According to the FMCSRs, a commercial motor vehicle is any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property. To be considered a CMV, the vehicle must satisfy at least one of the following criteria: (1) have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), gross combination weight rating (GCWR), gross vehicle weight (GVW), or gross combination weight (GCW) of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater; (2) be designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation or 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation; or (3) be used to transport hazardous materials in quantities requiring the vehicle to have some sort of display posted that indicates to other drivers that they are carrying hazardous materials. For further clarity, the FMCSA defined both “motor vehicle” and “highway.” According to the FMCSA, a motor vehicle is any vehicle, machine, tractor, trailer, or semitrailer (or any combination of those) propelled or drawn by mechanical power and used on the highways in the transportation of passengers or property. However, this does not include vehicles operated on rails or trolley buses powered by an overhead electrical wire. Furthermore, the FMCSA defined a highway as any road, street, or way (whether on private or public property) that is “open to public travel.” It is noteworthy to mention that the CMV definition includes combinations of vehicles that by themselves may not be regulated. For example, a pickup truck that weighs less than 10,000 pounds could be considered a CMV and subject to the FMCSRs if it is pulling a small trailer that puts it over the 10,000 pound marker.


According to the FMCSA, a qualified commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver must meet eight qualifications. These qualifications include:

  1. Be at least 21 years old

  2. Be able to read and speak the English language well enough to converse with the general public, understand English traffic signs and signals, respond to official inquiries, and make entries on reports and records.

  3. Be able to safely operate the type of motor vehicle he or she drives, by way of experience, training, or both.

  4. Be physically qualified to drive a motor vehicle in accordance with the medical qualification standards.

  5. Have a currently valid CMV operator’s license issued by only one state or jurisdiction.

  6. Have prepared and furnished the motor carrier that employs him or her with a list of violations from the past 12 months (or certifications that there were no violations).

  7. Not be disqualified to drive a motor vehicle under the rules laid out in the FMCSRs.

  8. Have successfully completed a driver’s road test and been issued a certificate of driver’s road test, unless the employer accepts a driver’s license or previously issued certification of road test instead.

If a driver works with cargo distribution and securement, he or she must meet 2 additional qualifications. These include:

  1. Being able to determine whether the cargo they transport has been properly located, distributed and secured in or on the motor vehicles they drive.

  2. Be familiar with methods and procedures for securing cargo in or on the motor vehicle they drive.


Before a driver can be hired, he or she must successfully complete a road test. The FMCSA outlined a minimum test a driver must meet; however, the employer may require drivers to meet other criteria not listed in the FMCSA’s test. Furthermore, the driver must take the test while driving the motor vehicle he or she will be assigned to drive. The minimum test set by the FMCSA includes: a pre-trip inspection; coupling and uncoupling a combination (if the driver may drive such equipment); placing the vehicle in operation; using the vehicle’s controls and emergency equipment; driving in traffic and passing other vehicles; turning; braking, and slowing by means other than braking; and backing and parking. An employer may designate anyone to administer the test who “is competent to evaluate and determine whether the person who takes the test has demonstrated that he or she is capable of operating the CMV, and associated equipment, that the [employer] intends to assign him or her.” Nevertheless, the owner cannot administer the road test. The road test must be long enough to evaluate the driver’s skills at handling the CMV and equipment.

The next question becomes, “Is there any way to get out of taking the road test”? For example, what about an experienced driver who is switching motor carrier companies? The FMCSRs specified two ways a driver could get out of taking the road test: (1) if the driver has a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and has already taken a road test in the same type of CMV the driver is to be assigned. (this is not allowed if the driver is assigned a CMV requiring a double/triple or tank vehicle endorsement); or (2) if the driver has received a certificate of road test within the past 3 years from another employer.


A motor carrier (employer) must have documented proof that the driver is physically qualified before the driver is able to begin driving a CMV. Additionally, the driver must remain physically qualified at all times he or she is driving the CMV. Different medical documentation is required for different types of drivers. For example, an interstate driver who does not hold a CDL must have a current, valid medical certificate and proof of verification that the medical examiner was listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. This National Registry is a listing of medical examiners who have completed specific training and exams necessary to become certified to perform medical exams on commercial drivers. On the other hand, an interstate driver who does hold a CDL must have a current motor vehicle record showing that the driver is medically certified and proof of verification that the medical examiner was listed on the National Registry. In obtaining a medical certificate from a qualified medical examiner, a driver can go to anyone who is licensed, certified, and/or registered in accordance with applicable state laws and regulations to perform physical examinations. Examples of qualified medical examiners are doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, and doctors of chiropractic.

According to the FMCSA, the purpose of these standards are to make certain drivers do not have any physical or mental conditions which could seriously affect their ability to control or operate a motor vehicle safely under all conditions. For example, a driver with a history of cardiovascular conditions could seriously impede on the safe operation of the motor vehicle.


