What Is a Commercial Vehicle?

commercial driver laws

What Is a Commercial Vehicle?

People tend to think of semi trucks as the only commercial vehicles. However, size does not necessarily matter when it comes to this classification. Many types of vehicles fall under the commercial rating depending on their use and other defining factors.

A commercial motor vehicle operates more than 50% of the time for business purposes to move products and passengers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration defines the regulations and requirements for these methods of transport. Several characteristics qualify a car or truck as a commercial vehicle, including:

  • Gross vehicle weight rating: This refers to the maximum safe operating weight as defined by the manufacturer. This rating includes the net weight of the vehicle, fuel, cargo, drivers and passengers. The GVWR does not change after the initial determination made by the manufacturer. You typically find this rating information listed on a sticker inside the vehicle’s door. Automobiles that weigh less than 10,000 pounds but have a rating that is a higher number are considered commercial vehicles. Vehicles over this weight must stop at state weigh and inspection stations.
  • Gross combination weight: An automobile that tows something making a combined total weight of 10,001 pounds or more qualifies as a commercial vehicle.
  • Interstate commerce: This refers to any truck or car that conducts interstate commerce or transports goods across state lines.
  • Passengers: Automobiles intended to take 16 or more travelers must comply with commercial laws.
  • Passengers for compensation: A car that carries more than eight passengers for payment is a commercial vehicle. 
  • Hazardous materials: Certain quantities of dangerous materials require you to display a special placard. Regardless of size, any motor vehicle that moves substances deemed hazardous by the government is a commercial vehicle.

What Are Some Examples of Commercial Vehicles?

As outlined above, any vehicle used for commercial purposes may become subject to commercial regulations. Commercial cars and trucks may include:

  • Pickup trucks
  • Passenger vehicles
  • Buses, including school and church buses
  • Cargo vans
  • Garbage trucks
  • Cement mixers
  • Moving vans
  • Farming and construction vehicles
  • Fire trucks and emergency vehicles
  • Food trucks

So, a pickup truck or sport utility vehicle that you purchased for personal use may become a commercial vehicle and subject to those regulations if you also use it to haul products or materials for a business. You may avoid potential problems down the road by consulting a lawyer to help you determine the proper classification.

What Should You Know About Commercial Vehicle Laws? 

The FMCSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation regulate these laws. Understanding and following these regulations is vital to protect yourself from legal claims in the event of an accident. Speak with a lawyer with expertise regarding commercial driver laws to understand which of the following regulations you must follow.

Maximum Weight

The truck or car’s size determines the maximum amount of weight it can haul. You must carefully follow the weight guidelines as an overloaded truck is dangerous.

Quality Control

Regulations in both the manufacturing and maintenance of commercial vehicles help keep the cars in working order. You must inspect and repair brakes and other systems to ensure the driver can safely operate the automobile or truck on the road. Failure to conduct regular examinations could result in dangerous driving conditions and subsequent accidents.

Commercial Driver’s Licenses

Driving a commercial motor vehicle requires specialized skills and experience. Many large commercial vehicles require the driver to obtain a commercial driver’s license. Drivers lacking the proper permits may negatively affect a legal case against you in the event of a collision or accident. Owners must ensure drivers have the right license for the vehicle they drive. Without this, both the owners and the drivers could face legal consequences.

These requirements are in a particular class of licenses drivers obtain after passing written and handling tests. Commercial driver’s licenses have specific rules and laws regarding the following:

  • Interstate and intrastate commerce
  • Legal blood alcohol concentration limit
  • The type of vehicles a driver may operate
  • Medical certifications
  • Endorsement requirements for cargo

Hazardous Waste

Various laws and guidelines dictate the safe transport of hazardous materials. Substances may include flammable or corrosive petroleum products or other dangerous chemicals. Failure to follow the rules about this type of carrier may result in accidents, property or environmental damages, injuries or death.

Hours of Service

This rule manages the amount of time someone may continuously operate a commercial vehicle. The federal government regulates rest requirements and limits driving time to ensure safe conditions on the road. Commercial drivers may only be on duty a maximum of 14 hours within 24 hours.

Accident Liability

The vehicle type determines many important variables after a collision, such as who is liable for the damages, how authorities investigate the accident and what rights you have as the driver or owner.

Accidents involving commercial vehicles may result in legal claims. States may have specific laws that regulate which automobiles are considered commercial in lawsuits. Commercial vehicles have more regulations than personal cars. Under this classification, automobiles and trucks must adhere to federal laws under the FMCSA as well as the unique state laws.

Insurance Requirements

If you get in an accident while driving a commercial vehicle for work, your auto insurance will likely not cover the claim. Typically, commercial vehicles used for business require commercial insurance policies. You must understand the classification of your car or truck to obtain adequate coverage.


If operators or owners break any of the rules, they may face negligence claims. When accidents occur, they may be held liable for the resulting property and bodily damages. Without sufficient knowledge of the laws regarding your vehicle, you could be at risk for costly mistakes.

Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer

You do not have to manage the complexities of commercial vehicle laws alone. Consult with a qualified attorney to help you through the details of classification particulars and commercial traffic laws.

Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!

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