What is a USDOT Number?
The US Department of Transportation Number (“USDOT Number”) is a unique identifier used by the federal government to manage a company’s safety management practices and controls.

According to the federal government, if you are a company who operates commercial motor vehicles transporting passengers or hauling cargo in interstate commerce (across state lines), you must be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) and you must have a USDOT Number. You also must have a USDOT Number if you are a carrier hauling hazardous materials in only one state in quantities requiring a safety permit.

In order to determine whether this definition applies to your organization, an understanding of the terms “commercial motor vehicle” and “interstate commerce” is necessary.

A commercial motor vehicle is defined as follows :

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous and transported in a quantity requiring placarding.

Interstate commerce is defined as:
Trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States between a place in a State and

  • a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States); or
  • another place in the same State through another State or through a place outside the United States.

Therefore, although some limited exceptions apply, if, pursuant to the above definitions your organization operates a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, you likely need to obtain a USDOT Number.

My company operates commercial motor vehicles but does not operate in interstate commerce. Does it need a state-specific DOT Number?
Likely. Although the requirements vary by state, in some states, a state-specific Intrastate DOT Number is required if an organization operates a commercial motor vehicle but never leaves the state. For example, in Nebraska, if you drive a commercial motor vehicle (as defined above) solely in intrastate commerce (from one location to another within the state), then you need a Nebraska Intrastate DOT Number. Similarly, in Iowa, motor carriers transporting passengers for hire in Iowa over a regular route or in charter operations must obtain a motor carrier certificate.

What does this mean to my company?
If your organization utilizes vans or buses to transport passengers, you should review the parameters above to determine if your company needs some form of a DOT Number. For example, if you are a nursing home who transports 8 or more passengers (including the driver) at any given time to various outings without leaving the state of Nebraska, you might need an Intrastate DOT number to perform such services. However, if you are transporting those same individuals from Nebraska to Iowa, you might need a USDOT Number.

How do I obtain a DOT Number?
A company is able to apply for a USDOT Number on the FMCSA website.
If a company only needs a Nebraska Intrastate DOT Number, the entity should submit a Motor Carrier Identification Report (“DOT Form”) to the Nebraska State Patrol.
The Iowa Application for Intrastate Motor Carrier Permit/Certification (Iowa DOT form 441052) can be obtained online or by calling the Iowa DOT’s Office of Motor Carrier Services at 515-237-3224. Applications can also be faxed upon request.

Are there other rules that a company must follow if it obtains a DOT Number?
Yes. For example, there are annual fees, insurance requirements, designation of a process agent, biennial reports, safety audits, driver qualifications, drug and alcohol testing of employees, and a likelihood that the company may need to apply for a Motor Carrier Number (MC Number). The rules vary and depend on the type of vehicle being used, the purpose of such use, and where the vehicle operates. While this article does not specifically address these additional requirements, one should understand that if a USDOT Number or an Intrastate DOT Number is obtained, new compliance obligations may be placed on the organization.

Are there penalties for non-compliance?
Yes. Should a company operating as a commercial motor carrier fail to obtain the necessary authority to operate as such, the FMCSA has discretion to impose a penalty of no more than $11,000 for each violation, and if such violation is continuing, each day a violation occurs will constitute a separate offense. In determining the amount of the penalty, “the Administrator or his/her designee shall take into account the nature, circumstances, extent, the gravity of the violation committed and, with respect to the person found to have committed such violation, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay, effect on ability to continue to do business, and such other matters as justice may require. ” In addition, the carrier can be ticketed and taken out of service, effectively halting all of its commercial motor vehicles until the appropriate approvals have been obtained.

This article generally addresses the DOT requirements for certain organizations which operate commercial motor vehicles. However, it should be understood that there are many nuances and exceptions to the previously discussed rules. Therefore, each organization, with the assistance of counsel or other such transportation expert, should perform an individual assessment to determine whether it is subject to the FMCSA’s jurisdiction or if it is required to comply with state-specific commercial motor vehicle regulations.

By Jennifer D. Tricker of Baird Holm