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10 Laws to Comply with When You Buy a CMV in the U.S.

The last thing a Motor Carrier wants is to be penalized for not complying with the Department of Transportation (DOT) or Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations.

It’s vital for Motor Carriers to stay on top of the relevant laws when transporting loads or people across interstate and intrastate boundaries.

Included below are 10 transportation laws Motor Carriers should stay up to date with to ensure you’re always compliant.

1. DOT Registration

The DOT oversees the standards and regulations for Motor Carriers that transport goods and passengers.

You may find you need a DOT Registration, Motor Carrier number or both. Failing to represent your business on your application accurately can and will result in your DOT registration application being rejected.

2. Motor Carrier — Operating Authority

According to  49CFR Part 390, you need to submit an FMCSA application if you fall within the following categories:

  • Transport federally regulated commodities in interstate commerce, except household goods, or arrange their transportation
  • Transport passengers in interstate commerce or arrange their transportation Broker of household goods
  • For-hire carriers for compensation
  • Motor carrier of household goods with transportation paid by the householder
  • Property broker
  • United States-based enterprise carrier of international cargo and international household goods

The application authorizes you to conduct interstate travel, and it must be in place before your Motor Carrier drivers can legally travel across state lines for business.

As a Motor Carrier, you specify the kind of operation you supply, and the type of cargo you carry. It even determines the level of insurance responsibilities you will need to maintain. You also must file proof of public liability.

Some services may also require you to acquire a specific type of Operating Authority (MC number), in addition to a DOT number.

Motor Carriers that do not need an Operating Authority will include the following:

  • Carriers that operate within a designated federal commercial zone
  • For-hire carriers that haul exempt commodities
  • Private carriers

You must renew your  Motor Carrier Application every two years.

Truck driver filling out paperwork.

3. Unified Carrier Registration (UCR)

Any Motor Carrier that needs a DOT Number must also register under the Unified Carrier Registration (UCR).

The UCR requires Motor Carrier to pay an annual fee if you operate commercial vehicles in international or interstate commerce.

Your Motor Carrier must register with a participating state, which will be your base state. A base state is a state in which you primarily reside. If your state does not take part in the UCR, you may register via a neighboring state.

Under UCR 49 USC 14505a, any Motor Carrier that sends their drivers over intrastate lines for work-related purposes must pay the yearly state tax. The fee is based on the size of your fleet, including all Motor Carriers such as for-hire, private and exempt.

Others business entities that need to register under the UCR include freight forwarders, brokers and leasing companies unless you’re already operating as a Motor Carrier.

If you fail to pay your yearly fee, it can affect your business. When you enter a participating state, you can get pulled over, and the commercial may be placed out of service until you pay the fee. You may also be subject to fines and penalties for not complying.

4. Driver Qualification

Under federal law 49 CFR Part 391 and Part 383 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), drivers involved in interstate or intrastate commerce from specified states must retain verification of their drivers’ legal and physical ability to operate their class vehicles.

A Motor Carrier’s drivers need to have proper driver qualifications to support successful and safe operations. 

All Motor Carriers must maintain a qualification file for each employed driver.

A driver qualification file checklist may be helpful to ensure that all required documents and inquiries are obtained.

A description of the documents required to be in each driver’s qualification file is included in the following subsections and in 49 CFR 391.51, which also details the document retention requirements.

49 CFR 391 explains the minimum requirements for commercial motor vehicle drivers. Motor Carriers are required to maintain a qualification file for each of their drivers.

The following checklist should help Motor Carriers to ensure that each driver qualification file is complete:



Form/Inquiry/Note to Include

Must Retain

Document For


Ongoing Updates

Inquiry To State Agencies for Driving Record – Annual 49 CFR 391.25 (a) and (c) Motor Carriers must contact State agencies annually for an updated copy of each driver’s Motor Vehicle Record (MVR).

3 years from date of execution


Review of Driving Record – Annual 49 CFR 391.25 (c) (2)

At least once every 12 months, Motor Carriers must collect a current motor vehicle record (MVR) from the State issuing a driver’s license, and review the MVR to determine whether the driver still meets the minimum requirements for safe driving, and to confirm they are not disqualified pursuant to 49 CFR 391.15.

