Do you want to operate a fleet of commercial vehicles in the United States? Whether you plan to transport cargo or people, chances are you need what is known as a DOT number.
A DOT number is a number assigned to your company by the FMCSA and is used for multiple different purposes in the fleet. The specific requirements for a DOT number will depend on your business and what it is you plan to transport.
There can be heavy fines if you are caught transporting materials without a DOT number, so continue reading this article to find out who needs a DOT number and the costs and requirements associated.
What is a DOT Number?
If you are new to the transportation industry, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of a DOT number before. Basically, DOT numbers are a set of digits that is used as an identifier for your company by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration).
This number will be used by the FMCSA to monitor the safety record of your company, as well as keep track of any compliance information they may collect as a result of an incident. Whether you plan to transport cargo, passengers, or hazardous materials, you will need a DOT number. Typically, these numbers are 8 digits in length.
What is a USDOT Number?
A USDOT number is actually the exact same as a DOT number, it just has the prefix US in front of it to indicate it is an American number. In the trucking industry, these terms are used interchangeably, so if someone says you need a USDOT number, they are saying you need a DOT number.
A USDOT number example would be USDOT1523020, and this number would likely be printed on every truck in the fleet belonging to the company. The number is always painted on the cab of the truck and is typically located on the driver’s door.
DOT numbers were invented by the FMCSA as a way to lower the number of road incidents that result in a loss of life or damage to property as a result of improperly trained drivers or companies that operate these vehicles. They do this by tracking the incidents and accidents caused by certain drivers or companies and canceling the certification of a company that is deemed unsafe.
What is DOT Certification?
DOT certification is a bit like a DOT number, but rather than being for the fleet, it’s for the driver. A DOT certification indicated that a driver has the ability and competence to operate a motor vehicle commercially in the United States.
Almost all of the states require that any driver hired by a trucking company be DOT certified, regardless of whether your company operates semi-trucks or smaller delivery vehicles. If a driver holds a commercial driver’s license, it means he or she has been DOT certified.
The process to become DOT certified involves a physical exam as well as some driving tests, all of which are overlooked by the US Department of Transportation. Because this certification requires a certain level of physical fitness, those wishing to stay DOT certified must undergo this process every two years.
When do you need a DOT number?
You are likely wondering how you can know which type of fleet or vehicle needs a DOT number. There are many rumors that certain states or companies aren’t required to have them which can make it tricky to know when they are actually required.
Generally, you will be required to obtain a USDOT number if you intend to do any of the following activities with your company.
- Use vehicles that are over 10,000 pounds in weight
- Have employees drive/operate a commercial vehicle on an interstate
- Transport passengers for hire (9-15 people to be exact)
- Transport more than 15 people for any reason
- Move hazardous materials of any type
You will also be required to register a DOT number if you live in one of the following 31 states where one is required.
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Who is exempt from a DOT number?
Just like anything in life, there are a few businesses that are exempt from obtaining a DOT number. These exemptions are few and far between, however, so you will want to double-check that you are actually exempt rather than simply assuming.
Those Transporting Items for Free
First and foremost, the most obvious exemption is those who are transporting items simply to move them rather than to transport them for sale. An example of this would be a family moving personal items across a border during a move or taking a horse from a farm to a rodeo show.
But it isn’t enough just to say you aren’t being paid for the transportation, the individual driving the vehicle must also not be receiving proceeds from the transportation of the items. For example, an individual driving the car transporting a horse to a rodeo cannot be someone who will financially benefit from that horse being at said rodeo. The only exception to this is they are allowed to accept prize money.
Those Operating in a Non-DOT Required State
There are 19 states which currently do not require DOT registration in the United States, and of course, if you live in and operate your business in one of these states, you are exempt from the DOT regulations.
This can be complicated, however, as your trucks will not be allowed to leave the state if they also fall under any of the other required categories (over 10,000lbs, transporting hazardous materials, or carrying people for hire).
Take the state of Vermont. Although it is not on the list of states where a DOT number is required, it is very difficult for a motor carrier to operate in Vermont and not cross any borders, as the state is quite small. Therefore an operator may decide to get a DOT number so that his or her vehicles can cross state lines for business purposes.
If one of your vehicles is subject to a roadside DOT compliance inspection, and your company does not have a DOT number when it should, the fines are large. So it is better to simply register your company for a DOT number if there is even a small chance you may need one.
Requirements for DOT Numbers
Those who have never registered for a DOT number before will need to do so using the URS (Unified Registration System) available online on the FMCSA website. Here are the requirements for a DOT number:
- Information about your business (name, location, etc)
- Personal information (so the FMCSA can contact you about your application)
- Information about the operation classification you are looking to obtain
- Know whether you will transport people or cargo
- A valid address
- An insurance policy for your business
- A BOC-3 form
The address information entered in the URS is double-checked with the USPS, so be sure you provide a valid address, otherwise, you will not be able to submit your application.
