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Many motorists can’t distinguish between an interstate road and an intrastate road. Though they sound very similar, there’s a distinct difference between the two. Interstate roads are those that cross state lines, while intrastate roads do not. While this information may not seem important for the average motorist, those in the trucking industry understand the difference between these types of roads as there are nuanced rules for interstate and intrastate load transportation.

These forms of nuance underline the importance of why carriers must be aware of the many federal and local regulations that exist in order to run a compliant and efficient trucking company. We’re breaking down some of the federal and state laws owner-operators need to keep in mind to stay compliant.

Federal Regulations

A sub-agency of the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is responsible for the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) laws that hold motor carriers accountable for observing safety standards on the road. The following information provides an overview of the FMCSA, its specific regulations, its carrier audit, and how to stay in compliance.

FMCSA Overview

The main goal of the FMCSA is to keep carriers safe on the roads by lessening the number of fatal or injurious crashes that occur. There are federal mandates all CMV operators with large trucks or buses must follow.

These mandates are created in FMCSA’s safety compliance and enforcement program, called Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA). This program uses data from its Safety Measurement System (SMS) to intervene when carriers score high on the Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rating system. This system tracks the number and severity of carrier safety violations by using roadside crash investigation data. Carriers are grouped according to comparable safety incidents and then ranked (the higher the rank, the more at-risk the driver), which helps determine necessary interventions.

SFD scores are percentage-based, with 100% being the worst performance and 0% being the best. As a general rule-of-thumb, if your SFD rank is greater than 65%, you may be at risk for an FMCSA investigation and intervention. Your carrier rating and incident data, in addition to other relevant information (i.e., number of owned CMVs or number of miles traveled), are stored in the SMS, and you can access that information at any time.

While you’re primarily responsible for following FMCSA regulations as a carrier, dispatchers, trainers, supervisors, and trainees, are expected to comply with the law. Federal and local law enforcement help to hold all these parties accountable if a violation happens.

FMCSA Regulations

The data collected from the SMS is organized into Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The BASICs are essentially the FMCSA regulations that all CMVs must follow and include the following:

Unsafe Driving
Common BASICs violations include not wearing a seatbelt, speeding (6-10 mph over), distracted driving (e.g., using a cell phone while driving), and reckless driving (e.g., improper lane changes). After three unsafe driving violations carriers receive a percentile rank.

Crash Indicator
This category includes a carrier’s crash involvement pattern based on frequency and severity. This information can only be seen by law enforcement and by the carrier but is not publicly available. Crashes are typically a consequence of a behavior, which is noted in the crash indicator data. Repeated behaviors resulting in crashes will raise carriers’ percentile rank in this category.

Hours of Service Compliance
Hours of Service (HOS) pertains to the maximum amount of time carriers can be on the road. It includes driving time and the frequency and duration of rest stops. While some states have additional regulations for intrastate travel, there are standard, federally mandated HOS regulations that are universal when driving state-to-state.

Federally mandated HOS regulations include:

  • Driving no more than 11 hours during a 14-hour shift, after 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
  • Drivers are required to take 10 consecutive hours off-duty after 14 consecutive hours of being on-duty.
  • Drivers cannot be on-duty and driving more than 70 hours in an eight-day stretch.
  • Drivers must take a 30 minute break after every eight hours of driving.

Drivers are expected to maintain Records of Duty Status (RODS), which detail HOS. For instance, when you stop for gas, a load check, or a tire check, you must note that in the RODS. If you drive more than the maximum number of hours allowed under HOS regulations or misrepresent RODS information, you’ll receive a citation. A carrier will receive a percentile rank after three service violations.

Read our blog post on ELDs for more information about the Xpress Technologies ELD, which can help you easily track HOS so that you stay compliant.

Vehicle Maintenance
CMV drivers are expected to perform periodic vehicle maintenance to prevent loads from moving around and cargo from tumbling. For example, a carrier must ensure that lamps and reflectors are working and that breaks are functioning properly. You’ll receive this type of roadside violation if loads are damaged as a result of improper vehicle maintenance.

Controlled Substances/Alcohol
Drivers who are impaired due to alcohol or drugs (illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter) violate the terms of BASICs. For instance, if a driver fails an alcohol test (has an alcohol level of .02 or greater) or tests positive for drug use, they will receive a violation, which will be noted in the carrier’s SMS.

If you operate a CMV, you will be required to become part of a random drug testing consortium, which will manage your DOT drug and alcohol tests. The FMCSA developed a go-between system for owner-operators to be tested randomly. The FMCSA takes this compliance seriously, which means even if drivers live in a state where marijuana is legal, if their drug test comes back positive, it’s considered a violation.

Hazardous Materials Compliance
Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs) exist so that the transport of hazardous materials, like explosives, gas, or other flammable liquids and solids, is done safely. Safety violations include not having the proper marks, labels, or place cards on the hazardous materials or the failure to properly secure a hazardous material package, which could result in leakage. SMS information regarding this BASIC can only be seen by law enforcement and the carrier; it is not available publicly.

