Let us start with a story. A few years back, I worked as a consultant with a granite sales and installation company in Washington State. They have twelve CDL drivers and around 30 installers that drive Ford trucks and pulled trailers. They have multiple locations in multiple states but do most installations within the same State from where they dispatched their installers. One afternoon I get a call, their driver was delayed at the border of Washington and Idaho for no medical card, truck not being correctly marked, and no annual inspection. The company was completely confused by these violations. The driver was placed out of service and the company had to send someone to get the truck and the driver.

So, what happened? The company was not aware that they were operating a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce.

The truth is this is not the first time I have seen this in my career, and it usually involves service providers, installers, or salespeople driving regular trucks and pulling trailers. A driver salesperson or an installer is subject to federal regulations when they cross state lines. Many times, the company these drivers work for has no idea their drivers are operating a commercial vehicle.

Back to the question, what is a commercial vehicle? A commercial motor vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or combined weight rating of 10,001 or more. This definition includes (as my example above shows) small truck & trailer combinations, like a Ford 450 pulling a trailer.

The federal regulations state (FMCSR’s 390.5 – Definitions) a CDL is required if the truck driver is operating a commercial vehicle that is GVWR over 26,001 lbs. The definition also includes drivers with only a class A license, but driving straight trucks or box trucks and truck/trailer combinations between 10,001 lbs and 26,001 lbs.

This definition would include my example of the installer. Yes, this installer must only carry a regular driver’s license (Class A), but they are still operating a commercial vehicle, so they are subject to driver qualification requirements under the FMCSR’s

So, what exceptions may apply to this? State laws may be the exception for your fleet. Every State can create its own rules or adopt federal regulations.

How do you, as a fleet operator, know what rule set to follow? First, determine if you are an intrastate or interstate operation.

In the example above, the truck/trailer combination, the driver/installer had been operating within the State and never had an issue because they had never left the State of Washington. He was technically an intrastate driver who became an interstate driver once he crossed state lines.
A truck is defined as an interstate commercial vehicle once it crossed state lines, or the freight originated, or the freights destination is across state lines. The installer/salesperson may not have an actual load, but they are acting in commerce, and if driving across state lines, this is an interstate commerce transaction.

Traditional trucking less than truckload, or truckload, freight is always interstate if it was picked up or delivered to a port, railyard, or airport. The other way to determine if you are an interstate is if the shipping papers show the beginning or ending destination is in a different state. All carriers that haul placarded hazmat are also interstate operations and follow the FMCSR’s and all the requirements that go with it.

I do not have any way to back up my next statement. Per a conversation I had last spring with a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Investigator, I believe all Amazon freight is also considered interstate.

What is intrastate? Intrastate freight originates in the same State as the destination. The driver hauling the cargo cannot cross state lines during transit.

To summarize, if you are operating a vehicle with a weight rating of over 10,001 lbs, and the following applies, it is interstate commerce.
• The freight crosses state lines.
• The freight is hazardous material with placards.
• The freight originates or ends outside the state,
• The freight begins or ends at a port of some type,
• Is Amazon freight
If any of the above applies, you are operating in interstate commerce and are subject to the Federal Safety Administration Regulations.

If you don’t meet any of the above requirements, then you are likely intrastate operations. You should check your local state regulations to determine if they adopted the federal laws or if the state regulations are different. States like California have distinctly different interstate and intrastate requirements, so checking with your state regardless is a good step to adhere to state and federal laws.

I hope this provides a little clarification of a commercial vehicle and interstate versus intrastate. So, what happened to my example fleet? They ended up getting audited a few months later and received a conditional safety rating. That is what happens when you do not know the definition of a commercial motor vehicle.

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