A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is defined as a license which authorizes the individual to operate a class of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Additionally, commercial learner’s permit (CLP) is defined as a permit authorizing an individual to operate a class of a CMV when accompanied by a holder of a valid CDL for purposes of behind-the-wheel training. There are three distinct classes of CDL:

  • Class A - A driver holding a Class A license can also operate both Class B and C vehicles.

  • Class B - A driver holding a Class B license can operate a Class C vehicle but not a Class A vehicle.

  • Class C - A driver holding a Class C license can only operate a Class C vehicle.

It is important to note that not every CMV driver is required to have a CDL or CLP. As the previous definitions indicate, a CDL or CLP is necessary to operate “a class” of a CMV.

With this in mind, the FMSCA states the CDL/CLP standards apply to “commercial motor vehicles” operating in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce that meet one or more of the following standards:

  • Combination vehicles having a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight (whichever is greater) of 26,001 or more pounds and having one or more towed units with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight (whichever is greater) of more than 10,000 pounds.

  • Single unit vehicles having a gross vehicle weight or gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more.

  • Buses designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.

  • Hazmat used in the transportation of hazardous materials that require notice on the vehicle.

The FMCSA specified eight exemptions to the CDL/CLP standards. These exemptions are as follows:

  1. States must exempt drivers who operate CMVs for military purposes.

  2. States must exempt driver of “covered farm vehicles”

  3. States may exempt drivers of farm vehicles that are controlled and operated by a farmer (further specifications for this exemption are found in the FMCSRs).

  4. States may exempt firefighters and other persons who operate CMVs necessary to save lives.

  5. States may exempt drivers employed by the local government to remove snow or ice.

  6. There is an exemption for Alaska drivers.

  7. States may issue restricted CDLs for employees of a farm-related service industry.

  8. States may issue restricted CDLs to part-time drivers carrying less than 500 pounds of fireworks.


Drivers are required to obtain CDL endorsements in order to operate certain types of vehicles. The FMCSRs identify these endorsements with a code in the form of a single capital letter. These endorsements include:

  • T Double and triple trailers

  • P Passenger vehicles

  • N Tank vehicles

  • H Vehicles required to have identification indicating there are hazardous materials on board

  • S School buses

  • X A combination of N and H endorsements

These endorsements are the only ones identified by the FMSCA but an individual state may have more. In order to get endorsement for any of the ones listed, a driver must pass a knowledge test. In addition to a knowledge test, S and P endorsements require a skills test. Furthermore, a background check is required for H endorsement.

While endorsements allow for the operation of certain types of vehicles, the FMCSA has also outlined eight restrictions that prevent certain types of operations. Like endorsements, these restrictions are identified with different codes and they include:

  • E - If a driver performs the skills test in an automatic transmission vehicle, he or she cannot operate a CMV equipped with manual transmission.

  • K - If a driver is not qualified to drive interstate, he or she is restricted from driving outside the state.

  • L - If a driver either fails the air brake component of the knowledge test or performs the skills test in a vehicle not equipped with air brakes, he or she cannot operate a CMV with air brakes.

  • M - If a driver performs the skills test in a Class B vehicle, he or she cannot operate a Class A vehicle.

  • N - If a driver performs the skills test in a Class C vehicle, he or she cannot operate a Class A or B vehicle.

  • O - A driver who did not perform a skills test in a tractor-trailer combination connection by a fifth wheel cannot operate one.

  • V - A driver who was issued a medical variance has to have a restriction code “V” in their driver’s record.

Z - If a driver performs the skills test in a vehicle with air-over-hydraulic brakes, he or she cannot operate a vehicle with any braking system operating fully on the air-brake principle.


Before being able to operate a CMV, the FMCSA requires certain CMV’s to have insurance or bonds in place. Therefore, carriers that do not have insurance risk suspension or revocation of their operating authority. So, the question becomes “How do I know if I need coverage for my CMV”? According to the FMCSRs, four basic types of carriers are required to have insurance. These include: (1) for-hire carriers and freight forwarders transporting property in interstate or foreign commerce with vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds or more; (2) for-hire fleets that include only vehicles under 10,001 pounds GVWR; (3) for-hire carriers transporting passengers in interstate or foreign commerce; and (4) carriers and freight forwarders transporting hazardous materials, hazardous substances, or hazardous wastes in interstate, foreign, or intrastate commerce

Now that you know who needs insurance, the next question is “How much coverage do I need”? The amount of insurance needed depends on the type of carriage and the commodity being transported. Coverage ranges from $750,000 all the way up to $5 million. An example of a type of carriage and commodity that requires $750,000 is a for-hire vehicle with a GVWR of more than 10,0001 pounds carrying nonhazardous property. On the other hand, an example of a type of carriage and commodity that requires $5 million is a for-hire or private vehicle with a GVWR of less than 10,001 pounds carrying certain explosives, poisons, gases, or radioactive materials. The full list of how much coverage is needed can be found in the FMCSRs.



