What Is a DOT Number and Why Do You Need It?

A Department of Transportation (DOT) number is a number the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, assigns to registered commercial vehicles. All carrier vehicles that weigh more than a certain amount, carry specific amounts of paying passengers or operate between state lines require DOT numbers. In most U.S. states, local DOT requirements also apply.

The legal requirements pertaining to USDOT registration are nuanced and often confusing for upstart carriers. As such, the following questions come up frequently.

  • What is DOT certification?
  • How much will a DOT number cost?
  • Who needs a USDOT number?
  • Do I need a USDOT number?
  • What are the requirements for a DOT number?
  • Do trailers need a DOT number?

This article covers the requirements of DOT certification for carrier vehicles in the U.S.

What Does DOT Certification Mean?

DOT certification is a seal of quality that shows a driver has the skills and competence to drive commercial vehicles on America’s roads and highways. Most states require DOT certification to drive commercial motor vehicles — a category that includes semi-trucks, delivery vehicles and public transportation.

To have a commercial driver’s license, as opposed to a personal driver’s license, you must become DOT certified. Most fleet drivers require a commercial driver’s license because it serves as proof a job applicant has received DOT certification.
To become DOT certified, a driver must undergo a physical exam and a series of safe-driving tests. The U.S. Department of Transportation administers DOT certification. Commercial motor vehicle operators must reapply for DOT certification every two years.

How Much Does a DOT Number Cost?

While the registration process is free, the FMCSA website will ask you to submit your credit card number to verify your identity. The site will not, however, charge your credit card for filing the form or for the issuance of your USDOT number, so there is no need to worry about using the FMCSA website for FMCSA registration.
The FMCSA website uses an applicant’s credit card as his or her digital signature. As such, there is no alternative to the credit-card requirement for online applications. If you do not have a credit card or are uncomfortable with sharing that data online, you will need to fill out a paper application and send the form in the mail to the FMCSA offices.

Do I Need a DOT Number?

Do I Need a DOT Number

A common misconception in fleet management is that only long-haul trucking fleets require DOT numbers. If you plan to operate any type of commercial vehicle in the United States, the first thing to determine is whether you will need a DOT number. While most states do require a DOT number for a vast range of commercial vehicle operation, some states do not have this requirement, and other exemptions apply.

You will need to file a USDOT registration if you intend to perform any of the following activities as the driver of a commercial vehicle:

  • Drive a commercial vehicle on interstate routes
  • Use vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds
  • Transport nine to 15 passengers for compensation
  • Transport 16 or more passengers without compensation
  • Transport hazardous materials

If the activities above do not apply to your line of work, you might not be required to complete a USDOT registration. Your only requirement might be to file a registration with your state office.

States That Require a DOT Number

Aside from the federal regulations, the following states and U.S. territories require a USDOT number for the intrastate operation of a commercial motor vehicle:

For additional carrier registration within your state, check with the agency that oversees your jurisdiction.

When Are You Required to Have a DOT Number?

All trucking companies that operate commercial vehicles of over 10,000 pounds to haul freight or transport passengers in interstate commerce must register their vehicles with the FMCSA and obtain a DOT number. The DOT number designates the carrier itself, rather than each truck. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations also require DOT numbers for carriers that transport hazardous materials, such as propane, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and some acetylene tanks.

The interstate commerce requirement can sometimes be tricky. A vehicle that travels from point to point within a single state may still be engaged in interstate commerce in situations like these:

  • Your vehicle travels between two places in a state but passes through another state en route.
  • Your vehicle travels between two locations in the same state, but the overall transaction or transportation originates or terminates outside the state, including in countries outside the United States.

Even if you are sure your carrier does business entirely within a single state, check with your state authorities to see whether they require a DOT number or not, and look into any applicable insurance requirements.

