Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Overview

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was established within the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2000 (encoded in 49 U.S.C. 113) with the task of preventing serious injuries and deaths related to commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). CMVs tend to be much heavier, haul heavy loads, carry multiple passengers, or otherwise present elevated risks of injury, so  require special regulations. They are related to but different than "common carriers" like commercial airplanes or subways, since CMVs are used for commerce, but not directly available to the general public.

The FMCSA is responsible for drafting and enforcing CMV safety regulations; keeping high-risk carriers and drivers off the roads; improving access to safety information and new technologies; and increasing awareness about safety. This article provides an overview of the FMCSA and its main functions.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at a Glance

The FMCSA's primary mission is to reduce collisions, injuries, and deaths relating to large trucks and buses. The agency achieves this goal mainly through research; investigation of crashes; enforcement of regulations; compliance audits for drivers and trucking companies; and similar activities. For example, the FMCSA started a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners in 2014 that requires physicians evaluating interstate CMV drivers to complete specialized training. The agency also has done extensive research into driver fatigue, issuing "hours of service" regulations intended to provide drivers with sufficient rest periods and time off.

The agency has field offices throughout the country that can take your questions about FMCSA regulations.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program of the FMCSA provides compliance audits and maintains an enforcement system for keeping problem drivers off the roads. Specifically, the CSA program is divided into seven areas of focus:

In addition, the FMCSA provides an online complaint form for members of the public to call with any safety, service, or discrimination issues with a CMV.

How are Commercial Motor Vehicles Defined?

Generally, CMVs are those used for business purposes, such as chartered buses, large delivery trucks, and 18-wheel semis. Commercial vehicle drivers are required to carry a commercial driver's license, which is more restrictive than a basic driver's license. For example, most states have adopted FMCSA guidance by setting the blood-alcohol limit for commercial drivers at .04 percent.

The DOT defines "commercial motor vehicle" as a vehicle (or a combination of vehicles) "used in commerce to transport passengers or property" that meets any of the following criteria:

  1. Combined weight of at least 26,001 pounds (including a towed unit weighing at least 10,000 pounds);
  2. Designed to transport at least 16 passengers (including the driver); or
  3. Is of any size and is used to transport hazardous materials

Keep in mind that state definitions of commercial vehicles may differ from the federal definition for compliance purposes. For example, the definition of CMVs in Illinois does not include vehicles designed to transport passengers and is based primarily on the weight of the vehicle. Regardless, federal regulations apply to any CMVs involved in interstate commerce.

Get a Free Legal Evaluation of Your CMV-Related Issue

Whether you have a dispute over a regulation or enforcement action by the FMCSA, or just need some additional legal guidance as a CMV driver, you may want to consider speaking with an attorney. You can get started today by having a local attorney review your legal situation at absolutely no charge.

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