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USDOT Numbers: A Comprehensive Guide for Carriers

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If you’re a carrier involved in freight transportation, knowing about United States Department of Transportation numbers (US DOT) is crucial. This guide will walk you through how to obtain one, why these identifiers are so important, and how to avoid DOT number fraud.

What is a DOT Number?

A USDOT number is an identifier assigned by the Department of Transportation. If you own a company that deploys commercial passenger vehicles (like buses), or large vehicles used for hauling cargo, you must have a DOT number. Receiving this number is a crucial part of obtaining motor carrier authority or legal permission to transport freight.

The specific requirements for who needs a DOT number are as follows:

  • Vehicles transporting hazardous materials

Or

  • Vehicles with a gross weight of more than 10,000 lbs
  • Vehicles used to transport more than 8 passengers (for compensation)
  • Vehicles used to transport more than 15 passengers not for compensation

AND vehicles participating in interstate commerce via transportation, trade, or traffic.

A USDOT number is typically printed on the cab of trucks hauling freight. Every carrier must have its own assigned DOT number.

DOT Number Application Requirements

During the application process, you will need to provide the following information:

  • Personal details like name, address, and phone number
  • Employer Identification Number or Social Security Number
  • Business information including insurance details
  • Type of trucks or vehicles that will be used in your business
  • The number of vehicles you’ll be using
  • Whether you’ll be transporting passengers or cargo
  • DOT cargo classification

You can register and apply for a DOT number on the FMCSA website through the Unified Registration System (URS). You can also simplify the process and get your authority through a third party like Truckstop.

How Much Are DOT Numbers?

Registering for a DOT number is free, but you may have to input your credit card information on the government’s FMCSA website in order to authenticate your identity. This will result in a small incidental fee.

When applying for your DOT number, you also need to select the class of operations for your business. Each classification costs $300, and some carriers have multiple classifications. Hazmat certifications come with an additional charge as well.

You’ll also need to pay state fees for registering your carrier business. The cost of registration varies from state to state.

What Is DOT Certification?

A DOT certification is different from a DOT number. A DOT certification signifies that an individual is physically and mentally capable of operating freight.

DOT certification is also known as a DOT Medical Certification, or a DOT Card. Unlike a DOT number which is just for carriers, every driver operating a vehicle over 10,000 lb must obtain a DOT Card.

Typically, all drivers who work for a DOT number registered company must obtain a DOT certification, but requirements for DOT certification vary by state, so be sure to confirm your specific local regulations.

Why Are DOT Numbers Important?

First and foremost, having a DOT number is a legal requirement for freight carriers. Without one, your company risks steep daily fines and a complete shutdown of operations.

DOT numbers are also important for safety. The FMCSA uses your DOT number to monitor things like compliance reviews, drug testing, accident investigations, and insurance status.

Overall, having a USDOT number is a way to legitimize your business. It acts as a calling card for your company, and your reputation as a carrier will be associated with this number.

Checking a DOT Number

An easy way to verify the legitimacy of a freight company is to check its DOT number in the FMCSA’s system. To check the status of a DOT number, simply visit the FMCSA SAFER website. You can search by DOT number, MC (motor carrier) number, or name.

In addition to the company name and DOT number, your search results should also display the address and phone number of the company and whether or not the carrier is currently active.

Watch out for the following statuses displayed next to a DOT number search result:

Inactive USDOT number

This status usually means the company either forgot to file an update or failed to report a new entrant safety audit. Either way, an inactive status means they are in non-compliance with the FMCSA.

Out of service

An out-of-service status means that a company has violated a safety regulation or failed a vehicle inspection. Damaged brake systems, missing ELDs, and hauling overweight capacity are all common reasons for an out-of-service designation.

Not authorized

If a carrier is listed as not authorized, there is a good chance their insurance has expired or other documents are outdated. A not-authorized designation means the DOT number is technically active, but has been suspended.

One of the most common hiccups in DOT number status is the Biennial Update. In order for your DOT number to remain active, you must complete a Biennial Update every 24 months. This update can be filed online for free through FMCSA.

USDOT Number Lookup Red Flags

Along with the status of a carrier’s DOT number, there are other red flags to watch out for and ways to verify that a business is operating in compliance with the FMCSA.

Cross-check contact info

Sometimes, a fraudulent company will use a legitimate company’s DOT number. This is a form of identity theft and is a serious issue in the trucking industry. When checking a DOT number, verify that all the information listed matches the information on a load board or company’s website. Even one number in a phone number or a different physical address can be a clear sign of bad actors.

Look for accident reports

The SAFER website also includes accident reports from the past 24 months in DOT number search results. Each company should have an “Inspections/Crashes” link in its list of information. If any accidents are listed, they will also specify whether a crash resulted in fatalities, injuries, or just a tow.

Check safety ratings

In order to find out a carrier’s safety rating, follow the “Safety Rating” link on the DOT result page. Carriers will be listed as Satisfactory, Conditional, Unsatisfactory, or Not Rated. These scores are given based on Motor Carrier Safety Evaluations, and a conditional or unsatisfactory rating means they are not in compliance. Not rated signifies that the carrier has not yet had a full evaluation.

Verify insurance

You can follow the “Licensing and Insurance” link from the DOT number search results page or visit the FMCSA Licensing and Insurance Public page directly. If a carrier’s insurance coverage is active and up-to-date, it should be listed here. If coverage has lapsed, you may see a pending status or “revoked.”

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