Editor’s note: Written by Slawomir Platta, principal and trial attorney at The Platta Law Firm. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
Virtually every business is subject to rules and regulations imposed by federal and/or state agencies, and the trucking industry is no exception. With the health and safety of so many people at risk, it’s imperative that truck drivers, as well as other commercial vehicles, adhere to the laws put in place to protect the public.
The primary organization that oversees the trucking industry is The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA. It is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FMCSA enforces nationwide rules, including the size and weight restrictions of different commercial vehicles, the number of hours truckers can drive in a specific time period and proper labeling and delivery of hazardous materials.
It’s not just tractor-trailers or semi-trucks that must meet the requirements of commercial vehicle laws. In most cases, any truck with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds or more that is used for business purposes is typically considered a commercial vehicle and therefore subject to a variety of trucking regulations.
Federal vs. State Regulations
While all commercial truck drivers are legally obligated to follow federal laws on roads and highways, states may also impose specific regulations on vehicles traveling within their borders. Failure to comply with these industry regulations is usually considered an act of negligence, which can result in significant fines and legal consequences, especially when an infraction creates an accident. Truckers doing business across state lines and even within local municipalities need to be aware of the rules and regulations that may affect them.
Intrastate truck drivers must abide by these state-specific guidelines when entering or traveling through the state. Here are just a few examples of how trucking regulations vary by state.
DUI Laws: Arizona
Arizona has one of the strictest laws for truck drivers found guilty of DUI. In this state, a first-time offense can result in a minimum of 10-days in jail, a 990-day license suspension, and fines ranging between $250 to $1,000. For a third conviction, Arizona imposes an automatic felony with 2.5 years jail time, three years license suspension, and $750 to $1,750 in additional charges.
Chain Laws: Colorado
As any trucker will tell you, roads can get treacherous during the winter months. While many states require commercial vehicles to use chains for better traction, Colorado seems to have the strictest chain law in the U.S. To comply with the state’s regulations, truckers must chain up on the four drive tires in the event of dangerous winter driving conditions. Colorado fines truckers $500 plus a $79 surcharge for not installing chains when required. It fines drivers $1,000 plus a $157 surcharge for blocking a road. Colorado’s commercial vehicle chain law applies to every state, federal and interstate highway within the state’s borders.
CDL Class A – Age Restrictions: New York
Due to supply chain delays and an aging workforce, the need for new commercial truck drivers is greater than ever. To get more Class A commercial vehicles on the road, the state of New York has recently implemented a new law, which now allows those aged 18-20 to acquire a CDL Class A license so they can drive tractor-trailers and other large commercial vehicles on the state’s roads and highways. Prior to this law coming into effect, drivers had to be at least 21 years of age to legally operate a semi-truck within the state of New York.
Cargo Securement: Washington, North Carolina
A major aspect of drivers’ safety involves securing their freight load while in transit. Whether transporting a load of rock, dirt, livestock or race cars, the load must be always fully secure. However, the laws can differ greatly when it comes to enforcing these rules. For example, some states have strict and specific laws when it comes to addressing cargo spillage.
Truckers hauling freight in Washington could be charged with a gross misdemeanor by failing to comply with state commercial cargo securement laws. North Carolina is another state with broad and unique securement rules. In the Tar Heel State, there are laws specifically for securing cargo transported for the NASCAR industry.
Vehicle Emissions: California
It’s no surprise that California enforces the strictest emission regulations. To improve the air quality throughout the state—especially in the Los Angeles area—the state has imposed tough laws over the years to dramatically reduce vehicle emissions.
Perhaps no law is bolder than the one set forth in 2020. The California Air Resources Board implemented a first-in-the-world rule requiring truck manufacturers to move from diesel trucks to electric zero-emission trucks starting in 2024. The Golden State takes the initiative even further, calling for every new truck sold in California to be zero-emission by 2045. It’s a forward-thinking move that sets a clean-truck standard not just for the U.S., but for the world as well.
While the above examples present just a brief sampling of the varying rules and regulations for commercial truckers, it demonstrates the disparities that exist from one state to the next. It is the responsibility of trucking company ownership and personnel to fully understand and abide by the state and federal laws. This listing of regulations can better help you identify the unique laws imposed on drivers operating commercial vehicles in specific regions of the country.
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