Let’s take a look at a few examples to put these figures and regulations into practice:

  • You run a lawn care business that sends 9,500-pound pickup trucks to service locations in two states. Federal law will not require your company to obtain a USDOT number because the trucks do not exceed the 10,000-pound weight limit. You will need to look into the two states’ requirements.
  • You run a mobile health care service that sends heavily equipped 12,000-pound vans into rural counties in your state to provide child immunizations and other essential health care services. Even though the vehicle exceeds the 10,000-pound weight limit, federal law will not require you to obtain a USDOT number because you confine your operations to a single state. You will need to look into your state’s requirements.
  • You run a commercial trucking fleet with drivers regularly heading out over the road to states up and down the coast. You will need to obtain a USDOT number because your vehicles exceed the 10,000-pound weight limit and your business involves interstate commerce.

Requirements for a DOT Number

What Are the Requirements for a USDOT Number?

The process for filing and submitting a USDOT application is relatively easy, but it does require some knowledge about the legal classification of your business. Beyond the basic information, you will also need to gather the following information:

  • Company operation
  • Operation classification
  • Cargo classification

Additional required details will include the number of vehicles you plan to operate, the type of vehicles in question, the status of your ownership of said vehicles — whether you own or lease — and the extent of your operation, such as whether you intend to operate on an intrastate or interstate basis. If you intend to transport hazardous chemicals, you will also need to know your hazmat classification.

Other Vehicles DOT Requirement Questions

Do Farming Vehicles Need a DOT Number?

Depending on the laws of your state, you might not need to obtain a DOT number to operate a farming vehicle on private farmland. However, if a farm owner hires you to operate a farming vehicle, you will probably be required to have a commercial driver’s license. Also, some farming territories do cross state lines. Therefore, if you operate a farming vehicle along an interstate farmland, you should file for a DOT number. Even if your state of operation doesn’t require USDOT registration, a neighboring state might.

Do Landscaping Vehicles Need a DOT Number?

Vehicles for landscape work fall under the commercial vehicle category. The laws of your state may require you to file for a DOT number to operate a landscaping vehicle, even if you don’t technically drive it along roadways.

While not all states require a DOT number for landscape vehicles that weigh under 10,000 pounds, most do — and if you cross interstate lines into a state that does have this requirement, you could face a hefty fine, even for your first offense. Check with your local motor vehicle website for more information on FMCSA registration laws in your jurisdiction.

Do Vans Need a DOT Number?

If you use a van or any small-passenger carrier vehicle to transport between nine and 15 passengers for direct compensation, you will need to have a DOT number. If you receive payment directly from the passengers for your service, that qualifies as direct compensation and makes your carrier operation subject to FMCSA requirements.

If you are using a van to transport commerce, you will be required to file for a DOT number if you drive the vehicle along interstate routes. Check the laws in your jurisdiction for more info, as requirements in this category vary from state to state.

Is It Necessary to Have a Nonprofit DOT Number?

The size and use of your nonprofit van will determine whether it is subject to FMCSA requirements. If a nonprofit uses the van as a for-hire vehicle, such as for the transportation of nine to 15 paying passengers or 16 or more, regardless of pay, the operator would be required to file a USDOT registration.

If a nonprofit uses its van across state lines to transport materials for commercial purposes, the vehicle would need legal registration. If a nonprofit van exceeds 10,000 pounds and carries materials to a site for commercial purposes, it would require a DOT number. The specific rules and regulations for nonprofit van use also vary by state.

Do Pickup Trucks Need a DOT Number?

A pickup truck will not generally require a DOT number because the weight of most such vehicles falls under the 10,000-pound threshold. Pickup trucks and trailers rarely transport passengers for compensation, let alone nine or more. Therefore, FMCSA requirements generally don’t apply to pickup trucks.
If you use a personal pickup truck within the weight limit for outcall work, it won’t qualify as a commercial vehicle, even if you display a business decal on the vehicle body. However, if you work for a company that sends you from house to house for maintenance and repairs, the employer may require you to have a commercial driver’s license, regardless of whether the truck itself is nothing more than a personal motor vehicle.

Do Gooseneck Trailers Need a DOT Number?

