* This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult your attorney for advice specific to your own circumstances.
Change can be an intimidating thing, especially when that change involves federal regulations. Let’s admit it, anything that involves the world "federal" tends to put one on edge! The new laws put out by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) have done just that to many of us in the agricultural world. I'm certainly not an expert on this, but I am happy to share my experience if it helps to alleviate some concerns.
My first suggestion is to take a deep breath. It's really not as bad as it sounds. The FMCSA site is honestly pretty helpful. On it you can answer a few quick questions to see if you do need a DOT number. I went to this link to see if I needed one, which of course I did. Once I answered those questions, I still had others (which I am sure most of us do). I highly recommend calling your local FMCSA office. I did, and was able to speak to an actual person, who was very nice and helped walk me through the process and what was needed. She is the one that told me a DOT number for my business was free, and that if the online application said otherwise, then I did it wrong and to go back and find my error. Up to that point I had thought a DOT number would cost me $300. The online application can be accessed after you answer the questions from the FMCSA as to if you need a DOT number or not.
Now, the very nice lady I spoke to at the regional FMCSA office also warned me that once I applied for and received a DOT number, I would be inundated with telemarketing, mail and email from people trying to make me think I had to register with them, or who would "help me" through the safety audit, none of which is needed. She was right, they did call, they do look and/or sound official, but I was told to only pay attention to communication from FMCSA. So that’s what I'm doing. The safety audit sounds intimidating, I think anything with the word "audit" in it does, but when you really think about it it's not. I was told that for my audit, which is to occur within 12 to 18 months, I will only be asked to send in certain paperwork, things like a safety inspection of my truck and trailer, a physical, possibly log books from whatever trips I take. None of that is really a big deal. Let’s face it, we should all have a physical, having a safety inspection done on your truck and trailer is a good thing, and log books of drive time is again, just for your safety and other drivers. You only need to log the times when you are hauling, like when traveling to a show. And as I am not traveling more than 8 days out of a 30 day period, I was told I do not have to have an ELD (electronic logging device), the old fashioned paper log books are just fine.
Bottom line is that yes, it takes a bit of effort to obtain a DOT number and comply with the new laws, and I am still going through the process, as I need to get my truck and trailer inspected and need to go through the safety audit (which is 12 to 18 months after you receive your DOT number from what I am told). Thus far I have not had to get any special license plates, insurance, or anything else as I am a private carrier. Who knows if that will change, but I can tell you that the people at your regional FMCSA offices are an amazing resource. I don't think they are out to get us, they are just trying to make our roads safer. I also downloaded and read over, A Motor Carriers Guide to Improving Highway Safety, it will answer many of your questions.