The hours-of-service (HOS) rules are used to keep CMV drivers fully alert on the roads. Therefore, they limit the length of time a driver can spend behind the wheel on a daily and weekly basis. In order to ensure the driver has not spent too much time on the road, he or she must keep a daily log. Different HOS rules apply to different vehicles and how those vehicles are being used.

For example, a truck driver with hazardous materials driving on the interstate would have different HOS rules than a bus driver with passengers driving on the interstate. The specific HOS rules as specified by the FMCSRs apply to drivers operating CMVs in interstate commerce, regardless of private or for hire operations.


There are five basic rules of hours-of-service that every property-carrying CMV driver should know:

  1. 10 hours off duty

  2. 8 hours on duty

  3. 11 hours driving

  4. 14 hours on duty

  5. 60/70 hours on duty.

If the driver adheres to these rules, they should be in the clear. The 10 hours off duty rule states that a driver may not drive without first taking 10 consecutive hours off duty.

According to the FMCSR, there are four ways to get the 10 hours of rest:

  1. Spend 10 consecutive hours off duty

  2. Spend 10 consecutive hours in a sleeper berth

  3. Spend 10 consecutive hours using a combination of both #1 #2

  4. Split the 10 hours into two separate periods with driving or other on-duty activities in between.


Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) are federal regulations that set safety and operation standards for companies and individuals operating trucks, vans, buses, and other commercial motor vehicles involved in interstate commerce. Interstate commerce (as opposed to intrastate commerce) occurs when a driver travels from state to state. Therefore, a driver involved in intrastate commerce (stays within one state) is not subject to the FMCSRs. However, most states adopt regulations similar to the FMCSRs.

For example, a commercial motor vehicle driver going from Missouri to Kansas would be subject to the federal regulations but a driver only staying within Kansas would not be subject to the federal regulations. Nonetheless, the driver staying within Kansas would be subject to Kansas commercial motor vehicle regulations. Rules found within the FMCSRs cover a wide variety of topics including qualification and licensing of drivers, vehicle specifications, inspections, maintenance, insurance, vehicle marking, cargo securement, and other topics.

You can find the FMCSRs in the Code of Federal Regulation and the rules are written and enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) (an agency within the US Department of Transportation) and its state partners.


The FMCSA is allowed to impose civil penalties against motor carriers, drivers, and other entities who violate the FMCSRs. A civil penalty is a monetary fine imposed by a government agency as compensation for violation (this is not to be confused with a criminal punishment which generally results in jail time).

With this in mind, the monetary amount of each penalty is determined by Congress in the statutes, who in turn gives enforcement powers to the FMCSA. The FMCSRs generally list the maximum civil penalties that may be imposed for various violations. However, they do set some minimum amounts.

In determining the actual penalty, the FMCSA considers the maximum/minimum amounts identified in the statutes, as well as a number of different considerations that include:

  • The nature of the violations

  • The gravity of the violations

  • The violator’s degree of culpability

  • The violator’s history of prior offenses

  • The effect on the violator’s ability to continue to do business

  • Other facts “as justice and public safety may require”

When the FMSCA assesses penalties for violations of notices and orders, consideration is given to good faith efforts to achieve compliance with the terms of the notices and orders. If a CMV owner or operator fails to pay a civil penalty in full within 90 days after the deadline, he or she is prohibited from operating in interstate commerce starting on the 91st day. A few examples of civil penalties include:

  • Commercial driver’s license (CDL) violation = $3,750 fine

  • Knowingly violating rules related to hazardous materials = $450 fine and up to $50,000 per violation

  • Operating a CMV in interstate commerce after receiving a final unsatisfactory safety rating = $25,000 fine per day.


A rather long and tedious process goes into adopting a new FMCSA regulation. They don’t simply appear overnight. The process to get a regulation adopted is best described in 5 main steps:

  1. The FMCSA must first have the authority to write a new rule. The way they get this authority is from statutes (laws)

  2. Just because the FMCSA has the authority to write a new rule does not mean they will do so. The rulemaking process generally begins with some type of specific need or mandate for a new rule. This generally comes in the form of the agency identifying a problem that needs fixing but Congress, the public, or other government agencies could indicate to the FMCSA that a new rule should be proposed for a particular need

  3. Once a need is identified, the next step is usually a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register, which is a legal newspaper for the federal government. Generally, the public gets 30 to 60 days to comment

  4. The NPRM is placed in the public docket

  5. After the comment period closes, the FMCSA decides whether to publish a Final Rule (if that occurs, it will take around 30-60 days after publication to go into effect), issue a new or modified proposal or withdraw the proposal entirely. Therefore, at a minimum, it would take a couple of months for a new rule to go into effect.


