USDOT numbers are critical keys for cross-border compliance

Heather Ness

When operating commercial vehicles into the United States, one of the first credentials you’ll need is a USDOT number.

Your USDOT number is one of your most important credentials for U.S. operations, so it’s best you know as much as you can about what it is, how it’s used by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), where it needs to be displayed, and how you maintain it.

Canada-U.S. border sign
(Photo: istock)

Don’t share it

First of all, you can’t share your USDOT number with another entity. USDOT numbers cannot be shared or lent to another entity for any reason. This rule applies even if you have a related company in Canada.  If the related company is a completely separate entity, then that company cannot use your USDOT number for operations into the United States. Each separate entity requires its own USDOT number to operate commercial vehicles into the United States.

Display it on your vehicles

You need to display your USDOT number on commercial vehicles you’re operating into the United States. The vehicle marking’s purpose is to tell enforcement and the motoring public exactly who is responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle.

There is no exception for the marking requirement. A legal entity operating a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce, including Canada-based carriers, must ensure required information is displayed on the commercial vehicle. The display must include your legal company name (or single trade name) followed by your USDOT number as listed on your MCS-150. The marking would appear as follows:

Your Company Name, LLC
USDOT 000000

“Operated by” is used when more than one name is on the vehicle. For instance, you may have the vehicle branded with a company name or logo that is not your company’s exact name or logo. In this case, you can display this name or logo, it’s just that you must still mark the vehicle with your legal name or trade name as identified on the MCS-150, preceded by the words “operated by.”

Update it every other year

You’re required to update your USDOT number information on file with the FMCSA at least every other year. This update is completed using the MCS-150 form, the Motor Carrier Identification Report. You can complete the update using a paper form, but FMCSA prefers online updates.

You’re required to update your USDOT number in a designated month and year, and this designated month and year is based on your USDOT number. The last digit indicates the month in which you update, for example, 1=January, 2=February, 3=March, and so on. The second-to-last number, whether an even number or an odd number, indicates the even or odd-numbered year in which you complete the update. For example, if your USDOT number ends in “20,” you’d complete your biennial update in October of every even-numbered year (2020, 2022, etc.).

Note that you can update your USDOT number more frequently than every two years. In fact, it’s generally advised you update more frequently. Keeping your data current helps when you are compared to other carriers of a similar size under the U.S. Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program. Your vehicle miles traveled along with your vehicle count are used to determine your Crash and Unsafe Driving BASICS under the program. If your vehicle counts or mileage change drastically, you’ll want to submit an update to ensure your scores aren’t adversely affected. If your fleet is decreasing in size, you’ll also want to update your MCS-150 vehicle count since the number reflected is the starting point to determine your fee bracket for the Unified Carrier Registration (UCR).

Taking care of your USDOT number

Your USDOT number is a critical part of operating into the United States. Make sure you use it appropriately and keep it up to date. Failing to do so can result in penalties and even deactivation of your USDOT number.

Heather Ness

Heather Ness is the editor of transport operations at J.J.Keller and Associates. Contact her at transporteditors@jjkeller.com.

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