The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is a federal agency within the United States Department of Transportation. Also commonly referred to by its acronym, the FMCSA, the agency is charged with regulating the trucking industry. The FMCSA is a relatively young government agency, having been established in 2000 with the passage of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999.
The FMCSA has the responsibility to regulate “commercial motor vehicles.” The agency’s stated goal is to reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths that involve big trucks and buses.
What Are Commercial Motor Vehicles?
While the FMCSA is commonly thought of as the agency that regulates semi-trucks, the agency’s responsibility is much broader. The agency has jurisdiction over “commercial motor vehicles,” which are defined by statute and by federal regulations.
Under 49 U.S.C. § 31132 and 49 C.F.R. § 390.5 a commercial motor vehicle is defined as “any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passenger or property when the vehicle:
(1) Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
(2) Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
(3) Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
(4) Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C.” 49 C.F.R. § 390.5.
It is important to point out that some regulations refer to “commercial motor vehicles” but utilize a different definition for this term that involves larger vehicles in terms of weight or passenger capacity. See 49 C.F.R. § 383.5. Some of the regulations that use this other definition include the regulations governing commercial driver’s licenses, or CDLs, and the regulations that govern drug and alcohol testing rules.
What is Interstate Commerce?
Generally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations only apply if the commercial motor vehicle is being operated in interstate commerce. “Interstate commerce” is defined as:
(1) Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States);
(2) Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or
(3) Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.” 49 C.F.R. § 390.5.
Federal Motor Carrier Administration Responsibilities
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a number of programs designed to enforce federal safety regulations, increase safety and awareness, and educate commercial vehicle drivers and their employers, as well as the driving public.
One of the FMCSA’s primary responsibilities is to develop and enforce regulations that apply to commercial motor vehicles, including tractor-trailers, buses, and other large commercial motor vehicles. Those regulations are known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The regulations cover a variety of topics that are important to highway safety, including the qualifications of commercial vehicle drivers, vehicle maintenance and inspections, the operation of commercial vehicles, hours of service rules, securing loads, transportation of hazardous materials, and many other topics that are vital to improving safety.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are frequently relied on in tractor-trailer accident lawsuits. In many cases, the trucking company or its driver violated one or more of the federal regulations. For example, we had a case where the defendants originally denied liability. However, we were able to prove that the tractor-trailer driver violated the hours of service regulations. Once we were able to prove this, the trucking company and its insurance company admitted fault and agreed to settle the case.
Evidence that federal safety regulations have been violated is important. The violation of a safety regulation can prove negligence. This type of evidence can also increase the value of an injury claim and may entitle an injured person to claim punitive damages and their attorney’s fees.
If you have been involved in an accident with a commercial motor vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer, it is important that you contact an experienced trucking attorney as soon as possible. Cases involving semi-trucks, buses, and other commercial motor vehicles involve a variety of federal regulations that apply to the driver and the company. To get the best possible result, it is important that you have an attorney on your side who can prove which regulations apply and uncover evidence that certain regulations were violated. At The Champion Firm, we have the knowledge and experience to handle these cases, and we are relentless and aggressive in our pursuit of evidence to prove our client’s cases. Call us today if you have questions about an accident involving a commercial motor vehicle.