The FMCSA requirements for a gooseneck trailer will depend on the use and the weight of the vehicle plus the trailer. If you use the trailer for personal reasons and it falls under the 10,000-pound threshold, you will not need to file for a DOT number.

If, however, you use that same trailer and truck combination for commercial purposes, you will need to file for a DOT number if such requirements exist in your state. If you plan to use the trailer across state lines for commercial purposes, or the trailer and truck exceed the 10,000-pound threshold, you will need to file a USDOT registration.

How to Get a DOT Number for Your Trucking Company

How to Get a DOT Number

Depending on the nature and scope of your commercial vehicle operation, you will need to fill out one of the following three USDOT registration forms.

  • MCS-150: This form applies to the majority of carriers.
  • MCS-150B: This form combines USDOT registration and hazmat application.
  • MCS-150C: This form combines USDOT registration and the Intermodal Equipment Provider application.

When you go to the FMCSA’s website, it will direct you to the form that matches your business profile. You can file the application form online or send it via U.S. postal mail to the FMCSA headquarters at the following address.

FMCSA Attention: USDOT Number Application
1200 New Jersey Avenue
SE Washington, DC 20590

The USDOT processes registrations as soon as they receive them. When you fill out the form online, the process takes a matter of days. If you send the application form in the mail, you will generally need to wait between four and six weeks to have the application processed.

Unless the USDOT refuses your application, the agency will immediately issue your DOT number once they have completed processing. Note that the department sometimes rejects handwritten applications due to illegibility, incomplete information or the lack of a signature. For the sake of expediency, it is best to use the online form.

Third-Party DOT Registration Assistance

A third-party DOT registration service is an entity that offers FMCSA-compliance assistance to trucking businesses. For fleet operations large and small, it can be difficult to stay on top of matters that pertain to registration and legal DOT compliance as required by the FMCSA. A lot of this confusion is because the rules and regulations are complicated and sometimes vaguely worded.

The state-to-state differences in DOT requirements can also make matters confusing for trucking operations that do business along interstate routes. A third-party registration service can handle such issues externally so drivers and fleet operators can focus on what they do best.

A third-party registration service will know all the nuances of local and federal regulatory laws regarding the FMCSA registration of commercial motor vehicles for all types of uses. With client registration files on hand, a third-party service will also be on top of re-registration deadlines. That allows trucking companies to focus on the management of fleets and the dispatch of drivers.

Why You Should Hire a Third-Party Compliance Service

When a trucking business hires a third-party DOT registration service, it spares the carrier the burden of researching FMCSA requirements and marking dates on the calendar for re-registration filings. It also prevents the costly mistake of paying the generally steep fines that face trucking companies and drivers who violate DOT requirements.

For B2B fleet operators, the tasks involved with DOT and FMCSA compliance can be confusing, as well as time-consuming. When you hire a third-party registration service to handle DOT compliance filings for your business, the benefits are as follows:

  • Focus on your business: A third-party service will let you focus on day-to-day operations without the need to question whether your DOT papers are up-to-date.
  • Avoid penalties: With all requirements fulfilled and all registrations accurate and comprehensive, you won’t risk accidentally violating a DOT or FMCSA policy.

Third-party DOT help companies are highly competitive due to popular demand for such services. Consequently, the prices for such services vary from company to company. To ensure that the costs involved with registration compliance do not cut into your bottom line, it is crucial to have a registration company that knows the ins and outs of how the requirements work in your field and jurisdiction.

DOT Registration Assistance From American Carrier Services

DOT Registration Assistance

At American Carrier Services, we keep our client businesses in the trucking industry thoroughly registered at all times. When you first need to register a vehicle or fleet of vehicles, we know exactly which rules and regulations will apply to the vehicles in question and the information you must disclose to be in full DOT compliance.

Whether you manage a small or large fleet, the penalties you are liable to incur for just one or two unintentional compliance issues with DOT or FMCSA policy could be a huge financial and reputational setback to your business. To ensure your carrier business is in complete compliance with up-to-date registrations at all times, place these tasks in the hands of American Carrier Services. Contact us today for third-party DOT registration and renewal assistance.

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