Driver Fitness
Drivers must have the proper training and experience to operate their CMVs. Untreated medical conditions (like hearing or eyesight issues) can impact your driving ability. If you drive and are not fit or do not have a commercial driver’s license it’s a violation.

FMCSA Compliance Intervention

Carriers with a low-percentage SMS rating enjoy a number of benefits including, lower insurance premiums, fewer DOT audits, fewer inspections, and being in good standing with current and future clients.

However, if your SMS rating passes a certain CSA-designated threshold (typically 65%) in any given BASIC category, you will receive intervention communications, which gradually get more extreme based on non-compliance.

These interventions are categorized by the FMCSA into three categories: early contact, investigation, and follow-on.

Early Contact:

  • Warning Letter: The carrier is advised that a BASIC has passed the allotted threshold and to take precautionary measures to avoid future action.
  • Roadside Inspection: The carrier will be flagged (due to high BASIC percentages) in the Inspection Selection System (ISS), a program used by roadside inspectors to pinpoint which carriers to inspect. Carriers will be pulled off the road for inspections more frequently.

Investigation:

  • Off-Site Investigation: The carrier will be subject to a compliance investigation into the specific BASIC where there is an issue. Safety Investigators (SIs) will frequently request relevant documentation and records to perform a thorough review of carrier habits related to the violation category.
  • On-Site Investigation: This investigation takes place at the carrier’s actual place of business, where SIs review specific safety and compliance protocols, usually by interviewing employees or inspecting vehicles.
  • On-Site Comprehensive Investigation: The lens for this type of investigation is bigger. An SI will review a carrier’s entire safety approach instead of just a small part of it (as with on-site investigations). The methods of interviewing and inspecting are the same, however.

Follow-On:

  • Cooperative Safety Plan: Based on the results of the off-site investigation, the FMCSA may ask the carrier to create a cooperative safety plan, which is a concrete resource used to correct poor BASIC performance. This plan requires FMCSA-approval and must be submitted through the appropriate channels.
  • Notice of Violation: This formal violation notice informs carriers that their violations are severe enough to require action. Carriers must take preventive, corrective action, gather evidence of their actions, and then dispute the violations.
  • Notice of Claim: In this case, the notice informs carriers that civil penalties are imminent.
  • Operation Out of Service Order: This is a government-issued order for carriers to refrain from any future CMV operations.

FMCSA Compliance Audit

If you are a new owner-operator, you will be required to undergo an FMCSA new entrant safety audit, which is part of an 18-month monitoring program for new carriers. An FMCSA certified-auditor will review your records to ensure they’re compliant with FMCSA regulations.

During this audit, you’ll be asked to submit documentation that illustrates proper safety protocols are in place and to submit your driver qualification file. All carriers are required to have a driver qualification file, which includes various audit documents: application of employment, motor vehicle record (state-specific and dating back three years), proof of annual motor vehicle record review, a record of violations, copy of commercial driver’s license, and medical examiner’s certificate.

The driver qualification file is a key part of the audit, and carriers without one are very unlikely to pass. So, be sure to have yours prepared.

Local Regulations

We’ve taken a look at FMCSA’s federal regulations, but carriers also need to keep state-specific regulations in mind as well. Each state has its own carrier requirements in addition to federal regulations. You must check with the state’s Department of Transportation or the state’s CMV regulatory agency to determine which regulations apply, especially if you operate in more than one jurisdiction.

We will be examining local regulations in five states: California, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, and Florida. Please keep in mind that laws and regulations change; the information below reflects the regulations in place at the time this resource was written. Please refer to your local motor vehicle regulatory agency for all current information.

California

Commercial Motor Vehicles:
According to California law, a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is used to transport property or people (only if the transport of people is for revenue). The following vehicles are considered CMVs: multi-purpose vehicles, passenger-type vehicles, pickup trucks, station wagons, or larger trucks.

Hours of Service:
California adheres to the FMCSA recommended guidelines for Hours of Service. However, a new law in California stipulates that California truck companies will no longer be required to pay their drivers during breaks. Nonetheless, all carriers in California should rest for 10 minutes after every 4 hours of driving and rest for 30 minutes after every 5 hours of driving.

Speed Limit:
California regulations mandate that CMVs travel 10-15 miles less than automobiles because of their size and weight. The standard highway speed limit in California for CMVs is 55 miles per hour.

Lane Rules:
California lane rules stipulate that all motor trucks, truck tractors with three or more axles, and truck trailers that trail another vehicle should travel in the lane designated by signs. If no sign is present, carriers are to default to the right-hand lane or second-to-right-hand lane if there are four or more lanes.

