Seasoned commercial truck drivers are well-versed in the purpose and mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). For those new to the world of commercial truck driving, consider this your guide to one of the most important administrations in the field.
History of the FMCSA
The FMCSA was instituted under the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 to prevent commercial motor vehicle (CMV)-related fatalities and injuries. Since January 1, 2000, the administration has operated within the Department of Transportation. Prior to the new millennium, the FMCSA was part of the Federal Highway Administration.
The goal of the FMCSA is to strengthen and improve commercial vehicle safety, equipment and operating standards in the U.S.
Functions of the FMCSA
The FMCSA has been charged with an extensive list of duties, including:
- Ensuring safety in motor carrier operations through strong enforcement of safety regulations
- Improving safety information systems and CMV technologies
- Strengthening CMV equipment and operating standards
- Increasing safety awareness
To accomplish its duties, the FMCSA works with federal, state and local enforcement agencies, the motor carrier industry, labor and safety interest groups and others.
How the FMCSA Affects Truck Drivers
Truck drivers need more than a personal vehicle driver’s license to operate CMVs because these vehicles require more knowledge and experience and a different set of skills to operate than a typical driver needs to safely drive a commuter vehicle. These specialty licenses are classified as commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs).
Although the FMCSA does not directly issue CDLs, it does set the federal standards that state licensing bureaus must follow to legally provide them to applicants. CMV drivers have been required to obtain a CDL since April 1992, though the standards have evolved with new technology and operations.
States may only issue a CDL to CMV drivers after they have passed state-administered knowledge and skills tests relating to the type of vehicle the driver intends to operate. Truck drivers are required to hold a CDL if they:
- Operate in interstate, intrastate or foreign commerce
- Drive a vehicle that matches CMV classifications
Classes of CDLs
Not all CMVs are alike, which is why there are three different classes of CDLs.
A driver operating any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 10,000 pounds, will need a Class A license.
Drivers operating a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a GVWR of less than 10,000 pounds, must obtain a Class B license.
Class C drivers can drive any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet the Class A or B definitions but is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or hazardous material.
If a driver’s employer requires them to operate special types of CMVs, the driver must pass additional tests to obtain the required endorsements.
Effect on Motor Carriers
The companies that truck drivers work for must also comply with FMCSA motor carrier safety standards and commercial regulations. All companies intending to use CMVs must register with the FMCSA and define the type of operation they plan to establish. Their self-classification will determine which registration requirements (safety and/or operating authority) they must complete before using CMVs for business.
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