Smart Solutions

Think You Don’t Need a DOT Number? Think Again!

There has been much confusion about who is required to have a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number. Many contractors feel it’s only needed for truckers hauling for hire, which is not the case.

A USDOT number is required for a commercial motor vehicle (49 CFR Part 390.5), which is defined as any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate and/or intrastate commerce:

  • to transport passengers or property when the vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater; or
  • to transport more than eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation; or
  • to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, without compensation; or
  • to transport material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 USC 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C.

The USDOT number serves as a unique identifier when collecting and monitoring a company’s safety information acquired during audits, compliance reviews, crash investigations, and inspections. The following 31 states have laws agreeing to the enforcement of the federal USDOT regulations: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The other states have state-based USDOT regulations (similar to federal OSHA vs. state OSHA regulations). Many think that the USDOT number does not apply here, but lack of enforcement does not equal “not applicable.” It is a federal regulation, and it applies to all subject commercial motor vehicles.

Vehicles that require USDOT numbers must have a name and USDOT number on both sides of the vehicle’s power unit, in a contrasting color, and visible from 50 feet away when parked. Currently, there is no cost to register for a USDOT number. You can visit and select the “FMCSA Registration and Updates” link to register.

Real-World Examples

The law applies to every risk with a single power unit over 10,001 GVW; the misunderstood portion is that it applies to every combination of truck and trailer that exceeds 10,001 pounds. If the insured owns a small pickup truck but has a heavy trailer, the combined weight of the truck and the trailer’s listed weight affects whether the rule applies. Also, a single pickup truck can be considered to be carrying hazardous materials, thus triggering the USDOT number requirement, by carrying, for example, one 100-pound propane tank; a 55-gallon drum of pesticide, herbicide, or fertilizer; or some acetylene tanks.

Why Should You Care?

First, noncompliant insureds are open to large fines for even the first violation. Second, violation of these rules may be used against a noncompliant insured in lawsuits.

The USDOT released a new Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program for enforcement of the regulations, resulting in stepped-up enforcement. More information about the CSA program and resources are available at the website

For more information, visit

MCAA thanks CNA for being a benefactor of MCAA 2013.