How an Accident With a Commercial Motor Vehicle Is Different

September 23, 2019

After a truck accident, an entire case can pivot on the applicability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). If the FMCSR apply, potential defendants have significant more duties to the motoring public than defendants not subject to them. Sometimes it can be difficult to assess whether a particular vehicle involved in a collision is subject to the FMCSR. Tractor-trailers which weigh 80,000 lbs. (or more) are easy – the FMCSR apply. However, what about something like a Ford F-350 truck being used commercially? Is that a commercial motor vehicle subject to the FMCSR?

What is a Commercial Motor Vehicle?

Generally speaking, the FMCSR define a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) to mean any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or more, the vehicle is designed or used to transport a certain number of passengers, or the vehicle transports hazardous materials.

In assessing whether a vehicle is a CMV, it is generally not important to determine the vehicle’s actual weight at the time of the wreck.  Rather, the focus is on the vehicle’s GVWR.

A GVWR is the maximum operating weight of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer.

Consequently, a vehicle at the time of the wreck may be below a certain weight threshold but still qualify as a CMV because the GVWR is in excess of the threshold provided by the FMCSR.

Who Needs a Commercial Driver License?

Vehicles with different GVWRs and transport capacities will require different qualifications on the part of the person operating the CMV.  In terms of a commercial driver license (CDL), it must be obtained by drivers of any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the GVWR of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds;
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds;
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver; and
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Other CDL Requirements

The type of vehicle being driven can also trigger other requirements.

For instance, all drivers who operate CMVs subject to the CDL requirements on public roads in the United States and who are performing safety-sensitive functions (i.e., driving) are subject to DOT drug and alcohol testing. Accordingly, a company must implement a drug and alcohol program for all drivers which are in the company’s employ and which operate a CMV as part of the company’s business operations.

Why does it matter if my accident involved a ‘Commercial Motor Vehicle’?

In short, CMVs are held to a higher standard than other motorists. There are many intricacies related to when the FMCSR apply to a particular driver or his/her company. If you have questions surrounding the details of a truck accident, we recommended you schedule a consultation with one of our specialists at HS Law.  It is critically important to determine the type of vehicle involved and the applicability of the FMCSR following a collision.

The FMCSR exist to create duties on the part of the defendants that exist to protect the motoring public. A driver or its company which chooses to ignore those duties does so to the detriment of everyone, especially the individual or individuals injured in the collision. One particular benefit to the public is the MCS-90 Endorsement – an amendment to all motor carrier operators insurance policies guaranteeing coverage for up to $750,000.

Only by determining whether the FMCSR apply generally, and which ones apply specifically, can the wrongdoer be held accountable for all of their negligent acts.


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