Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ: What is a Special Permit?

Truck Driving on highway at sunset

If you ever navigate our packaging section on our website, you will notice a section for U.S. Special Permit Kits.

You may ask yourself, what is a special permit and how does it apply to packaging? Well, basically special permits allow a shipper to perform a function that is not currently authorized by the regulations, or not perform a function currently required under the PHMSA regulations. Below are answers to questions regarding special permits.

Q. Why would someone need a special permit?

A. Special permits can provide relief from specific regulations when shipping dangerous goods. For example, it can allow a shipper to transport their dangerous goods in a specific UN-rated package without having to use hazard labels, as long as they adhere to the required provisions stated within the Special Permit.

Q. How do you apply for a special permit?

A. An application has to be completed and submitted to the US DOT along with specific documentation including written descriptions, drawings, flow charts, plans and other supporting documents.

Q. Do special permits expire?

A. Yes. Special permits expire after a period of time and the manufacturer must re-apply with the Department of Transportation.

Q. Does the Department of Transportation reject applications for a special permit?

A. The application must demonstrate that the 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.

Q. How long does it take for the DOT to process your special permit application?

A. Generally speaking, the DOT will attempt to process the application within 120 days. However this process can take months longer depending on the circumstances.

Q. What are some helpful tips when applying for a special permit?


  1. Read the regulatory requirements very carefully. Familiarize yourself with the applicable provisions of the US DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and the international standards that may apply.
  2. Carefully review the US DOT PHMSA website for letters of interpretation that may exist. You may find that a DOT special permit is not required because there might have been a previous ruling issued on the subject.
  3. Read the requirements for completing and submitting an application for permit and/or approval very carefully. If any piece of information is missing, chances are you will be denied and have to start the process all over again.

For more information on special permits reference 49 CFR 190.341, or visit PHMSA’s website.

An as always if you wish to purchase special permit packaging from ICC Compliance Center visit our website.

Special Permits
Adoption of Special Permits into the HMR (HM-233F)

There was a Legislative act signed by US president Barack Obama in July of 2013 called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or MAP-21. As a result, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is making changes to the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). These changes will incorporate some provisions from some of the special permits that have a proven safety record and have been widely used over an extended period of time. The intent in doing this is to provide widespread access to regulatory flexibility normally offered in special permits and removing the need for abundant renewal requests. The adopted amendments will also reduce paperwork burdens and help commerce while sustaining an appropriate level of safety.

Special permits set out variances to the requirements found in the regulations, but still has a level of safety that is equal to the safety level required otherwise in the regulations. The MAP-21 legislation required PHMSA to take a look at the special permits that have been in effect for 10-years. PHMSA conducted an investigation of all active special permits and categorized them, as appropriate, as suitable for inclusion into this rulemaking.

The result is PHMSA amending the regulations, 49 CFR Parts 171–180, by accepting requirements within 96 existing special permits. These amendments are based on the review they did of all active special permits as of January 1, 2013. There were 1,070 Special Permits that were not suggested for inclusion in the HMR due to these special permits having requirements that do not have a wide range for applicability, have already been implemented into the HMR, are being addressed in other rulemakings, or were removed after receiving comments in response to the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) under this HM-233F.

In doing this PHMSA was to determine which ones may be implemented into the HMR. This also required PHMSA to adopt any special permits identified for inclusion in a final rule by October 1, 2015.

The factors to be considered during the examination to determine suitability for implementation into the HMR are as follows:

  1. The safety record of the hazardous materials (hazmat) transported under the SP;
  2. The application of a SP;
  3. The suitability of the provisions in the SP for incorporation into the hazmat regulations; and
  4. Rulemaking activity in related areas. [i]

Before the MAP-21 was put into legislation, PHMSA had already completed a number of rulemakings to adopt some special permits that had a proven safety record into the HMR. Some of these can be found on Table 1[ii] in this final rule.

After the passing of the MAP-21, PHMSA had to change its approach to fulfill the requirements set forth in this legislation. They established terms for reviewing, set up criteria and categories, and put tools in place to help track and facilitate in analyzing current special permits in timely and efficient manner.

In the MAP-21 Legislation the Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Law was revised to address the “SP and exclusions,” section under paragraph (f).

It states:

(f) Incorporation into regulations.

(1) IN GENERAL-Not later than 1 year after the date on which a SP has been in continuous effect for a 10-year period, the Secretary shall conduct a review and analysis of that SP to determine whether it may be converted into the hazardous materials regulations.

(2) FACTORS-In conducting the review and analysis under paragraph (1), the Secretary may consider-

(A) the safety record for hazardous materials transported under the special permit;

(B) the application of a special permit

(C) the suitability of provisions in the special permit for incorporation into the hazardous materials regulations; and

(D) rulemaking activity in related areas.

