Skip to main content



DOT Compliance Considerations for Electric Utilities

The roar of diesel engines fills the midnight air as a crew of linemen prepares to depart for a critical repair job. Their trucks are loaded with tools and equipment, ready to tackle a downed power line that lies miles away. But before they hit the open road, there’s one crucial hurdle to clear: ensuring that their vehicles and the way they operate them comply with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations.

Electric utility providers operate a complex network of vehicles, from bucket trucks scaling towering heights to service vans navigating city streets. Each vehicle plays a vital role in ensuring a reliable flow of electricity. However, these workhorses on wheels also pose potential safety risks if they are not operated and maintained according to DOT regulations.

In this article, we are going to dive into the world of DOT compliance for electric utility providers. We’ll explore the regulations that govern these vehicles, the challenges companies face in ensuring adherence to those regulations and best practices for navigating the roadblocks. The goal is to demonstrate how a proactive approach to DOT compliance translates into a safer work environment, a more efficient operation and a positive reputation for the utility company.

FMCSA Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a branch of the DOT, sets the standards for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) operating on public roadways. These standards encompass a wide range of aspects, including the following:

  • Vehicle regulations: These regulations are for all CMVs. There are specific items that all CMVs must have in or on them at all times (e.g., a fire extinguisher, three reflective triangles, spare fuses). Each CMV must also have an annual DOT inspection. But wait, that’s not all. Every CMV must be in good operating condition and be safe to be on the road. There is a pile of regulations about that.
  • Driver qualification: Anyone who operates a CMV must have a driver qualification (DQ) file. The file typically includes the driver’s application; their motor vehicle record; a copy of their driver’s license, medical card and annual review; road test results; clearinghouse query results; performance history evaluation; entry-level training records; and possibly some other documents depending on the type of CMVs they operate for you. (Quick tip: Remember to keep these documents separate from the driver’s personnel file.)
  • Hours of service: Regulations dictate how long a driver can operate a CMV before a mandatory rest break. This helps prevent driver fatigue, a major contributor to road accidents. Now, most of you reading this article fall under the utility exemption, meaning that hours of service are not a factor for you, but you need to know that the utility exemption only applies if you are operating on existing utilities. Any construction of new utilities does not fall under that exemption.
  • Vehicle maintenance and inspections: Regular preventive maintenance and thorough vehicle inspections are critical for ensuring the safe operation of CMVs. The FMCSA outlines specific maintenance and inspection procedures that companies must follow. There are parameters regarding when inspections must occur, how your maintenance records need to be kept and much more.

Intrastate vs. Interstate
Before we dive any deeper, let’s talk for a moment about the difference between intrastate and interstate regulations.

“Intrastate” means that you only operate in one state, while “interstate” means that you operate in multiple states. The way I remember the difference is that an interstate highway runs between multiple states. So, if I operate in multiple states, then I am interstate.

You might be thinking, “Dan, that’s great to know and all, but we don’t fall under federal regulations because we only operate intrastate; our people never cross state lines for any reason unless there is a state of emergency declared.”

To help address this, I want to quote something from the FMCSA itself. Pay close attention to the very last line of their answer below.

Question: What is the difference between interstate commerce and intrastate commerce?

Answer: If you perform trade, traffic, or transportation exclusively in your business’s domicile state, this is considered intrastate commerce.

If your trade, traffic, or transportation is one of the following, this is considered interstate commerce. Source: 49 CFR 390.5.:

  • 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
  • Between two places in a state as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the state or the United States

To really help everyone understand this, let me tell you about a company in Hawaii that we work with. They are an interstate company.

Wait, what? How is a company on an island considered an interstate company?

They absolutely fall into the interstate category simply because they pick up people from the airport who may or may not be flying in from another state or country. By doing this, they are considered an interstate company.

I understand that the company I’m referring to is not a utility provider, but the principle is still the same. If you are a power provider, is your electricity being produced in the same state where you provide it, or is it produced in another state?

If your operations are truly intrastate, then you still need to know your state’s CMV regulations because each state takes a different approach. Some states follow federal standards to the letter while others like to make their own rules. So, be sure to read and understand your state’s regulations. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my team. We are here to help in any way we can.

Compliance is Essential
Why is it so important to comply with DOT regulations? First, you should know that it’s not just about avoiding fines. There are tons of other reasons why compliance is essential for utility providers. Here are just a few:

  • Safety first: Ensuring compliance with DOT regulations demonstrates to workers that you value and prioritize safety.
  • Operational efficiency: Compliance helps to ensure less vehicle and operator downtime and thus greater efficiency in operations. Note: I recently spoke with a company that was using one of the largest compliance companies in the U.S. to help them with DQ files. What we discovered was that it was taking that company anywhere from three to eight times just to get the driver’s application completed properly. If you choose to work with a third party for your compliance needs, make sure they are truly helping – not hindering – your company when it comes to efficiency.
  • Financial repercussions: In 2023, the FMCSA issued more than $26 million in fines from audits alone. Can your company really afford to be fined as the result of an audit? Or worse, can your company afford litigation costs?
  • Public image: Utility trucks are moving billboards that can garner a lot of attention, especially when they are parked on the side of the road while work is being performed. You want your trucks to look great, and you want them – and their drivers – to be in full DOT compliance.

For utility companies, the world of DOT compliance can feel like a confusing maze of rules and regulations. But by understanding the basics and why they matter, you can take control, keep your team safe and keep your trucks on the road.

Intrastate versus interstate adds another layer, so be sure to research your state’s specific rules. Remember, even if you stay in one state, you still need to follow state-level CMV regulations.

And lastly, remember that DOT compliance should be about more than just avoiding fines. Compliance is also about keeping your crews safe, avoiding breakdowns that result in downtime and other issues, and demonstrating to your community that you take your work and responsibilities seriously.

About the Author: Dan Greer is the founder of Eclipse DOT ( He is a passionate safety advocate who found his calling in helping companies navigate the complexities of DOT compliance.


Dan Greer

About the Author: Dan Greer is the founder of Eclipse DOT ( He is a passionate safety advocate who found his calling in helping companies navigate the complexities of DOT compliance.