What Are DOT Certifications? (With Types and Requirements)
Updated July 31, 2023
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has multiple certification processes that individuals might require to perform essential functions, including operating vehicles, designing equipment or opening a business. If you require one or more of these certifications, research training procedures, as each accreditation may have different requirements. Understanding some information about DOT certifications may help you determine which option fits your needs.
In this article, we discuss what DOT certifications are, the different types, their use, the eligibility requirements and where to receive training.
What are DOT certifications?
DOT certifications are examination processes that verify an individual has the qualifications, skills or knowledge required to perform services related to the Department of Transportation. This can include knowing how to operate a vehicle or aircraft and adhering to federal laws. Some DOT certifications also involve assessing transportation-related equipment to ensure it's operational or a transportation business to confirm its operational status.
Depending on its scope, a DOT certification process can involve an in-depth medical appraisal, driving evaluation, inspection procedure or written test. These certifications are important because they help show your potential employer that you have the necessary credentials to do the job successfully and safely. Taking these courses can help you pursue a role you're interested in, expand your job opportunities and enhance your skill set.
Types of DOT certifications
Here are some DOT certifications you can earn:
Entry-Level Driver Training
Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) is a DOT certification program for individuals with less than one year of commercial driving experience seeking a Class A or Class B Commercial Driver License (CDL). If you have a provisional license, called a Commercial Learner's Permit (CLP), completing this program helps you gain basic knowledge of interstate transportation regulations and can verify your driving abilities. It also provides instructions about health and safety protocols for commercial drivers. As of February 2022, the DOT plans to require all new drivers to complete an ELDT certification before they can gain a full license.
Applicants can access training protocols through a DOT branch called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Here are the core components of ELDT certification:
Driving hours: Applicants drive a commercial vehicle on a public road for a specific number of hours, both set and verified by an instructor.
Driving theory: This element involves coursework in a classroom environment. Some topics they may learn include how to operate a public transit bus or handle hazardous materials.
Skills test: After completing their required hours and coursework, applicants take an exam to confirm their new capabilities. A passing grade can help them become eligible for a full commercial driver's license.
Medical Examiner's Certificate
A Medical Examiner's Certificate verifies a commercial driver or pilot has the physical health required to operate a large vehicle safely. To receive this certification, you can undergo a physical exam conducted by a medical specialist registered with the FMCA. If you pass, your resulting documentation remains active for a maximum of two years. Individuals typically keep the certificate in their vehicle, as inspectors may request this document for evaluation.
Here are some factors a health care specialist might examine, depending on your current medical issues:
Blood pressure issues
Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate
The Skills Performance Evaluation (SPE) Certificate verifies that commercial drivers with prosthetic limbs can operate a large vehicle safely. It requires drivers to demonstrate their competencies through a series of driving activities.
To qualify for the SPE certificate, applicants confirm their ability to complete critical tasks using a prosthetic device, like operating a steering wheel or opening a door. A medical examiner typically leads the assessment process and provides the resulting documentation, which remains valid for two years.
Student Pilot Certificate
The Student Pilot Certificate is a provisional license for aspiring airmen offered by a DOT branch called the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It allows individuals to operate an airplane alone under certain conditions, such as only flying on a volunteer basis and during daytime hours.
To receive this certification, you're required to complete an introductory flight training course through an FAA-accredited program. Afterward, you undergo a medical examination process to ensure you can operate an aircraft, which is comparable to licensed specialists.
Aviation Safety Professional Certificate
The Aviation Safety Professional Certificate instructs airplane experts on how to conduct air safety protocols and investigate accidents. Transportation Safety Institute (TSI), which operates within the DOT, offers this course to aviation students and current industry specialists so they can learn how to assess and improve safety systems for aviation companies.
The TSI might be especially helpful for aspiring airline operators or engineers working on airplane construction projects.
An Airworthiness Certification ensures a newly developed aircraft complies with federal standards and can function optimally. The FAA requires all new planes to gain this certification before flight personnel can operate their machinery in the air. To complete the process, a group of engineers, inspectors and pilots called the Aircraft Certification Service to oversee the design process from the planning stage to the construction phase.
There are two main types of Airworthiness Certifications, which are the Standard Certificate for private and commercial airlines and the Special Certificate for specialized aircraft, such as the planes people fly to survey agricultural projects. Here are the four main tasks that FAA personnel complete:
Evaluating aircraft designs
Conducting flight tests
Assessing the aircraft's machinery
Coordinating with each other on key tasks
Air Carrier and Air Agency Certificate
An Air Carrier and Air Agency Certificate allows a company to fly planes and other aircraft commercially, meaning its pilots can transport passengers and cargo between states in the U.S. and other nations. To earn this certification, an FAA accreditation team assesses the credentials of all flight personnel and evaluates the flight performances of all pilots to ensure they can transport passengers safely and efficiently.
Here are some additional requirements for the company's owners, who are the ones that typically apply for this certification:
Aircraft: It's essential for a company to own at least one aircraft that complies with federal safety regulations.