A note including the name of the person who performed this review, and the date must be retained in the file with the MVR.

3 years from date of execution


Driver’s Certification of Violations – Annual 49 CFR 391.27

At least once every 12 months, drivers must submit a list of all convicted violations of motor vehicle traffic laws and ordinances during the previous 12 months.

Motor Carriers must review these violations and compare it with the driver’s annual MVR.

Note: Drivers who have provided information required by 49 CFR 383.31 need not repeat information in this annual list of violations.

3 years from date of execution


Medical Examination Report and Medical Examiner’s Certificate 49 CFR 391.43 All commercial drivers are required to pass a physical exam conducted by a licensed medical

examiner at least once every 24 months.

Motor Carriers must retain a copy of this certificate.

For CDL drivers; Motor Carriers must retain a copy of the CDLIS motor vehicle record, which contains the examination information.

3 years from date of execution


Employer note verifying that medical examiner is listed on National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners — Non-CDL drivers: 49 CFR 391.51(b)(9)(i)); CDL drivers: 49 CFR 391.51(b)(9)(ii))

A note must be included in the driver’s qualification file to verify that the medical examiner is

listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

3 years from date of execution


Initial DQ File Documents

Driver’s Application for Employment 49 CFR 391.21

A driver must not drive a CMV unless an application for employment is completed and signed.

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Driver’s Road Test Certificate or Equivalent* 49 CFR 391.31(e)

A person must not drive a commercial motor vehicle until he/she has successfully completed a road test and has been issued a certificate.

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Inquiry to Previous Employers: Safety Performance History Records Request 49 CFR 391.23(a)(1)and(b)

Motor Carriers must investigate the driver’s employment record during the preceding three years.

This investigation must be completed within 30 days of the date employment begins.

Motor Carriers must retain a record of the request and all response documentation.

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Initial DQ File Documents

Safety Performance History Records: Driver Correction or Rebuttal (if applicable) — 49 CFR 391.23(i)(2) and 49 CFR 391.23(j)(3))

Motor Carriers must maintain a record of both the request for a driver’s safety performance history and any related documentation, for example if a driver documents that information in the history is inaccurate.

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Inquiry To State Agencies for 3-Year Driving Record 49 CFR 391.23(a)(1)and(b) Motor Carriers must contact State agencies for the driver’s MVR for the past three years. Request must be made within 30 days of hire.

MVR must be kept in the driver’s personnel file and updated annually.

See “Review of Driving Record” entry above.

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Pre-Employment Drug and Alcohol Documents 49 CFR 40.25(j); 49 CFR 382.301 Employers must ask potential employees if they have tested positive or refused to test, on any pre-employment drug or alcohol test within the past three years.

If the potential employee admits to having a positive test or refused to test, that individual must not perform safety-sensitive functions until the successful completion of the return-to-duty process.

Documentation demonstrating completion of return-to-duty process must be retained in the driver qualification file.

See Controlled Substances and Alcohol chapter for recordkeeping requirements.


The following additional documents are only required for certain types of drivers, or in specific situations.


Entry-Level Driver Training Certificate 49 CFR 380.509(b)

All CDL drivers with less than one year experience must provide this certificate.

3 years from date of execution


Longer Combination Vehicle (LCV) Driver Training Certificate 49 CFR 380.401

A driver must not operate an LCV unless the driver can produce an LCV Driver Training Certificate or an LCV Driver Training Certificate of Grandfathering.

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Longer Combination Vehicle (LCV) Certificate of Grandfathering 49 CFR 380.111

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Multiple-Employer Drivers 49 CFR 391.63

Life of employment + 3 years after termination


Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate 49 CFR 391.49

3 years from date of execution


Other pertinent documents relating to the specific driver’s public record are also needed. General credentials for driving include:

  • An age of at least 21 years old
  • A completed road test
  • The ability to meet the physical requirements of operating a vehicle
  • The ability to read and speak English
  • The ability to safely operate a motor vehicle
  • A valid commercial motor vehicle license

Drivers need to update their qualification files each year.

