FMCSA clarifies ‘principal place of business’

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has emphasized that a motor carrier’s “principal place of business” – the location where it must maintain most compliance records and make them available to agency representatives in a compliance review – must be an actual place of business of the motor carrier that contains offices of the motor carrier’s senior-most executive or manager overseeing safety and compliance. The regulatory guidance appears in the July 29 issue of the Federal Register.

Under Sec. 390.5 of the federal safety regulations, the principal place of business is a single location – usually the company’s headquarters – where a motor carrier must make various records available to special agents or authorized FMCSA representatives. The agency has issued revised regulations and guidance over the years to allow companies that operate multiple terminals or other locations to maintain certain driver and vehicle records at those locations. Still, the principal place of business has remained a single physical location where the company conducts business operations.

In determining its principal place of business a motor carrier must consider the relative importance of the activities performed at each location, FMCSA said in the new guidance. If that doesn’t settle the matter, then the carrier must consider the time spent at each location by motor carrier management or corporate officers. In addition, FMCSA may consider whether the location is operated, controlled or owned by the carrier, as well as other factors. “In the event a carrier does not designate a qualifying location as its principal place of business, FMCSA may initiate appropriate enforcement action or take action regarding the carrier’s USDOT registration.

In the guidance, FMCSA explicitly disqualifies as a “principal place of business” a location where the motor carrier is not involved in business operations related to transportation. Those would include post office box centers or commercial courier service establishments that receive and hold mail or packages for third-party pickup. In addition, a carrier “may not designate the office of a consultant, service agent, or attorney as the motor carrier’s principal place of business if the motor carrier is not engaged in operations related to the transportation of persons or property at that location.”

Even if the carrier has just one business location that is a private residence, the motor carrier must designate it as its “principal place of business,” FMCSA said. However, the carrier and an FMCSA representative may agree to conduct a compliance review or other investigation at a mutually acceptable alternate location.

For a copy of FMCSA’s guidance on the meaning of “principal place of business,” click here.