March 20, 2013

Magnetic Signs for US DOT Numbers. Legal or not?

I originally wrote this This is a question that we field quite a bit so today I am going to address the legality of using magnetic signs to display your US DOT cab door numbers over opting to use a permanent solution such as vinyl graphics.

Let's say you are leasing a semi, delivery van or courier vehicle for your logistics business. Since the truck is not something you personally own (or will ever own for that matter), you would like to limit the amount of alterations you make to the vehicle to insure a smooth transition when the terms of the lease expire. You may also have to identify your vehicle with the proper GVW, MC, ICC or US DOT Numbers in order to be compliant with the DOT. This can be a dilemma. Should you install permanent vinyl graphics only to pay the price to have them professionally removed and or painted when the lease expires? We say no. This can be very costly (up to $250.00 per damaged surface) and will add to the cost to lease the vehicle. I am sure you are asking yourself if there is another solution that is less permanent that won't damage the paint of your vehicle. There is. We suggest using magnetic vehicle signage for this purpose. Magnetic signs are a removable alternative to permanent vinyl decals or stickers and do not damage the paint of your vehicle. They can be removed easily for cleaning and the cost is minimal when compared to restoring the paint of your semi or courier vehicle.

But are they legal??

According to the US DOT publication ETA 501c section 390.21 referencing vehicle identification the rule is this:

"Every commercial motor vehicle operated by a motor carrier in interstate commerce must be marked,
on BOTH sides of vehicle, with the following:
The motor carrier’s name or trade name The motor carrier’s identification
number, preceded by “US DOT”
The size, shape and color markings must be in letters that contrast sharply in color with the background on which the letters are placed
The lettering must be readily legible during daylight hours, from a distance of 50 feet."

USDOT sticker for trucks 2x12"

As you can see, the requirement is that the numbers be placed on both sides of the truck, legible from 50 feet (2" lettering will accomplish this) and be place on a contrasting background. Although the rule does not specifically mention the legality of using magnetic signs, it does clearly state that they need to be on both sides of the vehicle on a contrasting background. It mentions nothing about using a magnetic sign to accomplish this. 

What is the difference? 

The publication states the vehicle must be marked but does not mention the how. Basically it boils down to how the numbers are attached. When vinyl graphics are used, the numbers are attached via a permanent and strong adhesive. When magnetic signs are used, the adhesive is the magnetic pull that the sheeting has when applied to steel. The publication does not reference adhesive types. After a consult with our attorney, we have come to the conclusion that as the language in the compliance publication does not mention application techniques or ways to adhere the US DOT numbers, removable magnetic signs are a completely legal way to display your US DOT Numbers, GVW Numbers. MC Numbers or ICC Numbers. 

Blog post written by John Lindsey of

Additional information on how to obtain US DOT Number magnetic signs or vinyl graphics can be found at:

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