A commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is one that operates for commercial, or business, purposes. Rather than a driver operating a vehicle for personal reasons, a commercial driver operates a vehicle for business. Commercial vehicles may carry products or passengers. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a commercial motor vehicle must also meet specific weight requirements. The FMCSA and other organizations have laws in place specifically for CMVs.
Defining a Commercial Motor Vehicle
Most drivers know that big rigs, or 18-wheeler tractor-trailers, are commercial vehicles. They may not, however, equate smaller trucks and vans with CMVs. Yet even a standard pickup truck towing a trailer could be a commercial vehicle depending on its weight. The general definition of a commercial motor vehicle has several parts under the FMCSA.
- A self-propelled or towed vehicle used to transport goods or passengers, with
- A gross vehicle weight rating or combination weight rating of 26,001 points or more, or
- Seats to transport more than eight passengers for money, or
- Seats to transport more than 15 passengers, not for money, or
- A bed or trailer to transport a large quantity of hazardous material.
Understanding which vehicles receive the commercial motor vehicle designation is important, as it means the owner/operator must comply with specific laws. Driving a vehicle that classifies as a CMV without taking the proper steps could lead to legal trouble. Buses and some vans qualify as commercial motor vehicles, as do large trucks and some tow trucks. Other types of CMVs include garbage trucks, delivery trucks, cement trucks, flatbed trucks and vehicles that transport passengers.
Commercial Driver’s License Requirements
Most commercial motor vehicles require matching commercial driver’s licenses to lawfully operate them. A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a special class of license a driver can obtain after certain tests and training. Drivers must pass knowledge (written) and skills (driving) tests to obtain CDLs in Texas. The skills test must involve a commercial vehicle similar to the one the driver plans on operating. Holding a commercial driver’s license comes with unique rules and regulations for drivers.
- May only drive an approved CMV depending on the class of the license
- Intrastate vs. interstate commerce depending on the license
- Hours of service regulations
- Legal blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.04%
- Required endorsements for certain DMVs and/or cargo
- Medical certification requirement
Some commercial motor vehicles do not require CDLs under Texas law. For example, the state Department of Public Safety does not require a commercial driver’s license to operate military vehicles, farm vehicles, fire trucks, emergency vehicles, air-carrier owned vehicles or recreational vehicles the owner only drives for personal use. The state will instead require a Class A or Class B noncommercial license depending on the vehicle.
Breaching CMV Requirements
Commercial motor vehicles come with a greater number of regulations than standard vehicles. CMVs must uphold federal laws under the FMCSA, as well as special state laws in Texas. Operators must purchase special commercial vehicle insurance, for example. CMVs must fall under a certain weight or else move into a different class. A commercial vehicle owner needs to realize he or she has a CMV. Otherwise, the driver could accidentally break a rule and face legal repercussions, such as driver’s license suspension or fines.
If a commercial vehicle owner or operator breaches any state or federal rules, he or she could be guilty of negligence. Breaking CMV regulations could cause an accident. In this case, the negligent party could be liable for damages. The driver or vehicle owner may have to pay fines from the Department of Transportation, as well as reimburse the victim for economic and noneconomic damages. Liability for a commercial vehicle accident could go to the driver, the vehicle owner or the company.