrants, and if deemed safe, grant permanent authority to the company.

Safety audits or reviews typically occur within 12 months of the start of operations, and compliance reviews or intervention may occur at any time FMCSA safety data indicates potential problems. New entrants will automatically fail the safety audit for any violations related to the following:

  • Drugs and alcohol violations
  • Driver violations, such as operating without a CDL or the use of disqualified or medically unfit drivers
  • Operations violations, such as operating without the required minimum level of insurance coverage or failing to require drivers to maintain accurate hours of service records
  • Repairs and inspections violations, such as operating vehicles declared out-of-service before repairs are made or operating CMVs that are not inspected periodically

Note that some operators must also comply with other regulations, such as the Household Goods (HHG) Regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While compliance with these regulations isn’t used as a determining factor in a safety audit, violations may result in investigation by other federal and state agencies as applicable.

To apply for a USDOT Number, there are several application options, depending on the type of operations the company engages in and other permits required:

Other forms and instructions, such as those for filing proof of insurance, applications for Operating Authority, and forms for Process Agents, can be found here.

Only after completing the New Entrant Safety Assurance program can companies apply for permanent USDOT registration. More information on this process can be found here. Even after permanent USDOT registration is obtained, it’s up to companies to maintain and update their USDOT Numbers and Operating Authority information as necessary. These updates may include routine updates, biennial updates, and inactivation, deactivation, and reactivation of USDOT Numbers.

It’s free to update information, but FMCSA does require that companies update their information at least every two years (biennial update). This requirement applies even to companies that have not changed any information as well as those that have discontinued interstate operations since the last update. Even companies that are no longer in business are required to complete a biennial update if they have not notified FMCSA of their business status. Companies that fail to complete a biennial update may have their USDOT Number deactivated and may be subject to civil penalties up to $1,000 per day, or a maximum of $10,000.

As USDOT Numbers are an important identification tool used to maintain records on commercial motor vehicles, there are specifications that dictate the size and appearance of the display of these numbers on vehicles. For commercial trucks, USDOT Numbers must be readily legible during the day from a minimum distance of 50 feet, with a minimum height of two inches. These numbers are most often displayed on the doors of the vehicle to meet the requirement that the number is displayed on the power unit, on both sides of the CMV.

USDOT Numbers must also be in a high contrast to the rest of the vehicle to ensure visibility. Additionally, CMVs must be marked with the legal name of the business entity controlling the motor carrier operation (or the “doing business as” or DBA name) – the business entity’s name as it appears on the MCS-150 form. As commercial motor vehicles regularly travel in hazardous weather conditions, companies should opt for highly durable data plates, such as Metalphoto® photosensitive anodized aluminum, for reliable transportation asset identification and regulatory compliance.

Additional Resources on USDOT Numbers for Commercial Trucks

For more information on USDOT Numbers, FMCSA requirements, and the application process, visit the following resources:

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