What are commercial vehicles? While many vehicle used for business purposes can be considered a commercial vehicle, the FMCSA has a narrower definition.
Depending on the kind of vehicle and work, a driver may be required to obtain a commercial driver’s license. Find out more about what’s considered a commercial vehicle and what the FMCSA’s regulations for these vehicles are.
What are commercial vehicles?
A commercial vehicle is used for commercial or business purposes. Commercial motor vehicles (CMV) may transport goods or paying passengers. A commercial vehicle is often designated “commercial” when it is titled or registered to a company. This may include company cars, fleet vehicles, or other vehicles used for business purposes.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which oversees and regulates commercial vehicles, has a narrower definition. The agency defines a CMV as “any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:
- Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 4,537 kg (10,001 lb) or more, whichever is greater.
- Is designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation.
- Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers.
- Is designed for or used in transporting hazardous materials per the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.
Types of commercial vehicles
When designated for business use, many vehicles qualify as commercial vehicles. Here’s an overview of the most common types of commercial vehicles.
Semi-trucks. Semi-trucks are a combination of a tractor unit attached to a trailer or bed using a fifth-wheel connection. They are also called 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers, and big rigs. Semi-trucks include dry vans, reefers, double or triple trailers, and flatbeds. Semi-trucks are used to haul cargo between distribution and fulfillment hubs.
Box trucks. Box trucks or straight trucks look like semi-trucks, but their tractor is directly attached to the trailer without a fifth-wheel connector. Unlike vans, box trucks have their cargo area separate from the vehicle’s cab. Businesses often use them for moving, local deliveries, and hauling large items like furniture and appliances.
Pickup trucks. Most ordinary pickup trucks aren’t automatically considered commercial vehicles. However, sometimes they’re used for commercial purposes, even requiring a commercial driver’s license (CDL) depending on the business. Pickup trucks can transport goods with a trailer and transport tools and equipment for a business.
Step vans. Also called multi-stop or walk-in delivery, these kinds of trucks are known as “bread trucks” or “bakery trucks” colloquially. These vehicles are taller than full-sized vans, making it easier to access goods and stand up in. Parcel companies (including the United States Postal Service), police and fire departments, and food trucks use delivery trucks.
Cargo vans. Cargo vans — also called sprinters — are one-piece vehicles with their cargo area connected to the driver cab. Some larger cargo vans have roll-up rear doors, similar to box trucks. Cargo vans are typically used for plumbing, electrical, cable repair services, and courier and delivery services.
Passenger vans. Full-sized commercial passenger vans can seat anywhere from nine to 15 passengers. They’re used to transport groups of people as part of a service (transporting guests to a parking lot) or as the service itself (travel or tour operations).
Buses. Transit buses are designed to transport large amounts of both paying and non-paying passengers. They are typically part of a city’s transportation network or used for school bus systems. Due to a bus’s size and passenger-carrying capacity, they are almost always considered commercial vehicles, requiring special licensing.
Motor coaches. A motor coach is a more luxurious bus designed to travel long distances. Modern motor coaches are high-floor buses, with luggage storage below the passenger compartment. These passenger vehicles are designed for comfort, with more amenities than regular buses, such as air conditioning, onboard restroom, and reclining seats. Coaches are used for touring and hired as private charters.
Minibus. Also known as shuttle buses, these vehicles have lower passenger capacities than regular buses but more than passenger vans. Due to their smaller, more flexible nature, minibuses are used for both fixed-route transit and on-demand transportation.
Small chartered groups, airport and rental car services, and campus shuttles for corporations and universities use minibuses.
Heavy equipment. Some types of construction, farming, mining equipment and similar heavy vehicles are considered commercial vehicles.
Specialty vehicles. These vehicles have specific functions or designs. For example, government agencies and communities rely on refuse collection, street sweepers, fire trucks, and septic trucks. Tow trucks, passenger trolleys, and RV-style mobile services (bookmobiles, health services) can all be considered commercial vehicles.
Commercial cars. Rental cars, taxis, and delivery vehicles are all considered commercial vehicles. While ride-hailing vehicles (Uber, Lyft) are still considered personal use vehicles, many believe they should be considered commercial vehicles with commercial plates.
