The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was established Jan. 1, 2000, to regulate the trucking industry in the U.S. The primary mission of the FMCSA is to improve the safety of commercial motor vehicles and truck drivers through the enactment and enforcement of safety regs.

One question a few fleet managers are asking themselves is whether FMCSA regulations apply to government fleets. 

Many government fleet managers will say they are exempt from FMCSA regs governing truck weight limits and other safety regulations. This is definitely true for emergency vehicles, snow and ice control equipment, or other public safety applications. However, government fleets are not exempt from operating a safe vehicle as defined by FMCSA regs.

“While you may be exempt from highway loading limits, you are still subject to vehicle design loading restrictions,” said Bob Johnson, director of fleet relations for the NTEA. “For example, if you plan on loading the rear axle of a piece of fire apparatus to 26,000 lbs., the axle (including springs and tires) must be rated for at least 26,000 lbs. Otherwise, you will be found operating an unsafe vehicle as mandated by FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards).”

Likewise, J.J. Keller & Associates said government fleet vehicles are covered by FMCSA regs in certain circumstances. (J.J. Keller, headquartered in Neenah, Wis., is one of the nation’s foremost authorities specializing in safety and regulation compliance, DOT, HazMat, and OSHA workplace safety regulations.)

The three common infractions for government fleets are driving without a CDL (commercial driver’s license); not conducting drug and alcohol testing when required; and oversize or overweight municipal dump trucks, refuse haulers, or jetrodders. One caveat to this is that size and weight violations for government vehicles are left entirely to the discretion of the state in which they are located.

“However, over the last couple of years, we’re seeing more states adopting most, or all, FMCSA regs as their regulatory guidelines. We’re also finding out that a percentage of those FMCSA regs really may apply to governmental agencies and we don’t have a clear understanding of those regulations,” said Gary Lentsch, fleet supervisor for the Eugene Water & Electric Board Fleet Services in Eugene, Ore. “If you read the regulations, exceptions for governmental agencies only apply to particular chapters and/or sub-chapters of the FMCSA regs. If you’re an agency that leaves its municipal boundaries or crosses a state line, you’ll also find out that regulations may apply to your agency in different ways. An alarming number of agencies are just ignoring them until someone tells them they need to comply.”

A related issue involves private entities doing government contract work, such as for-hire hauling. Some of these private firms mistakenly believe that FMSCA regs do not apply to them under §390.3 since they are working for a government agency. “A company hired by the municipality to do the work does not lead to the exception being applicable,” said Thomas Bray, transportation editor for J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

After-the-Fact Interest

Government vehicles are not targeted by law enforcement for FMCSA violations. “It is not the kind of thing where government vehicles are singled out,” said Bray. “It is usually an aftereffect of some kind of incident, typically involving an accident. Usually, something has triggered the interest of law enforcement.”

Accidents can involve serious ramifications for vehicles with FMCSA safety violations.

“If you’re involved in a serious accident, the State Patrol has the right to impound your vehicles to investigate the incident under FMCSA guidelines. This is the same way they would treat other carriers; they don’t have special guidelines to follow for governmental agencies. They will ask for the vehicle’s DVIR (driver’s vehicle inspection report), maintenance and inspection records, and the driver’s file. Independent investigators may ask for more information,” said Lentsch.

There is no exception to drug/alcohol testing and CDL. (“In some states, law enforcement is allowed to turn a blind eye to CDL and drug testing issues related to fire apparatus as the state has used a federal exception and is not applying those rules to the firefighters in their states,” added Bray.)

“All municipal employees who operate vehicles requiring a CDL are subject to the CDL and drug testing requirements,” said Bray. “The feds only allow certain, very narrow exceptions to be used in those areas and most municipal fleets do not fit exemptions in these areas.”

As far as the other regulations (such as size and weight limits, etc.), enforcement is entirely at a state’s discretion. “The feds don’t have guidance for states on that issue. It is up to them as to what they want to do,” said Bray. “Driving a pickup is fine, but if you jump into a dump truck that is 27,000 lbs., then you need a Class B CDL.”

What are the consequences of violating FMCSA regulations? “It is the same as it is for anybody else. The operator of the vehicle could be ticketed. The driver could be ticketed or warned. They don’t give a pass because you are a City or County employee,” said Bray. “If you are overweight, and you are in a state that enforces that, then you are going to get an overweight ticket,” said Bray.

It is important to remember that there are very few exceptions to drug and alcohol testing and CDL requirements. Let me know what you think.

The Fine Print

§390.3(f) Exceptions. Unless otherwise specifically provided, the rules in this subchapter do not apply to—

(f)(1) All school bus operations as defined in §390.5, except for the provisions of §§391.15(f), 392.80, and 392.82 of this chapter. [Change Notice] [Previous Text]

(f)(2) Transportation performed by the Federal government, a State, or any political subdivision of a State, or an agency established under a compact between States that has been approved by the Congress of the United States;

(f)(3) The occasional transportation of personal property by individuals not for compensation nor in the furtherance of a commercial enterprise;

(f)(4) The transportation of human corpses or sick and injured persons;

(f)(5) The operation of fire trucks and rescue vehicles while involved in emergency and related operations;

(f)(6) The operation of commercial motor vehicles designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver), not for direct compensation, provided the vehicle does not otherwise meet the definition of a commercial motor vehicle, except that motor carriers and drivers operating such vehicles are required to comply with §§390.15, 390.19, 390.21(a) and (b)(2), 391.15(f), 392.80 and 392.82 of this chapter.

(f)(7) Either a driver of a commercial motor vehicle used primarily in the transportation of propane winter heating fuel or a driver of a motor vehicle used to respond to a pipeline emergency, if such regulations would prevent the driver from responding to an emergency condition requiring immediate response as defined in §390.5.

The definition of the Employee and the Employer (such as found in Definitions in §383.5):

Employee means any operator of a commercial motor vehicle, including full time, regularly employed drivers; casual, intermittent or occasional drivers; leased drivers and independent, owner-operator contractors (while in the course of operating a commercial motor vehicle) who are either directly employed by or under lease to an employer.

Employer means any person (including the United States, a State, District of Columbia or a political subdivision of a State) who owns or leases a commercial motor vehicle or assigns employees to operate such a vehicle.


Mike Antich
Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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