Are you telling me that a pickup truck can be subject to trucking safety regulations? When most people think of a trucking case, they think of a case involving an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, not a pickup truck pulling a landscape trailer or even a local delivery box truck. Yet, under many circumstances, smaller vehicles that don’t even require a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate can be subject to most of the same trucking safety regulations as are 18-wheelers. Unfortunately, too many lawyers don’t understand how or when commercial motor vehicle safety regulations apply and as a result those lawyers miss tremendous case-building opportunities.
The purpose of this short article is to raise awareness about these too frequently missed “trucking cases.” To that end, we will start with an explanation of what constitutes a “commercial motor vehicle”. Then, we will analyze the difference between regulations that apply to drivers and companies running commercial motor vehicles that require a CDL to operate versus those that apply to drivers and companies running commercial motor vehicles for which a CDL is not required to operate. Along the way, we will discuss a few a tips for handling these cases.
Commercial Motor Vehicle Defined
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and state trucking safety regulations govern the operation of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).1 But, what is a commercial motor vehicle? Most people think of CMVs as those vehicles for which a driver needs a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to legally operate. Yet, there is an entire segment of smaller vehicles that meet a lesser known definition of commercial motor vehicle . A CDL is not required to operate these smaller vehicles, but they are governed by most of the trucking safety regulations.
In this article, we are focusing only on property-carrying commercial motor vehicles. We won’t be covering other types of commercial motor vehicles such as those that carry passengers or those that carry hazardous materials. Even so, please not that most of the same regulations as those discussed herein apply to the operation of those vehicles as well, whether a CDL is required to operate those vehicles or not.
The FMCSRs actually contain two distinct definitions of what constitutes a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle. What regulations apply to a particular operation depends on which definition is satisfied.
The first definition, found at 49 CFR Section 390.5, defines a commercial motor vehicle as any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce…(that) has aGross Vehicle Weight Rating or Gross Combination Weight Rating of 10,0001 pounds or more. The second definition, found at 49 CFR Section 383.5, defines a commercial motor vehicle as a vehicle used in interstate or intrastate commerce that has 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.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is what a vehicle manufacturer defines as the vehicles loaded weight. This weight is usually printed on a plate inside the driver’s door. For reference, most passenger cars (even large ones) have a GVWR of less than 5000 pounds and full-sized pickup trucks can have GVWRs in the range of 6000 to 8000 pounds. Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) is the GVWR of the power unit (towing vehicle) plus the total weight of the towed unit (with any load thereon).
So let’s put this together. A business vehicle, that either alone or in combination with a trailer, weighs more than 10,001 pounds, can be considered a commercial motor vehicle. This means that a 7000 pound pickup truck pulling a 3001 pound trailer can meet the definition of a commercial motor vehicle. A CDL is not typically required to operate CMVs that are under 26,001 pounds.
Practice point: Whenever you have a case that involves any vehicle that is towing a trailer, make sure you determine the Gross Combination Weight Rating. You could be dealing with a commercial motor vehicle. Remember, commercial motor vehicle crash cases are not the same as regular car crash cases. Don’t miss the applicable regulations.
So, the question becomes what regulations apply to drivers operating CMVs between 10,001 pounds and 26,000 pounds (non-CDL) versus drivers operating CMVs weighing over 26,001 pounds (CDL).
“Applying Trucking Safety Regulations to Small Commercial Motor Vehicles” will be continued in the next e-newsletter.
Continued from 2018 Newsletter, Issue 3
Step 6: Carrier History – Another helpful page is titled “Carrier History.” This link is also found at the bottom right of the page. This page provides a more summarized history of violations, but it goes back further than 24 months. Unfortunately, safety ratings on the different BASIC categories are no longer published by the FMCSA. This is where you’d see their safety rating history for each category.
Step 7: Penalty History – Just above the menu I’ve referred to, on the bottom right of the page, there is a Penalty History section. It’s usually blank. However, when an entry exists, it will also describe the amount of the penalty and it will cite the specific regulations for which they were penalized. These can be especially helpful if they match a regulation that is relevant to your case.
Step 8: Data Spreadsheet – The fun stuff! I will do my best to give good instructions, but some knowledge of Excel wil go a long way. Open up the Excel spreadsheet. There are several pages in the document: Overview, Violation Summary, Inspections, Crashes, and Acute-Critical Violations.
(c) Crashes: this page not only shows crashes and their dates, but also how many people were injured and killed in each crash, the tractor and trailer involved, and some basic information about the roadway conditions. Again, filtering the data by VIN # can give you a history on your tortfeasor. Aside from the obvious notice argument, this information can be very useful when drafting pleadings and motions to show the reader how much harm the defendant has caused, beyond your case.
On a recent response to a motion for confidentiality I started my memorandum with “Ryder operates over 5,000 tractor-trailers all over the country, traveling approximately half a billion miles per year. In the last two years, these Ryder trucks were involved in more than 372 crashes, injured at least 147 people and killed 14 others. This case arises out of one of these fatalities, where a Ryder tractor-trailer ran over and killed Michael R. Basso.”
(d) Acute-Critical: I have not had the chance to find much on this page. This would usually involve instances of investigations into the motor carrier. These violations prioritize a carrier for intervention. You can find these violations in 49 CFR 385 Appendix B.