5. Blanket of Coverage — BOC3

Under federal law 49 CFR Part368, a Motor Carrier that crosses intrastate lines with for-hire vehicles will need an agent to process the Blanket of Coverage on behalf of an applicant. 

The only exception is for a freight forwarder or broker, who can apply on their own.

The agent must include all the states in which your fleet is designated. If there are legal issues outside of your Motor Carrier’s home state, a BOC3  (Designation of Process Agents) can be filed with the FMCSA.  This is a one-time registration and does not need renewal.

6. Drug and Alcohol Testing Program

Motor Carriers must participate in a Drug and Alcohol Testing Program under Part 382 pre-test if a driver is a new hire within the industry, or is applying for a job and has not participated in random DOT testing within the last 30 days.

The pre-test needs to be completed before conducting any safety-sensitive performances. Employers can join a DOT Random Drug Testing Consortium program, which will help manage the Motor Carrier’s drug and alcohol testing.

The consortium acts as an agent, but the Motor Carrier is responsible for compliance as an employer.

According to federal law 49 CFR Part 382, you must adhere to drug and alcohol testing requirements if you fall under the following categories:

  • Operate a CDL vehicle
  • Drive a vehicle that weighs more than 26,001 lbs. GVRW
  • Drive a vehicle that transports more than eight passengers or hazardous material

Motor Carriers must review their drug and alcohol policy every 12 months.

Man looking at a mobile device in the passenger seat, with truck driver looking over.

7. Supervisor Training

Under 49CFR Part 382.603, all Supervisors who oversee CDL drivers must undergo a minimum of two hours of training — 60 minutes of training on alcohol abuse and 60 minutes on drug abuse.

The course includes physical, behavioral, speech and performance indicators of alcohol and drug misuse. Each supervisor only needs to complete the training once in their career.

The program is in place to protect the public. Every driver must be aware of the effects of controlled substances and alcohol concerning their safety, health and work environment.

Motor Carriers must develop a written policy and provide each driver with the specific requirements.

Note:  Supervisor training does not apply to owner-operators who are self-employed.

8. DOT Physicals

According to 49 CFR Part 391, drivers who operate a specific class of vehicle(s) must submit to a physical examination by a certified medical professional listed on the FMCSA’s National Registry.

The list includes checkups from doctors of medicine, osteopathy and chiropractic, along with physician assistants and advanced practice nurses.

A driver will need to have a physical before operating any vehicle and every 24 months while in operation. However, the examiner can issue a certificate for less than two years, if they want to monitor a specific medical condition of a driver. 

A driver must also keep their medical examiner’s certificate in the commercial motor vehicle at all times.

Motor Carriers must keep medical examiner’s certificate on file with their driver’s qualification records to provide to a safety official officer during a safety audit.

9. DOT Numbers 

A Motor Carrier is required to obtain a USDOT Number if you have a vehicle that:

  • Is used to transport the types and quantities of hazardous materials requiring a safety permit in intrastate commerce (see 49 CFR 385.403).


  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; OR
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; OR
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation;

AND is involved in Interstate commerce:

Trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States—

  • Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States);
  • Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or
  • Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.

A DOT Number is an unique identifier when safety officials analyze your Motor Carrier’s safety details during audits, crash investigations, compliance reviews and inspections.

Your commercial motor vehicles must have the number displayed in high-contrasting colors on the left and right sides of the vehicle.

For your convenience, I have included the Highlights of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Marking Final Rule.

10. Biennial Updating

Those who must follow Biennial Updating requirements include:

  • Hazardous material safety applicants
  • Intermodal equipment providers
  • Motor carriers

You must update your registration details every two years. Failure to update your registration can and will result in your USDOT number being deactivated and/or having penalties issued against you.

You will need to provide information such as the number of vehicles in your fleet, if you have a new Motor Carrier name, your mileage and whether you are designated as a hazardous material or passenger carrier.

FMCSA uses this specific data to determine the safety score of your Motor Carrier.

Understanding these 10 transportation regulations will help keep you, your operations, your drivers be compliant and protect the motor public.