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What is DOT Compliance?

We get a lot of questions here at DOT Compliance Help, Inc about what it means to be in compliance with the DOT regulations. First, let me clarify what we mean by “DOT regulations”. Then we’ll work our way up to “DOT Compliance” . . .

DOT Compliance: First, there is the government agency:

The DOT (Department of Transportation) is a department within the US government. Their purpose is to oversee the construction and maintenance of the network of highways and bi-ways in the US, in order that businesses have ready access to markets, both at home and abroad.

Safety and DOT Compliance is a small part of the DOT’s mission, but there is a separate operating administration for each mode of transportation. These include pipelines (PHMSA), airlines (FAA), scheduled buses (FTA) . . . you get the idea. When we say “DOT Compliance” we are talking about doing what the DOT says to do, but we are usually talking about one operating administration: The FMCSA.

DOT Compliance: Next, there is the set of rules:

We deal mostly with the operating authority the FMCSA. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a set of rules called the FMCSRs (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations). Everyone is supposed to know and to follow and learn about DOT Compliance.

“Everyone” means anyone who operates a CMV (Commercial Motor Vehicle) greater than 10,000 lbs. in INTERstate commerce. DOT Compliance usually means FMCSR compliance; but not always.

“Everyone” means a person or a business entity, which can be a corporation, partnership, single entity, charity, or some other form of business I haven’t thought of yet.

DOT Compliance: Who must comply? When must you comply?

“Interstate commerce” happens when you take your company’s product to a trucking company, who will take it to a destination in another state. If you agree to transport something that belongs to someone else, from a point in one state, to a point in another state, that is interstate commerce, too.

Motor Carriers must maintain DOT Compliance. If you are a motor carrier, you MUST COMPLY when you are involved in INTERstate commerce.  Just like you have to have insurance, and you have to have customers, and you have to make a profit to run your business, DOT Compliance is just one thing more you have to accomplish.

DOT Compliance: Let’s pause to review:

If you have a truck with a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) more than 10,000 lbs, and you are involved in INTERstate commerce, you must know and follow the FMCSRs. The FMCSA is supposed to watch you to make sure you do this and know why you are doing it. Then, DOT Compliance is enforced and monitored by the FMCSA. But there are other agencies.

DOT Compliance: Other agencies you need to watch out for:

Within the DOT there are about a dozen operating entities, including the PHMSA that are involved with DOT Compliance. When I talk about DOT Compliance, I am talking about everything the motor carrier (that means you, IF you have a 10K-plus truck used to conduct INTERstate commerce) is REQUIRED to do in order to stay out of trouble with the DOT and that is usually focused on the FMCSA / FMCSRs.

Everything you do to stay in the good graces of the FMCSA AND any other operating entity within the DOT, are DOT Compliance efforts.

The biggest “other entity” within the DOT you need to watch out for is the PHMSA. When you pick up a hazmat package you must comply with the Hazmat Regulations. These are more complicated, and the investigators are more aggressive as compared to the FMCSA, so knowing about DOT Compliance is even more important.

The NHTSA has a ruleset call the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) that applies to new-car manufacturers. So, unless you go into the business of manufacturing new cars (or trucks) these don’t apply to you. You just want to make sure you don’t buy a new OR a used truck and / or a trailer that does not comply with the FMVSS.

And if you haul HazMat you have to make sure you comply with the HMR and all other areas of DOT Compliance as well.

So, to maintain DOT Compliance means you know what the various agencies within the DOT are, which agencies affect you, and you do what you need to do to stay off their enforcement radar.

DOT Compliance: But what if you are NOT involved in INTERstate commerce?

If you pick up something a half-mile down the road from your office, and you drop it off somewhere 100 – 300 miles away but still in the same state, you are probably NOT involved in INTERstate commerce.  Therefore you DO NOT have to follow the rules the FMCSA publishes.

But there are the state rules to think about also when thinking about DOT Compliance.

Every state has implemented a set of rules that is just like the FMCSRs. In fact, many states have a state law that reads “[The state] or [the commonwealth] hereby adopts, the federal motor carrier safety DOT Compliance regulations, with the following exceptions:” For example, a state can change:

  • the hours of service limits. They always make it easier.
  • who is allowed to drive a CMV. (More inclusive)
  • the definition of a CMV. Sometimes they make it bigger.

Depending on what state you are in, if you are involved only in INTRAstate commerce, there can be exceptions.  You MIGHT be able to drive more hours; you MIGHT be able to hire different people (who would NOT otherwise be qualified) and you MIGHT be able to operate a 10K-plus truck and NOT WORRY about the regulations. At all.

There are two things that are hands-off; drug testing and Hazmat regulations.

If you are driving from Florida to Washington, you DO NOT have to follow different rules in different states, because the federal rules outrank the state rules. But you must be sure each driver is qualified in the state he lives in and his driver packet is in DOT Compliance.

So, what does DOT Compliance mean?

DOT Compliance is doing what the Federal DOT (mostly FMCSA) says.

It means you know which agencies have authority over you have (including the PHMSA if you transport hazmat)

Compliance ALSO means you know when you must follow state rules AND when those state rules apply.

The DOT might conduct an on-site investigation, and everyone in the trucking business knows this and worries about it. If you know what do to, it’s not as hard to be comfortable in the knowledge that you are doing the right things and that you have the right paperwork to show them and you understand DOT Compliance.

At the end of it all, true DOT Compliance means peace of mind and safer roadways.

Who needs DOT Training:

If you are new to the transportation industry. If you have taken a new position at your company that requires you to understand DOT Compliance and Fleet Safety. If you are in a compliance support position with a need to know. If you just need a refresher. Supervisors of Drivers, Lead Drivers, Drivers, Shipping Managers, Traffic Managers, Fleet Managers, Logistics Managers, Compliance Manager, Transportation Managers, Safety Directors, Safety Managers, Safety Engineering Managers, Vice President/General Managers, Presidents/Owners , Administrators, Human Resource Managers, and anyone else involved in the support/operations of motor vehicles.

Still have DOT questions?

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Meet Your DOT Training Presenter:

Mike England has spent more than twenty-five years in the transportation industry, first in a management role with a small transportation company, then progressing through numerous safety and general management roles with both large and small DOT Compliance-regulated entities including trucking companies and private fleets. He is a graduate of the US Army Safety Management School in Ft. Rucker, Alabama as well as the US Department of Transportation’s FMCSA Safety Auditor Course. He spent 2005 and 2006 performing audits for the US Department of Transportation and decided in 2007 to form the private consulting firm DOT Compliance Help Inc. In addition to developing and presenting DOT Compliance Help’s, DOT Compliance Training seminars and conferences, Mike and his firm also provide DOT compliance assessments and conduct custom DOT Compliance onsite DOT training sessions for clients across the country. With an office and staff located outside of Chicago, DOT Compliance Help’s mission is to help carriers prevent accidents, injuries, and fatalities. For DOT Compliance, the ultimate goals are safer roadways for the public and increased profits for our clients. Mike England’s memberships include the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the North American Transportation Management Institute, and the Illinois Trucking Association.

In addition to developing and presenting DCH’s DOT compliance seminars and conferences, Mike and his firm also provide compliance assessments and conduct custom onsite training sessions for clients across the country. With an office and staff located outside of Chicago, DCH’s mission is to help carriers prevent accidents, injuries, and fatalities. The ultimate goals are safer roadways for the public and increased profits for their clients.

His memberships include the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the North American Transportation Management Institute, and the Illinois Trucking Association.