A Guide to Interstate vs. Intrastate Trucking

Recognizing the differences between interstate and intrastate trucking is easier than it seems. Find out everything you need to know about interstate vs. intrastate trucking and discover which one is right for you.

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If you’re just starting out with your trucking business, it’s vital that you set yourself up for success from the beginning. A big part of that is understanding how your location will affect how your business operates. One of the glaring questions that needs to be answered before you can get on the road is: will you be doing interstate or intrastate trucking?

Why is it important to know the difference between interstate and intrastate?

Knowing the difference between interstate vs. intrastate trucking is important because the requirements for each vary quite a bit. And as you might expect, failing to adhere to all the federal and state laws regarding both interstate and intrastate travel can result in costly fines. It can even result in out-of-order services, which force you to shut down operations until you make changes to meet the requirements. These issues are both time-consuming and financially risky for your business, so knowing upfront which option best fits your business plan will give you a clear sense of which path to follow when it comes to meeting those requirements.

It’s also important to recognize that there are cases in which freight which seems like it would be intrastate (within the same state) is actually interstate. This can be because you had to cross state lines in order to complete the delivery, even though you picked up and dropped off in the same state. Or it could be because the load transferred state lines at some point during its journey, even if that was before you took hold of it and your part was entirely within state lines. If the load has been transported over state lines at any point, it is considered an interstate load, meaning you could inadvertently face risks when transporting it.

Following regulations should be one of the highest priorities for any carrier or owner-operator, and so recognizing the distinction between interstate vs. intrastate freight loads is an essential skill to develop.

What is the difference between interstate and intrastate?

The main difference between interstate and intrastate trucking is that interstate means you are legally permitted to cross state lines or national borders while transporting freight. On the other hand, intrastate means you are only delivering freight within a single state.

That’s the basic distinction between interstate vs, intrastate trucking, but let’s dive a little deeper into what each type of trucking entails and discuss the ways they differ.

Interstate trucking

As mentioned above, the main aspect of interstate trucking is that it involves crossing state lines or national borders, which includes the borders between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Naturally, this means that interstate loads tend to be long-haul, which can be a factor in determining whether interstate trucking is right for you.

It’s essential that carriers and owner-operators recognize the various cases that are recognized as interstate, such as when your route takes you through another state or if that freight crossed state lines before it came to you. Even if you’re transporting a load within a single state, if the freight crosses state borders at any point during its route it is then categorized as interstate, meaning you are participating in interstate trucking and require the appropriate licensing to do so.

Some examples of the truck types used in interstate trucking include:

For most small carriers and independent owner-operators, interstate trucking is usually a better fit than intrastate trucking, offering many advantages that are lost with intrastate trucking. We’ll go over some of the specific requirements for interstate trucking shortly.

Intrastate trucking

Perhaps a bit more straightforward than interstate, intrastate trucking is simply defined as trucking where freight is picked up and delivered within the same state. Some examples of trucks that require CDLs but only operate within one state are:

  • Tow trucks
  • Garbage trucks
  • Dump trucks
  • Concrete mixing trucks
  • Box trucks

Intrastate loads are often run by companies and carriers rather than independent owner-operators. Short-haul businesses such as the ones using these types of trucks are not required to follow the same FMCSA regulations that long-haul trucks must comply with, making it easier to get started as a short-haul trucker than a long-haul one if you’re looking to focus on intrastate trucking.

Intrastate vs. interstate operating authority

One of the main distinctions between intrastate vs. interstate trucking is the difference in requirements when it comes to getting your operating authority.

If you’re hauling freight across state lines for interstate trucking, you likely need a standard US DOT number for the Department of Transportation. The FMCSA’s guidelines on who is required to get a DOT number include:

  • A driver that transports hazardous materials across state lines or is hauling a load that eventually will cross state lines
  • A driver that operates across state lines and has a gross combination weight or gross vehicle weight of more than 10,001 pounds
  • A driver of a vehicle designed to transport more than 8 people that is working for compensation and operating across state lines
  • A driver of a vehicle designed for 15 or more passengers, regardless of compensation, operating across state lines

It’s also essential for carriers to register their fleets as part of the Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) Act, even if their state doesn’t participate, because they will be crossing state lines and thus must be legally permitted to carry freight no matter the state they enter.