As for the operation classification, you will pay a fee based on the classification you are applying for. This means there is a possibility you could choose and pay for the wrong classification which will waste your money. Don’t let this happen to you, and take the time to research your desired classification before you apply.
If at any time during the application you are having difficulties, there is a chat function that will allow you to chat with a representative and ask for help.
Once you complete the application, you should be given a DOT number right away, unless there is a problem with your application. Ensure you print this number, or save it for your records. This does not mean you can start operating under that DOT number just yet. Rather, you will need to wait approximately 25 days to be granted operating authority.
How Much Does a DOT Number Cost?
Opening a new business, especially one with a fleet of vehicles and equipment, can be costly. So you will want to factor the cost of a DOT number into your business plan.
The good news is, the actual DOT number itself is free, it doesn’t cost anything. However, it is impossible to operate a business with a DOT number alone, as you will also need to be granted operating authority for the class of operations you have chosen.
It costs $300 for each operations class you need to register for. Sometimes, companies may only need to register under one classification (such as a tour company that simply needs to transport tourists via van) while others may need multiple classifications. The number of classifications you need will dictate how expensive a DOT number is for your company.
These classifications you are registering under are all listed under your MC number.
What is an MC Number?
It is likely that a dot number isn’t all that your company needs. It will also likely need another type of number known as an MC number (motor carrier number) in addition to the DOT number.
Those who need an MC number in addition to a DOT number will fall in one of the following categories:
- Moving companies that move customers across state lines
- Companies that transport federally regulated goods that belong to a third party or parties across state lines
- Companies who plan to transport passengers across state lines
As you can see, if you are a company that only operates within one state, it is unlikely you will need an MC number.
Additionally, there are some designated commercial zones that are exempt from the above regulations. These commercial zones typically occur where a few states are very close together and free movement of goods and people is necessary for maintaining the economy. An example of a commercial zone is Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C.
But if you do find you need an MC number, you will register for it using the same process you used for the DOT number in the URS. In fact, it is a good idea to find out if you need an MC number before you apply for a DOT number so that you can do both at the same time.
If you already have your DOT number but have found that you also need an MC number, you can easily do so using the same system. You will be able to pay for the fee using a credit card (the fastest method) or by mailing a check via the USPS.
Some companies who operate vehicles of different sizes, and transport different equipment, may require more than one operating certification under one MC number. You will print the same MC number for each vehicle even if it operates a different class. So if you have one truck that transports hazardous material for your company, it will have the same MC number even though it performs a different task.
MC number vs DOT number: What’s the Difference?
All of this is probably getting a little complicated, especially because the MC number and DOT number may seem like the same number. So here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two.
The Look of the Number
As previously mentioned, DOT numbers are always printed on the cab of the vehicle with the letters USDOT preceding them. MC numbers are also printed on the cab of the vehicle, but they are typically shorter in length and will have the abbreviation of the state they are operating out of in front of the number.
For instance, a truck operating out of California would have a dot number: USDOT1523020 printed on the door of the cab, and below it would have the MC number: CA 309886. This would indicate that the company is registered with the Department of Transportation and is a valid Motor carrier in the state of California.
What They Signify
Another difference between the two numbers is what they signify. Simply having a DOT number doesn’t mean you can operate as a transportation company, it is more like a file number created in the FMCSA system. An MC on the other hand is an operating certificate that actually gives you permission to operate as a trucking company.
How Many Classifications You Have
Each and every company, no matter how large it is, only has a single DOT number classification. This number is how the FMCSA can look up your company, and keep all information about your company in one place. Basically, if you have a DOT number, the government knows you are a fleet-driven company.
With MC numbers, your company may have multiple classifications under one number, especially if you are transporting different types of goods across the border. It is not uncommon for a large company to have two or three different classifications in a single MC number.
The Cost of the Number
Money is always the bottom line, and the same can be said when it comes to MC versus DOT numbers. A DOT number for your company will be absolutely free, but if you need an MC number it will cost you $300 for each operational class you need to register in.
Who Needs Them
The final difference between a DOT and MC number is the number of companies that need them. Unless you are a very small fleet company in a state where a DOT number is not required, if you are operating vehicles for profit, you probably need a DOT number.
MC numbers are much more specific. Just because you need a DOT number does not mean you need an MC number. In fact, many companies which only operate in one state do not have an MC number even though they are required to have a DOT number.
Final Notes on DOT Numbers
Starting a business of any type is never easy, especially when you are taking on all the liability and regulations required to start a trucking or transportation company. Before you get too deep into starting your business, it’s important to double-check whether or not you need a DOT number.
If you need a DOT number, it’s a good idea to check if you need an MC number as well. Once your company has both of these, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful transportation business.
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