U.S. DOT Special Permit Regulations

Code Regulation PicWhat is a special permit?

A special permit is a document issued by the Associate Administrator or Secretary of Transportation of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) permitting a person (see below definition of a person) to perform a function that is not otherwise permitted.  The special permit authorizes a variance from a hazardous materials regulation provided the person is performing a regulated function in a way that achieves a safety level at least equal to the safety level required by regulations found in Chapter I of Title 49 of the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR) or is consistent with the public interest and regulations, if a required safety level does not exist (49 U.S.C. § 5117).  The special permit may be issued to a person who offers for transportation or transports hazardous materials in packagings or a manufacturer or requalifier of packagings for use in the transportation in commerce of hazardous materials.

Definition of a person

DOT states in 49 CFR 171.8, Definitions and abbreviations:  “Person means an individual, corporation, company, association, firm, partnership, society, joint stock company; or a government, Indian Tribe, or authority of a government or Tribe, that offers a hazardous material for transportation in commerce, transports a hazardous material to support a commercial enterprise, or designs, manufactures, fabricates, inspects, marks, maintains, reconditions, repairs, or tests a package, container, or packaging component that is represented, marked, certified, or sold as qualified for use in transporting hazardous material in commerce. This term does not include the United States Postal Service or, for purposes of 49 U.S.C. 5123 and 5124, a Department, agency, or instrumentality of the government.”

How do I apply for a special permit?

Instructions for submitting to the DOT an application for a special permit are found in 49 CFR § 107.105, Application for special permit.  Each application for a special permit must be written in English and be submitted to the DOT for timely consideration at least 120 days before the desired effective date.  In addition to 14 points that must be addressed per 49 CFR § 107.105, the application must demonstrate and justify that the desired special permit achieves a level of safety at least equal to that required by regulation or, if a required safety level does not exist, is consistent with the public interest.  This shall be demonstrated by substantive data or tests or an analysis of pertinent safety compliance or risk.  The information submitted with an application for a special permit may be made publicly available by the DOT unless the applicant asks that the information be kept confidential.  When evaluating an application for a special permit, the DOT will also take steps to determine that the applicant is fit to conduct operations requested in the special permit.  Excepting a manufacturing or requalification special permit, the DOT may authorize a person to apply to be a party to an application or an existing special permit.  Party status is mostly granted to persons seeking to transport a particular hazardous material in the manner authorized by the special permit.  See 49 CFR § 107.107 for more information on an application for party status.  For a detailed description of the DOT standard operating procedures for special permits see 49 CFR Appendix A to Part 107.

What are the typical contents of a DOT special permit?

Generally, all special permits are divided into the following sections:

  1. Grantee – Person to which the DOT has granted the special permit.
  2. Purpose and limitation – Description of what is authorized by the special permit.
  3. Regulatory system affected – Listing of parts of regulations affected by the special permit.
  4. Regulations from which exempted – Listing of specific regulations the grantee is authorized not to fully comply with.
  5. Basis – Statement of the application for the special permit filed with the DOT by the grantee.
  6. Hazardous materials – Listing of the hazardous materials that are authorized to be shipped under the special permit.
  7. Safety control measures – A summary of the alternative requirements that must be adhered to when transporting hazardous materials under the special permit in order to achieve an acceptable safety level.  Generally, this section will describe mandatory procedures, qualifications, marking, reporting, and other operational controls.
  8. Special provisions – Additional specific conditions that must be followed when transporting hazardous materials under the special permit.  This section may also stipulate the marking requirements for the special permit packaging.
  9. Modes of transportation authorized – Identification of means of transportation authorized under the special permit.  The special permit may or may not list:  motor vehicle, rail freight, cargo vessel, cargo aircraft only or passenger-carrying aircraft.
  10. Modal requirements – This section may stipulate requirements for carrying a copy of the special permit on the vehicle transporting hazardous materials under the special permit or requirements for a shipper to provide a carrier a copy of the special permit.  Authorized quantities of hazardous material may also be indicated.
  11. Compliance – Statement that failure to comply with the requirements of the special permit or operating under an expired special permit may result in fines.  Training requirements for a “hazmat employee” are generally defined in this section.
  12. Reporting requirements – Statement that shipments or operations conducted under the special permit are subject to DOT incident reporting requirements.  This section may also require the grantee to submit a periodic report to the DOT concerning the special permit.