Maintenance: Often, aircrafts have different maintenance specifications depending on their size. For example, an aircraft with a maximum of 10 seats requires annual inspection processes.
Economic authority: The DOT evaluates applicants to ensure they're able to conduct all necessary insurance processes. It requires a department representative to verify an applicant's budgeting plan and assess the aviation background of a company's personnel.
Manuals: It's crucial for the candidates to prepare a series of manuals, which outlines a company's methods and day-to-day responsibilities. Some examples include a manual of administrative protocols and a flight manual, which focuses on steps for operating an aircraft.
Hazardous materials program: Every Air Carrier Certification recipient can implement a training process for employees to instruct them on how to handle hazardous materials on an aircraft.
Remote Pilot Certificate
A Remote Pilot Certificate allows individuals to operate drones and other small aircraft with remote operation capabilities. It involves learning the regulations for piloting these aircrafts. After learning the rules, individuals can study for the Knowledge test, which includes state guidelines and operational standards.
Some examples of federal regulations include:
Safety protocols: Before operating an unattended aircraft, the remote pilot removes all hazardous materials from the premises and ensures they can protect nearby individuals.
Flight location rules: It's required for remote pilots to only operate a small aircraft from a low-population area on the ground.
Flight time regulations: Remote pilots can only fly a small aircraft during daylight hours, meaning before twilight. Some states may have alternative rules for when daytime officially ends.
Public Transportation Safety Certification Training Certificate
This certification offers key knowledge and technical skills to anyone who examines public transit systems for the DOT. The coursework can help them determine whether a transit system adheres to federal safety standards properly and has functional equipment. It also instructs them on how to handle emergencies at a transit location and investigate safety-related situations.
Here are the three groups of personnel this certification may benefit:
State Safety Oversight (SSO) staff members
Rail Transit Agency (RTA) personnel
Public bus employees
What is a DOT certification used for?
The DOT can use their certifications to verify a transportation expert's competencies in their field, job level status and ability to comply with federal regulations. They can also evaluate your ability to operate equipment according to federal standards, allowing personnel across different organizations to provide consistent service. If a candidate lists a certification on a resume, they may increase their chances of receiving a job offers or advancing in their current position and higher earning potential, as hiring managers often include DOT accreditations in their list of preferred qualifications.
Additionally, a DOT certification can help with increasing safety and decreasing the risk of transportation accidents for citizens because individuals understand how to operate and manage equipment, including handling emergencies. Individuals can also gain a positive impact on their reputation and credibility with DOT training because it shows their work ethic and dedication to learning and their career.
When are DOT certifications required?
Many states require individuals to earn a specific DOT certification before applying for transportation-related positions. For example, commercial vehicle drivers require a Medical Examiner's Certificate before applying for a specialized license while aspiring aircraft operators require a Student Pilot's Certificate before pursuing a higher degree. New airline companies may also require DOT certifications before they can offer services to customers and clients, like an Air Carrier and Air Agency Certificate or an Air Worthiness Certificate.
Before using transportation equipment or a device, consider researching federal and state regulations to check for any requirements.
Eligibility requirements for DOT certification
Each DOT certification may have different eligibility requirements depending on its focus and an applicant's education level. These certifications also share some common elements to review, acquire or verify.
Here are some examples of eligibility requirements for earning a credential from the DOT:
Individuals 18 and older are typically eligible to earn a DOT certification, but this requirement can change depending on the context. For example, aspiring Remote Pilot Certificate holders can be a minimum age of 16 or older.
Education and training
Some DOT certifications require you to complete a training component before you can apply, like the Student Pilot Certificate. It's important to check with your instructor to learn which verification documents you need for the application process.
Individuals in some occupations may require some DOT certifications, while others may only benefit from gaining them. For example, commercial drivers and pilots often require a type of certification, while public transit staff may only have state or company obligations.
Some certification processes have physical health requirements, particularly if they involve operating machinery or transporting passengers. Check with your state government office to determine if you qualify for accommodations or alternative programs.
Additionally, you may submit a drug test. To do this, you can contact your local DOT scheduling department or make an appointment online with DOT.
Certifications that involve aircraft verification may have eligibility requirements based on an aircraft's type, like the standard versus specialized Airworthiness Certifications. It's critical to review the federal regulation codes for your particular aircraft to determine the accreditation it needs.
Where to complete DOT training
Depending on the type of certification, the DOT offers training and testing sites for applicants in multiple state locations. Some job positions offer training sessions for a particular position that incorporates vital elements from DOT certifications, like instruction on how to manage materials in different states. You can also find training courses online through online education platforms, which typically base their curriculum on DOT requirements.
If you gain a position at a transportation-related company, check in with your supervisor about any external DOT certifications your role requires.
What is the DOT's DBE?
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program from DOT seeks to help local communities and businesses, usually minority and women-owned small businesses, that are receiving DOT funding. This program works to find solutions for discrimination with infrastructure like federally-assisted highways, transits and airports. Overall, the program's goal is to help with federally-assisted surface transportation work, which may decrease several obstacles for these businesses.
Please note that none of the companies or certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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