CMV Guidelines: Stay in DOT Compliance with the Ever-Changing Regulation Landscape

Did you know that if you drive a truck or a truck/trailer combination that weighs 10,001 lbs or more, you need to comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, or FMCSRs?

Donlen experts know explicitly what you as a fleet manager need to look out for on and off the road to make sure you stay in compliance with the Department of Transportation (DOT), which enforces the CMV regulations put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

According to the FMCSA, there are two types of Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMV).

Donlen’s Manager of Regulatory Compliance Laura Hopewell explains the distinction below.

Definition One

Section 390.5

Commercial motor vehicle means any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle—

(1) Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or

(2) Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or

(3) Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or

(4) Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C

Definition Two

Commercial motor vehicle means a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property if the vehicle—

(1) Has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), whichever is greater; or

(2) Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 or more pounds), whichever is greater; or

(3) Is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or

(4) Is of any size and is used in the transportation of materials found to be hazardous for the purposes of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (49 U.S.C. 5103(b)) and which require the motor vehicle to be placarded under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR part 172, subpart F).

Now that you know whether the vehicle you operate qualifies as a CMV, we can talk about the important regulations you need to follow.

Regulations at a Glance

Before we get into these regulations, here are some important distinctions to know:

If you are involved in interstate travel, you cross state lines in the course of business. If you are involved in intrastate travel, you do not leave the base state where your vehicle is licensed and garaged. The definition of CMV may vary slightly between states for intrastate safety regulations, so refer to your state-specific definition of CMV if you are involved in intrastate commerce.

The Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) refers to the maximum operating weight of a vehicle, its passengers, cargo and everything else in or attached to the vehicle. It does not include the weight of any trailers. The Gross Combined Vehicle Weight (GCVW) refers to the GVW plus the weight of any trailers (and anything in or attached to the trailer). When looking at CMV regulations, we group vehicles into two classes of GVW/GCVW: vehicles over 10,000 lbs. but less than 26,000 lbs., and vehicles at or exceeding 26,000 lbs.

The International Registration Plan (IRP) allows vehicles that are registered with IRP-assigned license plates to freely cross state lines no matter the vehicle’s weight.

The International Fuel Tax Agreement is an agreement among most U.S. states (excluding Alaska, Hawaii and the District of Columbia) and Canadian provinces (excluding the Canadian territories) that simplifies fuel tax reporting for CMVs involved in interstate commerce.

Base Plate Registration (BPR) refers to the required license plates for CMVs involved in intrastate commerce, and therefore only applies to vehicles operating in a single jurisdiction.

The term “hazmat” refers to hazardous materials when used in the context of CMV regulations and guidelines.

Keep these terms in mind as we go over these basic CMV regulations.


As detailed above, there are a few basic requirements that CMVs and their equipment must follow. All CMVs must remain in compliance with regular inspections and repair and maintenance guidelines. They must also comply with guidelines for carrying standard equipment and emergency equipment as required by industry. The equipment in these categories will vary based on the type of commerce or business a CMV is involved in.

CMVs in the 26,000+ lbs. category must possess IFTA and IRP registration. CMVs in the 10,001-26,000 lbs. category have the option of IRP registration if involved in interstate commerce.

For all CMVs, regardless of weight, that are involved in hazmat transportation, drivers must possess hazmat endorsements on their license/CDL. All CMVs must also have appropriate placards and oversize permits.

Commercial-Motor-Vehicle-Drivers (1)

This chart shows the basic requirement guidelines for CMV drivers, which can also change based on the size/weight of your CMV. All CMV drivers are required to meet Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) standards; undergo pre-employment drug and alcohol testing; possess a medical card; pass the required road evaluation; and must report any minor or major road violations to their company (Violation Accountability). They must also maintain records according to DOT guidelines and comply with guidelines regarding audits.

Drivers of CMVs over 26,000 lbs. must hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and must maintain driver logs. Drivers of CMVs under 26,001 lbs. must also keep driver logs, though exemptions apply to a 100-mile radius (check section 395.3-8 of the FMCSRs or call Donlen for more information). Drivers of CMVs under 26,001 lbs. should also confirm base jurisdiction license requirements for their vehicle’s weight class.

Hazardous Material

There are specific regulations regarding the transport of hazmat in CMVs that the above charts don’t cover.

Remember that when transporting a hazardous material that requires placarding, the licensing, endorsements, and drug and alcohol requirements along with the regulations in Parts 390 through 396 apply.

Flexible Solutions for Your Fleet's Needs

The regulations for CMVs are constantly changing. Donlen structures our fleet solutions to be flexible and adaptable to your needs. Donlen’s regulatory compliance experts will keep you informed of any and all changes that may affect your fleet.

Donlen offers a number of Truck and Equipment FMSCA Solutions, including: 

  • Permitting
  • License and Registration
  • Fuel Tax Reporting/IFTA
  • Maintenance Record Management

Our Driver FMSCA Solutions include:

  • Driver Qualification File Management
  • Driver Log Audits
  • Driver Vehicle Inspection Report Tracking
  • Periodic Inspection Tracking
  • Consulting and Training

For more information about regulatory compliance and the DOT compliance solutions we offer, contact us.


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