Interstate carriers must also ensure that they are compliant to the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and International Registration Plan (IRP), which allows states to collect fuel taxes but without requiring carriers and owner-operators to file in each state.

If you’re looking for something a little simpler, intrastate trucking does not require the same federal operating authority as interstate trucking. That said, there are still some regulations you have to meet and it’s always important for intrastate truckers to check with their relevant state agency because each state has different rules and regulations and you won’t be able to simply get behind the wheel and start picking up freight without first meeting requirements. For example, many states still require a DOT number for intrastate commercial trucking.

Intrastate carriers must also comply with the IFTA and IRP, but should note that a handful of states — Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, and West Virginia — require separate intrastate fuel permits.

Interstate vs. intrastate insurance

Insurance is another main area where intrastate vs. interstate trucking differ.

When it comes to interstate insurance, carriers and owner-operators who haul freight across state lines and national borders must meet the minimum coverage limits established by the FMCSA. Coverage minimums will change based on factors like type of freight and truck weight. Some examples listed by the FMCSA include:

  • Non-hazardous materials transported in vehicle weighing less than 10,001 pounds: $300,000
  • Non-hazardous materials transported in vehicle weight more than 10,0001 pounds: $750,000
  • Hazardous material moved by private carriers and for-hire: $5 million

It’s also important to recognize that, while these are the minimums presented by the FMCSA, many shippers and carriers may require you to have at least $1 million worth in coverage.

As with most intrastate trucking requirements, insurance is once again determined on a state-by-state basis. Some states will mirror the FMCSA guidelines, while others will have their own guidelines. For carriers getting into intrastate trucking, it’s essential to review the rules, regulations, and requirements that are specific to your state.

The similarities between interstate vs. intrastate

Of course, for their many differences, there are some significant similarities between interstate vs. intrastate trucking. Regardless of state rules, every single carrier and owner-operator must adhere to:

  • CDL requirements (For interstate vs intrastate CDLs, truck drivers will simply choose one option when they apply)
  • Drug and alcohol testing
  • Commercial trucker insurance
  • Hazardous materials training

Is interstate vs. intrastate trucking right for you?

While there are certainly pros and cons to each type of trucking, many small carriers and owner-operators may find that interstate trucking suits their needs more. Importantly, it means that truckers will have more options to choose from and to build their business from when it comes to finding freight and creating partnerships with shippers and brokers. By taking the path toward interstate trucking, you’ll never have to worry about finding the perfect load only to have to turn it down because you don’t meet the requirements. After all, you can always choose to pick up intrastate loads even if you are technically an interstate trucker.

DAT helps you cross state lines with confidence

For anyone looking to get into either intrastate or interstate trucking, DAT is your number one resource for getting your business off the ground. DAT Authority guides you through the process of earning your operating authority without the usual hassle that comes with dealing with permits and paperwork.

Once you’re all set up, the DAT Load Board is the perfect tool to start finding loads and building up your business. It gets you the most relevant matches for the best rates, with more than 448.5 million loads and trucks posted annually. Along with a wide variety of features including factoring, fuel cards, shipment tracking, and much more, the DAT One Load Board is the perfect next step for interstate trucking carriers just starting out.

Check out DAT’s other carrier services as well for even more ways to grow your rates and find long-term success as an interstate carrier!

DAT’s carrier services can set your business apart!

There are a few differences between interstate and intrastate trucking, but regardless of which one you choose, DAT can help you get your business up and running. Not only can we help you deal with paperwork, but we can also help you find loads, track freight, and more!

Explore DAT’s carrier services to get started!

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