Cargo Rules:
California follows FMCSA recommended guidelines for how carriers should properly secure cargo and carriers operating flatbed or other open-top trailers must tarp their haul, which is not required in all states.

Texas

Commercial Motor Vehicles:
According to Texas law, a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is self-propelled or towed (excluding farm vehicles), has a gross weight of fewer than 48,000 pounds, and is used on public highways to transport cargo or people.

Hours of Service:
Texas adheres to the FMCSA recommended HOS guidelines regarding interstate commerce travel. However, for carriers who travel intrastate roads (i.e., remain within Texas), the HOS differ. The stipulations are that a driver must have eight consecutive hours off before starting a new shift, which should last a maximum of 12 consecutive hours.

Speed Limit:
Texas regulations permit CMVs to travel the same speed limit as automobiles. The standard highway speed limit in Texas for CMVs is 75-80 miles per hour.

Lane Rules:
Texas lane regulations require all vehicles to remain in the right-hand lane if they’re driving at a slower speed than other vehicles unless they wish to pass, turn left, or adhere to a sign that specifies CMVs should use a different lane.

Cargo Rules:
Texas follows FMCSA recommended guidelines for how carriers should properly secure cargo. Texas also mandates carriers operating flatbed or other open-top trailers tarp their haul. Not all states require this.

Illinois

Commercial Motor Vehicles:
According to Illinois law, a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is self-propelled or towed, has a gross weight of more than 10,001 pounds, is used on interstate or intrastate highways to transport cargo or people, and can be used to transport hazardous materials. The exception to this rule is Illinois-specific CMVs (like garbage trucks, school buses, or dump trucks) that have a gross weight of more than 18,000 pounds.

Hours of Service:
Illinois adheres to the FMCSA recommended HOS guidelines for both interstate and intrastate travel.

Speed Limit:
Illinois regulations permit CMVs to travel the same speed limit as automobiles. The standard highway speed limit in Illinois for CMVs is 70 miles per hour.

Lane Rules:
Illinois lane regulations mandate that all vehicles, both automobiles and CMVs, should travel in the right lane unless passing another vehicle or other similar exceptions.

Cargo Rules:
Illinois follows FMCSA recommended guidelines for how carriers should properly secure cargo. However, Illinois is one of 11 states that does not require carriers operating flatbed or other open-top trailers to tarp their haul.

Ohio

Commercial Motor Vehicles:
According to Ohio law, a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is self-propelled or towed, has a gross weight of more than 10,001 pounds, is used on interstate or intrastate highways to transport cargo or people, and can be used to transport hazardous materials.

Hours of Service:
Ohio adheres to the FMCSA recommended HOS guidelines for both interstate and intrastate travel.

Speed Limit:
Ohio regulations permit CMVs to travel the same speed limit as automobiles. The standard highway speed limit in Ohio for CMVs is 65-70 miles per hour.

Lane Rules:
Ohio lane rules stipulate that all vehicles (automobiles and CMVs) must drive in the right-hand lane if they are driving at a slower speed than other cars, unless a CMV wishes to pass, turn left, or continue on the designated route.

Cargo Rules:
Ohio follows FMCSA recommended guidelines for how carriers should properly secure their cargo. Ohio also mandates carriers operating flatbed or other open-top trailers must tarp their haul, which is not required in all states.

Florida

Commercial Motor Vehicles:
According to Florida law, a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is not owned by the government, has a gross vehicle weight of more than 26,001 pounds, or has three or more axles (weight is not a factor here).

Hours of Service:
Florida adheres to the FMCSA recommended HOS guidelines regarding interstate commerce travel. However, for carriers who travel intrastate roads (i.e., remain within Florida), the Hours of Service differ. The stipulations are that a driver must have 10 consecutive hours off before starting a new shift and should last a maximum of 12 consecutive hours.

Speed Limit:
Florida regulations permit CMVs to travel the same speed limit as automobiles. The standard highway speed limit in Florida for CMVs is 70 miles per hour.

Lane Rules:
Florida lane regulations stipulate that all vehicles must drive in the right-hand lane if they are driving at a slower speed than other vehicles unless a CMV wishes to pass or turn left. Additionally, all drivers must move to the right lane if a rear vehicle is driving faster than they are.

Cargo Rules:
Florida follows FMCSA recommended guidelines for how carriers should properly secure cargo. Florida also mandates carriers operating flatbed or other open-top trailers tarp their haul.

Xpress Technologies: Regulation Assistance

At Xpress Technologies, we help you understand federal and local carrier regulations, so you can feel confident that you’re in compliance and in control. Consider using Xpress Technologies as a trusted source for compliance-related matters; we have a wealth of information to share. Our goal is to help carriers like yourself succeed on both interstate and intrastate roads, one journey at a time and one regulation at a time. Read our blog post about ELDs and find out how this tool can help you stay compliant.

Continue Reading: What You Should Look for in an ELD