How does this affect my claim?
Knowing the kind of vehicle you’re dealing with is important in the event of an accident, as it affects how the collision is investigated, who is at fault, and what rights you have in the face of serious injuries or significant property damage.
The good news is, you don’t have to navigate the complex world of commercial vehicle accidents alone should you find yourself in the middle of it. An experienced attorney will be able to help you through its many details to get the best claim possible. That said, it never hurts to arm yourself with a little extra knowledge of what’s on the road ahead of time.
Fleet vehicles vs. Commercial vehicles
“Fleet vehicles” is a broad term that includes everything from the general definition discussed earlier — e.g., scooters, motorcycles, golf carts, cars, and trucks — as well as other types of vehicles, including bikes and push scooters.
On the other hand, “commercial vehicles” is a more specific term that includes the vehicles from the legal definition discussed in the previous section — e.g., vans, trucks, and semis.
Because of the way these definitions work, a business may operate a fleet without any commercial vehicles.
For example, a pizza delivery business operating in a downtown area might provide its delivery drivers with a fleet of five bikes, 10 scooters, and four golf carts. None of those are commercial vehicles according to the FMCSA.
Commercial vehicle regulations
While all of the vehicles in the previous section may be considered commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), not all are subject to federal motor carrier safety regulations.
For example, based on the FMCSA’s definition of a CMV, taxicabs are not subject to federal regulations.
Similarly, if a vehicle and operator only engage in intrastate commerce, they’ll most likely be subject to only state and local mandates instead of federal laws. Many state requirements, though, are identical to FMCSA regulations.
If a vehicle meets the FMCSA CMV requirements, business owners need to comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) safety regulations regarding:
- Alcohol and controlled substance testing for all persons required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL)
- Driver qualifications (including medical exams)
- Driving and operating CMVs
- Parts and accessories necessary for safe operations
- Hours of service rules
- All inspection, repair, and maintenance of vehicles
Besides these regulations, business owners should be aware of the FMCSA’s requirements for fleet compliance (e.g., vehicle insurance, commercial driver’s license holders, driving records, and accessibility).
Is my truck a commercial vehicle?
You may be wondering: why is my truck considered a commercial vehicle? And, are there any times when an otherwise regular vehicle would be considered commercial?
The following characteristics might render your truck a commercial vehicle:
- Size: When it comes to commercial vehicle classification, much depends on the gross vehicle weight/gross vehicle weight rating. Under federal law, if a vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight (whichever is greater) of more than 10,000 pounds and is used in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property, the vehicle is considered a commercial vehicle.
- Extremely heavy weight: Vehicles that are used in commerce and weigh over 26,000 pounds are not only considered to be commercial vehicles but are typically subject to even more stringent federal and state regulations.
- The number of passengers the vehicle is designed to carry: If your truck is designed to transport more than 8 passengers for compensation, including the driver, then federal law dubs it a commercial vehicle. If it is designed to transport more than 15 passengers, even without compensation, it is also considered commercial.
- The materials you transport: If your truck is designed to carry hazardous materials – as defined by the federal Secretary of Transportation – it is considered a commercial vehicle.
- Your state or local government says so: Every state has its own definition of commercial vehicles, and those definitions can vary. Many states, such as Texas and Florida, define commercial motor vehicles based on their weight and number of axles, but your state or locality might have a weight classification that is different from the federal law.
- The purpose for which you are using your vehicle: in some cases, if you are using your vehicle for a business or commercial purpose, that may mean it needs to be registered and handled as a commercial vehicle. In many cases, this is the way insurance companies define commercial vehicles, as well, which can be an important factor in truck accidents.
What is defined as a commercial vehicle?
Commercial Vehicle (CVC §260)—A commercial vehicle is a vehicle required to be registered which is used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation, or profit or designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property.
What is an example of a commercial vehicle?
Commercial motor vehicles can include trucks, buses, trailers, taxis, heavy equipment, trailers, and travel trailers.
What qualifies as a commercial vehicle in PA?
If either is operating a vehicle or combination of vehicles with a weight rating over 17,001 lbs, they are considered a commercial motor vehicle in Pennsylvania and are subject to Title 49 of the Federal Regulations as well as Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle code.
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