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How long does it take to get a special permit?

Of course, this is greatly impacted by the substance of the application submitted to the DOT.  If all required information has been provided to the DOT on a timely basis, the DOT may grant a special permit within 180 days after the first day of the month following the date of the filing of the application.  Applications may be fast-tracked to cover a short period of time if it is deemed that an emergency exists (see 49 CFR § 107.117).  Generally, the time it takes for DOT to award (or deny) a special permit will depend upon the complexity of the application as well as its perceived level of risk.

What are special permit marking requirements?

Generally, the Special Provisions section of a special permit will define the requirements for marking the packaging with the special permit number.  This section may specify 1, 2, 3 or 4 sides of the package and may specify different markings for a container (e.g. MEGC) versus a tube trailer.  For a pressure vessel manufactured under a special permit, the special permit number will generally be placed in the position normally reserved for the specification marking.  If the special permit provides no requirements for marking the special permit number, the special permit holder and shippers shall refer to 49 CFR § 172.301(c) and 49 CFR § 172.302(c) for regulations pertaining to the general marking requirements for non-bulk and bulk packagings respectively.  These regulations state only that the outside of each package used under the terms of a special permit must be plainly and durably marked “DOT-SP” followed by the applicable special permit number.  In the case of bulk packagings manufactured or requalified by FIBA, one marking of the special permit number is generally applied to the lower, exterior corner of a rear cabinet door.  The marking will be sized to comply with 49 CFR 173.302(b), which requires a width of at least 0.24 inch and a height of at least 2.0 inches and a color that contrasts with the background (e.g. black letters on white tubes).  Vinyl decals are an acceptable form of marking and most often used by FIBA.

DOT SP decal

What are special permit documentation requirements?

Per 49 CFR § 172.203, each shipping paper issued in connection with a shipment made under a special permit must bear the notation “DOT-SP” followed by the special permit number assigned and located so that the notation is clearly associated with the description to which the special permit applies.  Additionally, many special permits will state in the Special Provisions section that a current copy of the special permit must be maintained at each facility where the package is offered or reoffered for transportation or on board the package or both.  Some special permits will state requirements for reporting, shipping, manufacturing, or requalification activities to the DOT.  Presumably, the DOT uses this information to monitor the on-going safety and effectiveness of the special permit.

When does a special permit expire?

When first issued by the DOT a special permit shall be effective for not more than 2 years and may be renewed by the DOT upon application for successive periods of not more than 4 years.

How do I renew a special permit?

DOT regulations pertaining to an application for renewal of a special permit are found in 49 CFR § 107.109, Application for renewal.  An application to renew a special permit must be submitted at least 60 days prior to the special permit expiration date.  Per 49 CFR § 107.109(b), if the special permit holder has filed an application for renewal that is complete and conforms to DOT requirements, the special permit will not expire until final administrative action on the application for renewal has been taken.  The DOT will often write a letter to the renewal applicant indicating that they have received the application on a timely basis.  When filing an application for renewal, the applicant must justify why the special permit should be renewed and provide a description of any incidents involving packagings transported under the special permit or certify that the applicant is unaware of any incidents.  Not later than 1 year after the date on which a special permit has been in continuous effect for a 10-year period, the DOT is obligated to conduct a review and analysis of the special permit to determine whether it may be converted into the hazardous materials regulations.  The standard rulemaking procedures will be followed by the DOT should it be determined that incorporation into the regulations is appropriate.  The DOT has the authority to revoke a special permit if the special permit holder fails to comply with the underlying regulations from which relief was granted by the special permit.  Fines may also be issued under such circumstances or if the special permit holder fails to renew the special permit on a timely basis.

For more information regarding the DOT special permits procedures, please review the U.S. DOT Special Permits Program Desk Guide, which can be found at the following link:

https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/docs/Special_Permits_Program_Desk_Guide.pdf

Chris Adams has been employed by FIBA Technologies, Inc. since 1981 and held a variety of positions throughout those years ranging from Assembler to Production Planner. Positions have been with numerous departments, including production, production planning, regulatory affairs, marketing, customer service, and logistics. His involvement with these departments and membership in the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) has allowed him to have a broad view of the industry.

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