I have written any number of times about how the justification for licensing is usually consumer protection or safety but the actual purpose is to protect larger, entrenched incumbents against competition. However, most of those stories have been about caskets or hair braiding or other businesses that don't really affect me. This time, its personal.
Sometime last October we needed a boat moved across the country from one of our marinas to another. We found a local guy who was going in the right direction anyway and paid him a couple hundred bucks to haul the boat on a trailer behind his pickup. Note that this is a perfectly ordinary pickup truck and a perfectly normal pontoon boat, the kind of car-trailer rig you can see thousands of people driving to the lake every Saturday morning.
The driver was stopped at a checkpoint in Wyoming. And was busted there, at least long enough until he could give them my name and number and escape.
Why was he busted? Because a) the truck/boat combination apparently weighed a tad more than 10,000 pounds and b) the boat was being moved for a commercial purpose (i.e. it was a business asset). Unknown to me, the combination of these two takes this transport event to the realm of "commercial carrier," which requires a Department of Transportation (DOT) license and a slew of regulatory responses. Technically, the contractor we paid was at fault, but he escaped any legal problems because 1) he claimed he was our employee (untrue) and 2) he claimed he was driving our truck (untrue). This led to Wyoming and later the DOT calling me asking for my DOT number (which I didn't have), my employment records (for a person who is not my employee) and my vehicle records (for a truck I have never owned).
Months later, I am still going back and forth with the cops in Wyoming. But in the mean time I decided that since I was likely to move my stuff across state lines again, I might as well get my DOT number. So I started that process.
As it turns out, there is absolutely no difference in regulation and compliance requirements between driving my own boat across state lines once a year and running United Van Lines. The regulations one has to know are hundreds of pages long. The user-friendly summary is 162 pages long! And it is careful to state, "Please do not use this guide as a substitute for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations." There are driver and vehicle files that have to be maintained, special driver certifications, driver medical tests and certifications, etc.
In other words, there is absolutely no accommodation for a company like ours that is doing nothing different than you are driving you boat to the lake, but we have to set up a compliance and record-keeping system that trucking companies have whole departments for. Which, of course, is the point. Compliance costs for regulations can always be born easier by large companies and by incumbents. The idea is to make it so onerous for individual companies to move their own boats that they are willing to pay over-priced Teamster-friendly trucking corporations to do it for them. The point is not to make us safer - the average individual unregulated boater hauls boats more miles a year than we do - the point is to make sure we don't compete, even in the smallest way, with established trucking firms.
By the way, the issue that is likely to kill the deal totally on our getting a DOT number is the government mandate that I drug test my employees. The relationship I wish to have with my employees is not one that encompasses my demanding samples of their bodily fluids on a regular basis. I have turned down at least two potentially lucrative management contracts because both had drug-testing requirements and I am not going to do it.