(3) RULEMAKING- After completing the review and analysis under paragraph (1) and after providing notice and opportunity for public comment, the Secretary shall either institute a rulemaking to incorporate the special permit into the hazardous materials regulations or publish in the Federal Register the Secretary’s justification for why the special permit is not appropriate for incorporation into the regulations[iii]

PHMSA was also required to implement standard operating procedures (See my previous blog on SOP) to assist with the special permit review and approval processes.

PHMSA has requested comments from holders of special permits that were not implemented. “We stated that we were particularly interested in comments that confirm or refute the suitability, safety, and general applicability of the Special Permit. We asked that if you are a holder of a SP that was not proposed to be adopted but believe it should be, you should submit material to support such an argument.”

They requested that special permit holders submit information and supporting arguments along with technical/scientific data as well as the cost, benefits and frequency of shipments made under said special provision. Information regarding any incidents during transport with said special provision and how often the incidences occurred is also to be provided. PHMSA also asked for commenters to include suggested regulatory text.

The final rule includes much more detailed information like a special permit conversion project chart, where the method is shown on how they staged the analysis and decision process. This includes the specific Special Permits proposed for inclusion, also includes many comments from industry that give a good look into what others are thinking, which brings in different useful perspectives. For more on this final ruling please follow the HM-233 links within this blog.

[i] Pg. 4 of the HM-233F Final Rule

[ii] Pg. 6 of the HM-233F Final Rule

[iii] Pg. 7-8 of the HM-233 Final rule

SOP! Yeah, You Know Me!

SOPs have always been part of my working life. Do you know what a SOP is? SOP refers to a Standard Operating Procedure. It is a written step-by-step procedure used in many facets of business to describe the process in order to complete the tasks involved. SOPs are found throughout many work environments from the office to manufacturing. They are always being changed based on modifications to the task, to help increase efficiency, and to improve processes.

When there is a lack of SOPs in place it can lead to confusion in the process(es) leaving more room for error. This can also lead to slow or delayed response times. This is just what the DOT has experienced with the process for approving special permits. This had led them to update the 49 CFR establishing an improved standard for the approval of special permits. This will be effective November 9, 2015 under a final rule of HM-233E.

Have you ever submitted documentation to apply for a special permit through the DOT? If you have, you know that the changes in the final rule were needed.

I needed help, and like many of you, probably never had submitted an application before. It was evident from the beginning that this process needed some TLC. Multiple calls were needed before, during and after the request was submitted, tracking numbers were not available and the process too much longer than expected.

The changes being implemented to the Special Permit and Approvals Standard Operating Procedures and Evaluation Process for DOT are because of situations just like what I experienced. They saw that there were breaks in their SOP and are making adjustments to improve their procedures. A high number of denied applications are due to them being incomplete. This rulemaking provides clarity on the application requirements for obtaining a hazardous material special permit, which includes an online application process, and helps ensure completeness of the applications submitted. The HMR amendments include: standard operating procedures to support the administration of the special permit and approval programs; and criteria to support the evaluation of special permit and approval applications.

I did get a final answer from the special permits unit. It took more than the 90 days and my application was denied. They indeed needed more information. I for one am looking forward to some the changes coming forward form the DOT. Anything to streamline and improve efficiency I am a strong supporter of! For more information on this final rule click here or in the link above.

Applying for an Equivalency Certificate in Canada

So, you want to bend the rules? What happens when you have a scenario where following the regulations to ship your dangerous goods becomes impractical to the point of impossibility?

This blog entry will speak to what the process is for applying for an Equivalency Certificate in Canada as per the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Clear Language Regulations.

Generally when people ship dangerous goods, the process becomes a matter of reading and complying with everything the regulations state. However, below are some scenarios where following exactly what the regulations state is… shall we say… less than ideal.
Continue reading “Applying for an Equivalency Certificate in Canada”

PHMSA Publishes Rulemakings

On September 13, 2011, PHMSA published the current 180-day special permit application list in the Federal Register. Under 49 U.S.C. 5117(c), PHMSA is required to give notice to the public of Special Permit applications which have been under review for issuance or renewal for longer than 180 days. The list includes initial Special Permit applications as well as modification, renewal, and party status requests. The reason(s) for delay and the expected completion date for action on each application is provided in association with each identified application. The full notice can be viewed at:
Continue reading “PHMSA Publishes Rulemakings”

U.S. House Committee Passes HazMat Safety Bill

In the US, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the Hazardous Material Transportation Safety Act of 2009. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has been under fire from the House for its "cozy" relationships with industry.

As a result of this approval, PHMSA will be required to conduct safety fitness tests of the applicant before issuing or re-issuing special permits. It also allows PHMSA to charge for the processing of the applications.

Included in this authorization is the phasing out of wetlines to transport flammable liquids. Wetlines will be prohibited on vehicles manufactured 2 years after enactment. Current vehicles will be prohibited from transporting flammable liquids in wetlines after December 31, 2025.

Continue reading “U.S. House Committee Passes HazMat Safety Bill”