The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), oversees all commercial vehicle safety guidelines as published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Although each state establishes its own safety guidelines at the state level, all commercial drivers and owner-operators are subject to compliance with national FMCSA guidelines. The FMCSA has established extensive safety guidelines in five key categories: controlled substances and alcohol, driver qualifications, operational safety, hours of service, and inspection, repair and maintenance. The guidelines are published in the CFR and are updated every year.
According to the FMCSA, all commercial vehicle drivers are subject to compliance with the established safety guidelines. A commercial vehicle is defined as any vehicle that meets any of the following criteria:
- a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more
- vehicles designed to transport 9-15 passengers, including the driver
- vehicles designed to transport 15 or more passengers, including the driver
- vehicles used in the transportation of hazardous materials
Compliance with FMCSA guidelines is monitored by your USDOT number. All carriers who own/operate commercial vehicles used to haul cargo or transport passengers are required to have a USDOT number. When a commercial vehicle undergoes an inspection, audit, compliance review or crash investigation, the carrier's USDOT number will be used for identification.
In addition to a USDOT number, most carriers will be required to register for either Interstate Operating Authority or Intrastate Operating Authority, depending on whether the commercial vehicles they operate travel only within the state in which they are registered, or will be traveling across state or national borders. Interstate Operating Authority is required for companies who haul cargo for a third party or whose trucks travel outside of their state of registration. Intrastate Operating Authority applies to companies or drivers who only travel within their state of registration. Rules vary by state and vehicle, so make sure you have the most recent information from the FMCSA website here.
You will also need an International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) license, which helps to simplify the reporting of fuel use by carriers who operate in the lower 48 states and the Canadian provinces; and registration with the International Registration Plan, which enables the United States, the District of Columbia and provinces of Canada to recognize the registration of commercial motor vehicles registered by other jurisdictions.
Making sure you meet regulations and have the proper documentation on all of your vehicles is one of the most responsible things you can do as an independent driver or for your company and the drivers who drive for you. Make sure you also have experience legal representation on your side for any issues that arise as well, with Driver's Legal Plan. For a low monthly fee, you can have access to experienced attorneys, ready to defend you 24/7.