Most people are familiar with the idea that large trucks, commonly referred to as 18-wheelers or commercial motor vehicles (“CMVs”), are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) and require the driver to possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL). What many people don’t know is that there are many vehicles on the roadway which qualify as CMVs which do not require the operator to have a CDL. While the driver may not need to have a CDL to operate these CMVs, the companies that own the CMVs are still required to comply with many of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) issued by the FMCSA. The FMCSRs are essentially safety rules that are intended to keep the motoring public safe and are designed to prevent accidents and deaths caused by CMVs.
The FMCSRs contain two separate and distinct definitions of what constitutes a commercial motor vehicle. Depending on which definition applies to the vehicle involved in your crash will determine which of the FMCSRs may be applicable to you.
The first definition of a CMV is found in 49 CFR section 390.5 which states that a CMV is any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 10,001 pounds or more. A second definition of what constitutes a CMV is found in 49 CFR section 383.5, which establishes the requirements for obtaining a CDL. 49 CFR section 383.5 defines a CMV as a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles having a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds, inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds. This second definition covers 18 wheelers and requires the driver to maintain a CDL. The first definition, however, covers business vehicles, that either alone or in combination with a trailer, weighs more than 10,001 pounds. For example, a standard full-sized pickup truck, has a gross vehicle weight rating of between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds. Add a landscape trailer to the back and that full-sized pickup now meets the definition of a CMV, even though the driver does not need to have a CDL to operate that CMV. A second example of these lesser CMVs would be an armored car you might see delivering money to a bank or grocery store, which are specifically designed and built to weigh less that the 26,001 weight-limit, so that the companies that purchase those vehicles don’t have to hire professional CDL drivers.
The significance of knowing and understanding this other definition of CMVs is that while the driver may not need to have a CDL, the company that owns and operates that CMV is still required to comply with many of the provisions of the FMCSA. This knowledge can have a significant impact on your personal injury claim should you be involved in a collision with one of these types of CMVs. For example, an employer must still ensure that a driver is properly qualified to operate a CMV, even if the driver doesn’t need to have a CDL (49 CFR Section 391.11). An employer must maintain a “Driver Qualification File (49 CFR Section 391.49), which contains specific documentation related to a driver’s qualification. The FMCSRs require an employer to investigate the driving record of a driver it employs to operate a CMV every 12 months. (49 CFR Sections 391.25 and 391.27). It also requires an employer to conduct a road test before allowing a driver to operate the company’s CMV (49 CFR Section 391.31). Often, the companies that place these vehicles which qualify as CMVs weighing less than 26,001lbs. on the road either don’t know that they are subject to the FMCSRs or purposely ignore them hoping that the officers investigating the accidents involving them, or the attorneys representing people injured by them, won’t be familiar with this alternative definition of what a CMV is and what obligations that imposes on the employer/owner of the CMV.
So, the next time you’re involved in a collision with some type of truck, don’t automatically assume that if the collision didn’t involve an 18-wheeler that the FMCSRs aren’t applicable to your claim. Accidents involving CMVs should not be handled the same as ordinary motor vehicle crashes. The investigation into, and the handling of, a claim involving a CMV requires any attorney knowledgeable in and familiar with the FMCSRs.