USDOT Number on Trucks: New Rules for Massachusetts Companies

By: Debra Gerraughty, CISR, CRIS, CPIA, MLIS

Debbie has more than 28 years of experience in the insurance industry. She enjoys working in the Commercial Lines Department learning new information every day and helping her customers.

UPDATE: As you may have seen when attempting to renew your MA commercial license plates online, the RMV is now asking for a USDOT number from anyone with commercial plates. However, you may not actually need a USDOT number (see FAQs below for clarification on who needs one). The registry has placed an override on this requirement until February 2020. In the meantime, in order to renew your commercial plates without a DOT number, you may need to visit a local RMV branch or a AAA location…

Which trucks actually need a USDOT number?

Vehicles that are used for conducting business and have a gross weight of 10,001 pounds or more are required to obtain a USDOT number.

  • If you do not use your heavy duty vehicle for any business purposes, you DO NOT need a DOT number–no matter how much it weighs.
  • If you do use your vehicle for business, but its gross weight (or combined gross weight when attached to a trailer) is less than 10K, you DO NOT need a DOT number–unless you’re transporting hazardous materials.

Why is the registry saying I need a DOT number if I don’t?

In an effort to achieve compliance with the new MA State Markings Regulation (which was enacted in September 2018), the registry added the DOT component to its renewal process for commercial plates. But as we’ve said, not every commercial plate owner needs a number. The registry intends to issue a clarification on this point in the coming months. Specifically, there may be a change in how commercial plates are issued and to whom.

Do I have to renew in-person, at the RMV?

For now, you can get around the DOT “requirement” by processing the renewal in person, at an RMV branch. OR, if your renewal application indicates that you qualify to renew by phone, you can renew plates by phone (up to 3 transactions per phone call).

If I do actually need a DOT number, what is involved?

Under the updated MA State Markings Regulation, owners of commercial vehicles (with a gross weight or combined gross weight of 10K+) are being asked to do two things:

1.) Apply for and display a USDOT number on their vehicles.

2.) Prominently display their company name/company contact information on their vehicles.

Where do I get a USDOT number?

Visit this FMCSA webpage to request your number.

What is a USDOT number?

A USDOT number gives authorities another way of identifying your truck(s), for the purpose of collecting and monitoring your safety information. When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducts audits, inspections, or compliance reviews, it uses DOT numbers in its reporting. DOT numbers are also collected during accident investigations.

Since when do I need a DOT number?

Up until 2018, federal DOT numbers were only required for commercial vehicles driving interstate routes (traveling across state lines), or for those carrying dangerous cargo. Last year Massachusetts changed its rules to expand on the requirement.

How much does a USDOT number cost?

It doesn’t cost anything to get a USDOT number.

But if you don’t already have required truck lettering you will have some costs associated with displaying your business name/DOT number on company vehicles, according to the specified terms. Depending on how elaborate you want to get, custom graphics run between $195 and $600 per vehicle, according to Alliance Glass and Sign, based in Dorchester. If your trucks are already labeled with your company information, vinyl DOT number decals can be purchased for much less.

How do I “display” the required information?

Vinyl signage experts like the team at Alliance will make sure you’re in compliance with the law. But essentially, here are the key points to keep in mind:

  • Your company name, phone number and/or website, and USDOT number must be permanently printed on two sides of the vehicle.
  • The lettering must be on the truck body, not on window glass.
  • The lettering must be legible from 50 feet away (during daylight hours).
  • The lettering must contrast sharply with the background surface (e.g. DON’T use black lettering on a dark blue truck or gray lettering on a white truck).

How do I know if my truck use qualifies as “commercial” versus personal?

The short answer is: be honest. If you are using a vehicle in order to earn money in any way, it’s probably a commercial use vehicle. And if you get pulled over carrying project tools, or merchandise, or plow equipment, the fines for non-compliance could be sizable.

If you still have questions on this point, see the final FAQ in this list.

How much time do I have to comply?

MA law enforcement began strict enforcement of the rules in January 2019.

What is the penalty for violating the new rule?

If you don’t have the required number/information displayed by January 2019, you could be subject to civil fines and your vehicles could be placed “Out of Service” until you comply with this rule. What’s more, without the proper lettering, you may be increasing your chances of getting pulled over—especially by Massachusetts State Police.

I still have questions. Who should I ask?

All the information above is translated and summarized from interviews with sources at the Mass Association of Insurance Agents and the MA State Police Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement Center. We’ve done our best to keep it clear and concise, however we don’t claim to be the final authorities on this subject. For any clarifications or more specific questions, we recommend contacting the Burlington, Massachusetts office of the FMCSA. Ask for  Matthew Poirier, State Program Specialist:  781-425-3212.

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