McAfee & Taft RegLINC - May 2012: Many commercial vehicles now regulated by the FMCSA By Jared Burden

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By Jared Burden

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the branch of the Department of Transportation that oversees rules and regulations regarding highway travel. The FMCSA is most widely associated with freight haulers and large passenger vehicles; however, it also plays an important role in overseeing larger commercial vehicles that do not fall within these traditional classifications. Many suppose that the FMCSA only regulates vehicles for which a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required, but this is not true. As a result, many businesses are unaware of the FMCSA’s reach and, consequently, may be open to liability for failure to follow its regulations.

The FMCSA defines its regulatory scope through vehicle classification. Classifications may be made according to:

  1. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross vehicle weight, whichever is greater (i.e. truck only);
  2. The gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight, whichever is greater (i.e. truck and trailer); and
  3. The ability to transport a certain number of passengers. For most regulated industries, the important classifications involve vehicle weight.

GVWR is usually assigned by the manufacturer of the truck and/or trailer. For example, a 1-ton pickup truck (e.g. a Ford F-350) generally has a GVWR of between 10,001 to 14,000 pounds, depending on the make. Trailers will also have a GVWR and/or weight that must be taken into account when determining the full rating or weight. Together, the GVWR or weight of your truck and trailer will determine what kind of licenses your drivers are required to carry, whether a DOT number is needed, the applicability of hours of service regulations, as well as a host of other regulatory standards.

Generally, regulatory burdens fall into two categories. The more restrictive category includes larger vehicles. If a company operates a truck that has a GVWR or gross weight of more than 26,001 pounds, then all drivers must obtain CDLs. These vehicles include your typical tractor-trailers, but may also include larger trucks such as dump trucks or concrete trucks. A class A CDL is required where such a truck is used to pull a trailer with a GVWR or weight of more than 10,001 pounds; a class B license will be needed for smaller trailers or where the truck is not pulling a trailer. In addition to CDLs, falling into this category of regulated operators will require a company to comply with a many other regulations, including, but not limited to:

  • FMCSA safety regulations;
  • Hours of service regulations;
  • FMCSA commercial motor vehicle marking rules;
  • Maintenance of an accident register;
  • Adoption of an alcohol and drug testing policy; and
  • Compliance with hiring procedures for DOT regulated drivers.

This list is not exclusive and guidance should be sought to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations.

If a company operates any vehicle that has a GVWR or gross weight of between 10,001 pounds and 26,001 pounds, then drivers are not required to have CDLs. However, it will be required to obtain a USDOT number and display it on each “self-propelled” commercial motor vehicle in its fleet (i.e. only the truck, not the trailer) with a weight or weight rating over 10,001 pounds. This rule extends to a variety of vehicles, including pickup trucks that are generally available to the public. In addition, the company will be required to comply with the following regulations:

  • FMCSA safety regulations;
  • Hours of service regulations;
  • FMCSA commercial motor vehicle marking rules;
  • Maintenance of an accident register; and,
  • Establishment of procedures for preventive maintenance and inspections.

As with the previous list, this above list is not exclusive and guidance should be sought to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations.

As is readily apparent from these categories, many companies that utilize common equipment in their operations, such as a 1-ton pickup with a gooseneck trailer, may fall under the jurisdiction of the FMCSA. As such, they may unknowingly be open to inspections and/or fines. A review of the composition of your fleet and an understanding of the FMCSA’s reach will go a long way in ensuring compliance.