Determining whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”) apply is an important part of any personal injury case involving a company vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer or bus. These regulations create a number of standards that cover everything from the qualifications of drivers and limits on a driver’s hours of service to the inspection and maintenance of vehicles.
The FMCSR Apply to Commercial Motor Vehicles
Whether the FMCSR apply depends on the type of vehicle that was involved in the wreck. The FMCSR apply to “commercial motor vehicles” engaged in interstate commerce.
The relevant federal statutes and regulations define a commercial motor vehicle as:
any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers 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 U.S.C. § 31132; 49 C.F.R. § 390.5.
There are three parts to this definition. First, the vehicle must be used to transport passengers or property. Second, the vehicle must meet the minimum requirements for weight or weight capacity, passengers or passenger capacity, or it must be used to transport hazardous materials. Third, it must be used in “interstate commerce.”
This definition of “commercial motor vehicle” applies to almost all the regulations found in the FMCSR. However, there is a separate definition of “commercial motor vehicle” for the requirements for commercial driver’s licenses—more commonly referred to as CDLs—and the drug and alcohol testing requirements. For the CDL requirements and drug and alcohol testing guidelines, 49 C.F.R. § 383.5 defines a commercial motor vehicle as a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used to transport passengers or property in commerce if the vehicle falls within one of the following categories:
(1) Combination Vehicle (Group A)--having a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), whichever is greater; or
(2) Heavy Straight Vehicle (Group B)--having a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater; or
(3) Small Vehicle (Group C) that does not meet Group A or B requirements but that either—
(i) Is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or
(ii) Is of any size and is used in the transportation of hazardous materials as defined in this section.
An important difference in this definition of commercial motor vehicles from the one found in 49 C.F.R. § 390.5 is that this definition does not have an interstate commerce requirement. It applies to vehicles drive in intrastate commerce as well—meaning that a vehicle that never leaves its home state is still subject to these requirements if it meets the definition. Accordingly, a CDL is required and the driver is subject to the drug and alcohol testing requirements even when a vehicle stays in a single state and is not used in interstate commerce.
What is Interstate Commerce?
The definition of commercial motor vehicle found at 49 C.F.R. § 390.5 has an interstate commerce requirement. As a result, if a vehicle is not driven in interstate commerce, most of the FMCSR do not apply, except for the CDL and drug and alcohol testing requirements mentioned above.
The FMCSR have a specific definition of interstate commerce. 49 C.F.R. § 390.5 defines interstate commerce as trade, traffic, or transportation that takes place:
(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.
Many states, including Georgia, apply many of the federal standards in the FMCSR to vehicles operated in intrastate commerce. This means that, even when a vehicle is driven solely within a state, the relevant state laws have to be researched to see whether the federal standards still apply, or whether the state has some other specific guidelines that apply to the vehicle or its driver.
Why Does the Federal Government Regulate Commercial Motor Vehicles?
The purpose of the FMCSR is to reduce fatalities and serious injuries resulting from wrecks that involve big trucks, buses, and vehicles transporting hazardous materials. Larger vehicles are more dangerous because they can inflict more damage, and hazardous materials present their own dangers. While states are generally well equipped to regulate smaller passenger vehicles, bigger vehicles and those that carry hazardous materials are seen as more of a federal responsibility because of the dangers they pose to other drivers on the nation’s highways.
In conclusion, there are numerous regulations that apply to commercial motor vehicles. In any accident involving a commercial motor vehicle, it is important to research the relevant FMCSR to see if the regulations apply and whether any were violated. This is not always easy because there are times where the FMCSR may apply and an injured motorist or an inexperienced attorney may not even know. For example, a truck hauling a trailer across state lines may meet the FMCSR definition of a commercial motor vehicle, which could subject it to a variety of regulations.
If you have been injured in an accident with a tractor-trailer, bus, or some other commercial motor vehicle, it is important that you speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Our attorneys at The Champion Firm have handled cases involving commercial motor vehicles and know how to prove these types of cases and get the maximum amount of compensation allowed under the law. Call us today if you have questions about your accident.