What is a Commercial Motor Vehicle & When Does a Regular Vehicle Qualify?
Most people have a general understanding of what a “commercial motor vehicle” is. The first thing we think of are 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, large box trucks, motor coaches and buses. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), there are two different definitions for a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV).
- Definition One
Section 390.5 of the FMCSRs describes a CMV as any vehicle used in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property with a gross vehicle weight rating, gross combination weight rating, gross vehicle weight, or gross combination weight of 10,001 pounds or more. This definition applies to many types of vehicles, i.e., small package delivery vehicles, pick-up trucks with trailers attached, box trucks, straight trucks, etc. A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is not required to operate this size of vehicle, but those operating this type of vehicle are subject to the regulations in Parts 390 through 396, including: marking these vehicles with the USDOT number, driver qualification file, hours of service, and inspection and maintenance requirements.
- Definition Two
The second definition of a CMV is found in Sections 382.107 and 383.5. This definition applies to motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, or a gross combination weight of 26,001 pounds or more, including a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds. These are generally tractor/trailer vehicles. A CDL is required to operate vehicles over 26,001 pounds along with the regulations in Parts 390 through 396 noted above.
Given these definitions, would you believe that a pickup truck can sometimes be a commercial vehicle? In fact, a pickup truck can be considered a commercial vehicle even though it is not a traditional semi-truck or big-rig truck under certain circumstances. According to the FMCSRs, a commercial vehicle is defined as a motor vehicle that:
“ . . . has 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.” (49 CFR § 383.5(1))
In addition, in 49 CFR § 390.5, there is another definition of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Under that portion of the FMCSRs, a commercial motor vehicle “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.” (49 CFR § 390.5(1)). As provided above, this examines only the gross weight rating of the vehicle in question and not the gross combination weight.
Given these definitions, it’s critically important to remember that a commercial motor (CMV) is not defined by the actual weight — it is defined based on the weight rating.
As such, an ordinary vehicle to be considered a commercial vehicle if any of the below apply:
- Gross vehicle weight rating:If the vehicle itself has a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, that is a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). (49 CFR § 383.5(2)) There is a subtle difference between subsection (1) and subsection (2) of the rule: Sub (1) is the gross combination weight rating whereas sub (2) examines only the gross weight rating of the vehicle in question.
- Transporting passengers: Additionally, if a vehicle is designed to transport passengers, the classification will depend on how many passengers the vehicle is designed to move. If it is designed to move 16 passengers (including the driver), then the vehicle qualifies as a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). (49 CFR § 383.5(3)) This situation commonly arises in cases that involve “jitney” buses, which are typically small buses or vans that transport a limited number of passengers for a low fee. Typically, the industry practice is for jitney drivers to rent the buses or vans from a company for a day.
- Transporting hazardous materials:Finally, vehicles used to transport hazardous materials, as defined in the FMCSRs, also trigger the applicable commercial motor vehicle (CMV) rules. (49 CFR § 383.5(4))
Another way to move an ordinary vehicle into commercial motor vehicle (CMV) territory is to use 49 CFR § 390.5(2). Under that section, a vehicle is a commercial vehicle if “it is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation.” Note the difference between § 383.5(3) and § 390.5(2) — under the latter if compensation is involved then the vehicle need only be designed to transport 8 people as opposed to 16.
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