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) define on-duty time as “all time from the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing the work.” This on-duty time includes:

  1. All time at a plant, terminal facility, or other property of a motor carrier or shipper, or on any public property, waiting to be dispatched, unless the driver has been relieved from duty by his or her employer.

  2. All time inspecting, servicing, or conditioning any CMV at any time.

  3. All CMV driving time.

  4. All-time in or on a CMV, other than: time spent resting in or on a parked vehicle, time spent resting in a sleeping berth, or up to two hours riding in the passenger seat of a property-carrying vehicle moving on the highway immediately before or after a period of at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth.

  5. All time related to unloading or loading a CMV.

  6. All time repairing, obtaining assistance, or remaining in attendance upon a disabled CMV.

  7. All time spent providing a breath or urine specimen (including the time traveling to the collection site).

  8. Performing any other work in the capacity, employ, or service of a motor carrier.

  9. Performing any compensated work for a person who is not a motor carrier.

It is noteworthy to mention that the FMCSRs do not explicitly define “off-duty” but it generally includes the 3 exceptions mentioned above (resting in a parked vehicle, sleeping berth, two hours in the passenger seat).


The regulations define an accident as an occurrence involving a commercial motor vehicle on a highway in interstate or intrastate commerce which results in any of the following:

  • A fatality

  • An injury to a person requiring immediate treatment away from the scene of the accident

  • Disabling damage to any vehicle requiring it to be towed from the scene.

Furthermore, the term “accident” does not include an occurrence which involves only:

  • boarding or existing from a stationary vehicle

  • the loading or unloading of a vehicle’s cargo

  • Or the operation of a non-CMV passenger car by a motor carrier, as long as passengers are not being transported for-hire.

To further clarify the definition, the regulations define highway, fatality, and disabling damage. The regulations define a highway as any road, street, or way (whether on public or private property) open to public travel– open public travel means the road of way is available and passable by four-wheel standard passenger cars and is open to the general public.

Additionally, a fatality is defined as any injury that results in the death of a person at the time of the accident or within 30 days of the accident. Lastly, disabling damage is defined as vehicle damage that prevents a vehicle from leaving the scene of the accident in its usual manner in daylight after simple repairs.

After a driver has been in an accident, the employer motor carrier must maintain an accident register for three years after the date of each accident. The information included in the accident register must include the date of accident, city or town where the accident occurred and the state where the accident occurred, the driver’s name, the number of injuries and fatalities, and whether hazardous materials other than fuel spilled from the fuel tanks.

It’s also important to note that employer motor carriers are NOT required to report CMV accidents to the FMCSA.


All motor carriers are required to check into the employment history of each new driver they employ. This background check must be completed and documented within 30 days of the date employment begins. The investigation into the driver’s background may be completed by any means deemed appropriate, including but not limited to, personal interviews, telephone interviews, and letters. The FMCSA outlines a 6-step background checking process. These steps include:

  1. A driver with a Department of Transportation (DOT)-regulated employment within the past 3 years must be informed that they have the ability to review the information provided by the previous employers and the opportunity to correct that information.

  2. The hiring employer must contact each DOT-regulated employer who employed the driver in the previous three years and request general employment data about the driver, information regarding any accidents involving the applicant, and any drug/alcohol violations for applicants who were subject to the DOT drug/alcohol test.

  3. Previous employers must respond within 30 days and keep a record of the response for one year.

  4. The hiring employer must file the investigation results within 30 days of employment.

  5. The hiring employer must keep a written record of each previous employer.

  6. The applicant has the opportunity to contest the information given by the previous employer and either request the correction or submit a rebuttal.


Every self-propelled CMV, as well as every unit of intermodal equipment, must be marked with identifying information. Proper markings must include:

  • The legal name or a single trade name of the motor carrier operating the CMV.

  • The letters “USDOT” followed by the carrier USDOT identification number.

All of this information must be on both sides of the self-propelled vehicle, be in a color that contrasts sharply with the background, and be legible during daylight hours from a distance of 50 feet while the CMV is stopped.

Furthermore, the required markings can be painted or applied as a decal or be displayed on a removable device such as a magnetic sign. As long as the markings meet the standards, you are good to go. Using a removable device such as a magnetic sign would be beneficial for vehicles that are not normally considered CMV’s unless they are pulling a trailer. If the name of any person other than the operating carrier appears on the CMV, then the information just mentioned must be preceded by the words “operated by” so that enforcement personnel can quickly determine who is operating the vehicle.


If you are renting or leasing the CMV for more than 30 days you must obey the marking standards just discussed. However, if you are renting or leasing the CMV for less than 30 days the vehicle can be marked with either the renter’s information as described previously OR the owner’s information, as long as the lease agreement contains the information required and is carried in the vehicle.