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Proper Way to Mark a Semi Truck

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Before you can place a semi truck into operation as a commercial motor vehicle, you have to mark it with lettering that meets federal regulations. Markings for commercial vehicles are required to permit federal, state and local law enforcement as well as the public to better identify the owners of motor carrier power units. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, (FMCSA) requires all commercial motor carriers to properly mark the units they have in operation.

Required Marking and Lettering

The current regulations replace those established by the former Interstate Commerce Commission. First, you have to know what constitutes a commercial motor vehicle. A commercial motor vehicle is any self-propelled or towed vehicle or combination of vehicles engaged in interstate commerce, which meets any of the following conditions: Has a gross weight of 10,001 or more pounds; transports eight people including the driver for pay; is designed to transport 15 or more passengers including the driver without compensation; or transports hazardous materials as defined by the secretary of transportation. The regulations governing the current FCMSA markings requirements became effective on June 17, 2009. Every commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is required to display the information on both sides of the self-propelled power unit in letters, which can be easily readable from 50 feet away during daylight hours while the CMV is a stationary. These markings are required to display the letters “USDOT” followed by the operating number issued by the FMCSA.

Motor carriers are also required to display the legal name or single trade name of the carrier on each side of the power unit. This lettering must meet or exceed the requirements for legibility and be maintained in like fashion while in service. If the CMV displays the name of any person other then the operating motor carrier it must be preceded by the words “operated by.” The information much match the listing on the motor carrier identification report (Form MCS-150) submitted to the FMCSA. The motor carrier must file this report with the FMCSA prior to placing the power unit into service and every 24 months according to a filing system based on the number issued.

Part 390.19 of the FMCSA regulations details the filing schedule and provides instructions and additional information. Additional markings, lettering and information displayed on a CMV is permissible provided it does not conflict with the required information contained in form MCS-150. Painted markings and lettering on the CMV or a removable device must be in a color that is a sharp contrast to the background color of the vehicle or removable device. Semi trucks must also display any additional markings, stickers or lettering for fuel permits, gross vehicle weight rating or state requirements as they pertain to the motor carrier's area of operation.


Steven W. Easley began writing professionally in 1981 as a newspaper reporter with the "Chester County Independent" in Henderson, Tenn. He is a freelance writer, screenwriter and professionally trained truck driver whose work has appeared in "P.I. Magazine" and "American Forests."