Maneuvering through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) can be an intimidating task. While balancing federal and state regulations are difficult, they’re necessary. DOT regulation keeps our roads in good shape, our citizens safe, and business operations dependable.
However, if you choose to disregard the rules outlined by the FMCSA, roadside fines ranging from hundreds to several thousands of dollars can be applied. Based upon the infringement, the driver could be personally ticketed or arrested, and the vehicle could be towed and impounded. These infractions often lead to more in-depth audits that uncover additional violations and supplemental fines.
This article will help you understand when you need a DOT number and answer common questions to keep you compliant.
When is a DOT Number Needed?
A DOT number is a unique eight-digit number following “US DOT” on the side of a truck that is assigned to each company. The FMCSA assigns these codes to registered commercial vehicles.
A DOT number is required if you plan on performing any of the following tasks with a commercial vehicle:
- If you have a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 lbs. or more.
- If you are being paid to transport 9 to 15 people.
- If you are operating a vehicle that can haul 16 or more people.
- If you are hauling hazardous materials.
- If you drive a commercial vehicle on interstate routes.
- If you rent a vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,001 lbs. for over 28 days without closing the contract.
It is important to note that DOT rules can vary extensively from state to state, so it is imperative to remain in the loop for DOT regulation within your home state as well as any other state in which your fleet travels.
The best way to combat hefty fines, sanctions, or company shutdowns is to be informed. Answers to the questions below will help to ensure your fleet is compliant in all commercial activity.
DOT Questions Answered
How does weight rating versus actual weight work?
Even if your actual weight is under 10,000 lbs. GVWR, it doesn't matter: The weight rating takes precedent. If your vehicle is rated for over 10,000 lbs. GVWR, then it needs a DOT number.
However, there are situations in which an enforcement officer can operate off actual weight.
One example would be an aftermarket modification to a vehicle. Let's say an individual performed an upfit to a half-ton truck with a GVWR of 7,000 lbs. that enabled the vehicle to reach a total loaded weight over 10,000 lbs. An enforcement officer is allowed to move forward using the vehicle's actual weight rather than what it was initially rated for.
Does a pickup truck under 10,000 lbs. GVWR need a DOT number?
No. However, be mindful of the combined weight rating if the truck is pulling a trailer.
For example, a half-ton truck with a GVWR of 7,000 lbs. does not need a DOT number. But if that truck is pulling a trailer with a GVWR of 3,001 lbs., it would be subject to the FMCSA rules.
Do farm trucks need DOT numbers?
Many states do not require farm trucks to have a DOT number for "intrastate operations." If the truck crosses state lines, it is considered to be in "interstate commerce," and USDOT registration is required.
What about landscaping vehicles that don't drive along roadways?
Even if the vehicle is not technically driving on public roadways, your state may still consider it a commercial vehicle.
In most states, a DOT number is required for a landscape vehicle. If a truck from a state that doesn't require DOT numbers crosses state lines into a territory that does, drivers could be subject to a hefty fine, even for a first offense.
What about a commercial vehicle that leaves the state for personal use?
If a driver is operating the vehicle at the direction of the motor carrier, crossing state lines is considered "interstate commerce," and the vehicle is subject to the FMCSA.
However, if the motor carrier allows the driver to use the vehicle for personal private transportation that crosses state lines, then the transportation is not regulated by the FMCSA.
How can I apply for a DOT number?
The actual application process is outlined very well on the FMCSA's website (www.fmcsa.dot.gov/registration). If applying for the first time, you can count on writing at least a $300 check. The actual application takes anywhere from 25 to 90 days for approval.
How does renting impact DOT regulations?
The entire DOT process can be an intimidating one. By reaching out to a truck rental or leasing facility, you remove a portion of your legal, clerical, and financial exposure that coincide with the authorization from the Department of Transportation.
Using trucks from a third party means that they are responsible for a portion of DOT adherence on their trucks, which alleviates many potential headaches that DOT litigation can create.
If an organization decides to lease a vehicle for over 28 days, without closing and opening a new contract with the asset provider, then the lessee is required to display their own DOT number. Any rental period under the 28 days allows the lessor to display their organizations DOT.
Full Time Job
Understanding DOT regulations has become so complicated that many attorneys dedicate 100% of their time dealing with them. For internal teams trying to manage these rules, it can pull you away from your daily business operations and business goals.
If you're wasting precious time, energy, and money trying to maneuver the complicated world of DOT rules and regulations, it may be time to find a better solution.
More in-depth answers to the questions in this article, whether from a third-party compliance service, your state's actual DOT office, or an additional reliable source, will help to ensure your fleet is compliant in all commercial activity.
The Importance of Brake and Tire Inspections
After you realize you are subject to the FMCSA, routine DOT inspections are necessary. These inspections, although sometimes tedious, are designed to keep everyone on the road safe.
Some items that you will need to review for a proper DOT inspection include:
- Check all the lights on the truck
- Turn signals
- Brake lights
- Marker lights Analyze each tire meticulously
- Check the tread dept
- Look for uneven wear
- Search for bald spots Check the brakes
- For hydraulic brakes, pump the brake pedal until it is stiff. Once the pedal is stiff, hold the pedal down to see if you lose any pressure.
For air brakes, release the tractor brake and then pump the brake pedal to lose air pressure in the brake line. Once you get down to a low enough pressure, the safety valve will turn on and set the tractor brakes.
Overall tire health is a critical aspect of a thorough DOT inspection. When examining tread depth, use an approved tread wear gauge. This will tell you if the tread is worn beyond what is safe or legal.
If you do not have one, you can do this by looking at the wear bars to make sure they are not protruding beyond the tread blocks. If so, it’s time for replacement.
Another trick is to use the “penny test.” Insert a penny upside down into a tread groove. If Lincoln’s head is completely visible this indicates the tread is worn.
During your visual inspection, look over the whole tire to note any abnormalities in treadwear, (feathering, flat spots or uneven wear can indicate an issue) inspect sidewall condition for bulges or excessive cracking and scrutinize for punctures as well.
Check your tires’ air pressures while tires are still cold using a certified pressure gauge. The correct pressures for your tires can be found on the placard inside of the driver’s doorsill. (Do not go off the info listed on the tire sidewall.) Also note that many vehicles require different pressures for front and rear tires.
Cody Swartz, Andrew Montanino, and Shaefer Schuetz are rental representatives at City Rent A Truck, a family-owned truck and van rental operation that specializes in helping businesses right size their fleets.