When I first came to the pressure washing industry, I was leaving over twenty years as a commercial driver. I was thinking how nice it would be to be free of all those motor carrier regulations that had been such a grinding part of my career.
I could not have been more wrong. Not long after starting, I was doing a residential cleaning for a law enforcement officer. As I was rolling hose after finishing, he asked me how much my truck and trailer weighed.
“I don’t know, I licensed for extra tonnage so I would not be overweight,” was my easy answer. I was absurdly proud of having taken the time and made the effort not to cheat on my licensing and expected weight limits.
“Where is your DOT number?” was his next easy question.
I, like so many other pressure washing service providers in my area, had not even given a thought to this basic requirement for operating commercial vehicles. After a $100 fine, I made sure to rectify the situation. I got my DOT number.
Trying to decide whether or not you require a DOT number can be a difficult question, and there are some state specific requirements of which to be aware, but my customer said it is pretty basic, “If you have a truck or trailer with company signs, and/or a trailer with more than one axle, I will be writing you a ticket if you do not have a USDOT number.”
The actual requirements can be found on the United States Department of Transportation website. There is a large body of information there, and resources to help understand it all. There is even an online questionnaire to assist you as you try to determine whether or not you are required to have the DOT number in the first place.
The requirements are pretty basic, and are as follows. You need a USDOT number if you:
o Operate vehicles that are over 10,000 lbs,
o Transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation,
o Transport 16 or more passengers, or
o Haul hazardous materials in interstate commerce.
You should be aware that once you have a USDOT number, there are some record-keeping requirements that go along with it. For instance, if you carry hazmat, such as sodium hypochlorite in large amounts, or flammable liquids like your machine’s fuel and a spare fuel tank or two, you will need to note that. You will also have to register as a HAZMAT carrier and maintain records of materials and amounts carried. You will have to implement a safety program and a driver qualification record, as well as records of your driver’s hours of service records.
This sounds like a great deal of red tape, but it is what is required to be a legitimate pressure washing business that operates machinery that falls under the Department of Transportation’s regulated guidelines. It is a cost of doing business, and needs to be part of your business plan. It is helpful to remember that these records are relatively simple, and can be based on records you already keep.
In my experience, motor carrier safety regulations are open to various interpretations, so it is probably a good idea to check with your state DOT as well as with the local Carrier Enforcement department in your state. They are supposed to have the current information necessary to assist you in remaining compliant. The USDOT site has links to all the state DOT sites.
Again, the information can be contradictory, so find the most knowledgeable people you can, the fines ramp up steeply from my paltry hundred dollars. Don’t bet the company on the word of some functionary, ask the questions you need to, in order to get the clearest answers possible.