FMCSA Rules and Regulations

June 1, 2023

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates commercial motor vehicles in the United States. FMCSA rules and regulations include hours of service for drivers, drug and alcohol testing, vehicle testing, and much more. The agency's accountability and compliance programs are designed to hold trucking companies and drivers accountable for safe driving and other practices.

When drivers or companies choose not to comply with FMCSA regulations, there are significant penalties they may face. These violations are also helpful evidence in a trucking accident personal injury claim. Familiarity with these rules and regulations can help you understand your rights after a truck accident.

What Is the FMCSA?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is a national government agency headquartered in Washington, D.C. However, its rules and regulations reach across the entire nation. The FMCSA is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and regulates the commercial motor vehicle industry.

The agency's primary mission is to keep roadways safe for America's drivers. It seeks to reduce injuries, crashes, and fatalities involving large buses, trucks, and other commercial motor vehicles.

What the FMCSA Regulations Cover

FMCSA rules and regulations cover various commercial truck and motor vehicle activities. These regulations apply at the federal and state levels for most commercial drivers. FMCSA regulations cover each of the following:

Commercial Driver Licensing Requirements

Any truck driver in the U.S. must meet strict qualifications and requirements to drive a commercial vehicle. The FMCSA rules and regulations dictate many conditions these commercial drivers must meet. FMCSA driver licensing regulations require that a driver:

  • Have a state-issued driver's license
  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have at least 20/40 vision or appropriate lenses
  • Pass a driver's road test or equivalent
  • Have good hearing
  • Not have a felony drug, alcohol, or motor vehicle offense on their record
  • Submit to drug and alcohol testing
  • Have a sufficient understanding of the English language to fill out reports and documents, read road signs, and communicate with other road workers

These driver requirements ensure that only safe drivers are handling these massive vehicles on U.S. roadways. Drivers who violate these rules — or companies that hire non-compliant drivers — face significant civil penalties and potential criminal charges.

Required Hours of Service

The FMCSA regulates the number of hours drivers spend on the road. These hours of service (HOS) rules dictate how and when drivers may operate their motor vehicles and when they have duty time and rest periods. This is meant to eliminate the risk of driver fatigue. Many companies push their drivers to work extremely long hours to increase profits. This creates a significant risk of a driver falling asleep behind the wheel and causing a devastating accident.

Commercial motor vehicle operators must log their hours into an electronic logging device, which replaces paper logs. These e-logs connect to a vehicle's engine and automatically report driving time. Companies that fail to follow hours of service guidelines can face severe penalties, but many companies violate these rules anyway.

Equipment, Operation, and Markings of Commercial Motor Vehicles

FMCSA regulations also govern how commercial vehicles are operated and marked and how equipment is installed and used. 

Any company or individual required to have a U.S. DOT number must also mark their vehicles appropriately. Under federal law, a vehicle involved in interstate commerce must have a U.S. DOT number when certain standards apply. 

This is not an exhaustive list, but a vehicle needs a U.S. DOT number when it:

  • Is used to transport quantities or types of hazardous materials that require special safety markings and permits
  • Has a gross weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Is used or designed to transport more than eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation
  • Is used or designed to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, even if it is not used for compensation and is a part of interstate commerce

Many specific requirements apply to commercial motor vehicle carriers. These companies must comply with federal regulations or risk severe penalties.

Drug and Alcohol Consumption

The FMCSA mandates drug and alcohol testing for employees who require a commercial driver's license (CDL). These drug and alcohol regulations name which drivers are subject to testing and when they may be subject to testing. They also specify how drivers must be tested before they are permitted to get behind the wheel of a large motor vehicle.

Under FMCSA drug and alcohol regulations, drivers must be tested for drugs and alcohol in the following situations:

  • If there is reasonable suspicion/cause that the driver is intoxicated
  • Before being hired as a CDL driver
  • When the driver returns to duty
  • After a report of potential drug or alcohol abuse or dependence
  • After an accident or other incident 
  • At random times

Potential Penalties for FMCSA Violations

Violations of FMCSA rules and regulations can result in severe penalties for companies and individuals who violate them. Civil penalties may range from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands. Combined or repeated violations of FMCSA rules may result in millions of dollars in total fines.

Penalties are imposed after a compliance review, investigation, and audit. The FMCSA uses roadside inspections and other investigation techniques to discover and penalize violations. The specific amounts of each violation are subject to yearly change, and adjustments can be found in the Federal Register.

Other potential impacts of a violation include:

  • High out-of-service costs for drivers and trucking companies
  • Continuing fines for recurring violations
  • Criminal charges for certain types of violations
  • Ability to use the violation as evidence in a personal injury lawsuit
  • Loss of CDL driving privileges or motor carrier licenses

Get Help With Your Trucking Accident Personal Injury Claim

Trucking accidents can be devastating. They often lead to severe physical injuries, financial harm, and emotional suffering. If a truck driver or trucking company violated FMCSA regulations and caused your truck accident, the violation may be helpful evidence in your personal injury claim.

At McEdlrew Purtell, our truck accident personal injury lawyers understand FMCSA rules and how they may impact your personal injury claim. Our team can investigate your case to determine fault and prove monetary damages. Our lawyers also work with small law firms or individual practitioners with cases requiring significant funding or knowledge, such as major truck accidents.

Our truck accident attorneys have what it takes to pursue compensation for FMCSA regulation violations. Contact us today for a consultation.