When I first came into the pressure washing industry, I was leaving more than 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 difficult part of my career.

I could not have been more wrong. Shortly after starting, I was doing a residential cleaning for a law enforcement officer. While he was winding up the hose after finishing, he asked me how much my truck and trailer weighed.

“I don’t know, I got a license for additional tonnage so as not to be overweight,” was my easy answer. I was absurdly proud that I took the time and made the effort not to cheat on my licenses and expected weight limits.

“Where is your DOT number?” was his next easy question.

I, like many other pressure washing service providers in my area, had not even thought about 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 need a DOT number can be a tough question, and there are some specific state requirements you need to be aware of, but my client said it’s pretty basic: “If you have a truck or trailer with company placards, and / or a trailer with more than one axle, I’ll write you a ticket if it doesn’t have a USDOT number. “

The actual requirements can be found on the United States Department of Transportation website. There is a wealth of information and resources there to help you understand it all. There is even an online questionnaire to help you try to determine whether or not you should have the DOT number in the first place.

The requirements are quite basic and are as follows. You need a USDOT number if:

o Operate vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds,

o Transportation between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation,

o Carry 16 or more passengers, or

o Transporting 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 example, if you are carrying hazardous materials, such as sodium hypochlorite in large quantities, or flammable liquids such as your machine fuel and a spare fuel tank or two, you will need to be aware of that. You must also register as a HAZMAT carrier and keep records of the materials and quantities transported. You will need to implement a safety program and driver qualification record, as well as records of your driver’s hours of service records.

This sounds like a lot of red tape, but it is what it takes to be a legitimate pressure washing business that operates machinery that is governed by the regulated guidelines of the Department of Transportation. It is a cost of doing business and should be part of your business plan. It is useful to remember that these records are relatively simple and can be based on records that you already have.

In my experience, motor carrier safety regulations are open to various interpretations, so it’s probably a good idea to check with your state Department of Transportation, as well as your state’s local department of Carrier Control. They are supposed to have the current information needed to help you stay compliant. The USDOT site has links to all DOT sites in the state.

Again, the information can be contradictory, so seek out the most knowledgeable people you can, the penalties rise sharply from my measly one hundred dollars. Do not bet the company on the word of some official, ask the questions you need to get the clearest possible answers.

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