What is the FMCSA?
Part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FMCSA develops and enforces federal safety standards for commercial vehicles. Areas the agency oversees include CDL standards, carrier safety scores, drivers’ hours-of-service and driver medical examinations. The FMCSA also provides funding for states to conduct roadside truck inspections and other safety programs.
Trucking is a heavily regulated industry. Before your company can begin operating, there are numerous government requirements you will need to meet and also keep current.
This checklist walks you through all the steps necessary to start a trucking company, gain your authority and operate legally as an interstate trucking company. If you haven't already, learn how to create a business plan and find the right insurance for your company, and be sure to bookmark our Complete Guide to Trucking Terms for a comprehensive trucking dictionary.
#1 Get a Commercial Driver’s License
In order to operate heavy trucks, all of your company’s drivers need valid commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). Obtaining a license involves an extensive background check, CDL training, a written permit exam and a driving test. To be eligible for a CDL, you must be at least 18 years old. You must be at least 21 to drive a truck from state to state. Each state has different testing standards for CDLs. To learn what your state requires, pick up a CDL manual at your local Department of Motor Vehicles office.
#2 Apply for Your Federal DOT and Motor Carrier Authority Numbers
These numbers are required for your trucking company to haul cargo in the United States. The U.S. DOT number is used to track your company’s safety record and compliance with regulations. The motor carrier (MC) number, which is also known as “operating authority,” identifies the kind of trucking business you operate and the kinds of goods you are permitted to haul. You can acquire both numbers by registering your company with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
To get both your MC and USDOT numbers, you must complete the Motor Carrier Identification Report (MCS-150) and Safety Certification Application. You will receive your MC and USDOT numbers after the application is filed, but your request for authority must still be reviewed by the FMCSA. That review includes a “mandated dispute period” in which your application is posted to the Federal Register for 10 business days. This period is to seek out public comment from anyone who might contest your application for authority.
For more information, visit the FMCSA’s website.
NOTE: To file for DOT registration, you must first register as a business through your state. This is typically done through the Secretary of State's office.
#3 Complete Your Unified Carrier Registration (UCR)
The UCR system was created to verify active insurance coverage in each state where a motor carrier operates. You must register using your company’s USDOT and MC numbers. To learn more about UCR, visit your home state's Department of Transportation website.
#4 Get an International Registration Plan (IRP) Tag
An IRP license plate issued by your company’s home state allows your truck to operate in all states, as well as most Canadian provinces. The plate requires an annual renewal fee. For more information, visit the Department of Transportation website for the state where your company is based.
#5 Understand Heavy Use Tax Regulations
Any truck that weighs 55,000 pounds or more is subject to the federal heavy-highway vehicle use tax. To pay taxes due on your heavy trucks, you must complete and file a 2290 tax form with the IRS on a yearly basis. For more information on the form, visit www.irs.gov.
#6 Obtain an International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) Decal
The IFTA agreement was established to simplify the reporting of fuel used by trucks operating across the lower 48 U.S. states and some Canadian provinces. The rule allows your company to have a single fuel license and requires you to file quarterly fuel use tax returns with the state where you are based. To learn more about IFTA, visit your state’s Department of Transportation website.
#7 File a BOC-3 Form
One requirement to gain interstate operating authority is to register an up-to-date BOC-3 form with the FMCSA. The form designates a person in each state where your company operates to act as a legal “process agent.” For example, if your company is based in Missouri but you are sued by someone in Georgia, you need an attorney in Georgia who can receive the legal complaint and communicate it to you and your local attorney. For more information on the BOC-3 form, visit www.fmcsa.dot.gov.
#8 Get A Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC)
The SCAC is a privately controlled code used to identify different transportation companies. If you plan to haul military, government, international or intermodal loads, you will need an SCAC code. For more information, visit the National Motor Freight Traffic Association website.
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