Georgia Commercial Vehicle Rules FAQ

Drivers of large commercial vehicles must follow rules established by the federal government. Those rules promote the safe operation of large trucks and buses. A driver’s failure to follow those rules is evidence that the driver was negligent.

Who Makes Commercial Vehicle Rules?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) creates most of the rules that commercial drivers must follow. The FMCSA is a federal agency that is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

States can develop their own rules governing commercial drivers, but state rules must be compatible with federal rules when they apply to commercial vehicles in interstate commerce. 49 C.F.R. § 355.25. To avoid having two different sets of rules, states generally adopt the federal rules as their own and apply them to all commercial vehicles. However, states are entitled to adopt stricter safety rules if the rules do not prevent full compliance with the federal rules. 49 C.F.R. § 390.9.

What Commercial Vehicles Must Comply with the Federal Rules?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) apply to all vehicles that have a gross vehicle rating (GVR) or a gross combined vehicle rating (GCVR) of at least 10,001 pounds. 49 C.F.R. § 390.5. The rules also apply to:

  • vehicles that carry 16 or more passengers;
  • vehicles that carry 9 to 15 passengers and charge a fare; and
  • vehicles that transport hazardous substances as defined by the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (49 U.S.C. 5101 et seq.).

When the FMCSR imposes a duty on drivers, a company that employs the driver has a duty to assure that the rule is followed. 49 C.F.R. § 390.11.

What Safety Rules Must a Commercial Driver Follow?

All drivers must obey state and local traffic laws, including commercial drivers. 49 C.F.R. § 392.2. Commercial drivers must also follow rules created by the FMCSR, including, but not limited to the following rules:

  • a prohibition against driving while ability or alertness is impaired by illness or fatigue, 49 C.F.R. § 392.3; a prohibition against driving under the influence of alcohol, illicit drugs, or any substance that impairs the ability to drive safely, 49 C.F.R. §§ 392.4, 392.5;
  • a prohibition against drinking any alcohol while on duty, 49 C.F.R. § 392.5;
  • a prohibition against companies scheduling departure and arrival times that would require drivers to disobey speed limits, 49 C.F.R. § 392.6;
  • a requirement to inspect commercial vehicles and keep them in safe working order, including inspections of brakes, steering, tires, coupling devices, and other specified parts and equipment, 49 C.F.R. § 392.7;
  • a requirement to distribute and secure cargo safely, 49 C.F.R. § 392.9;
  • a prohibition against texting or using a handheld mobile phone while driving, 49 C.F.R. §§ 392.80, 392.82;
  • a requirement to place warning devices when stopped on a road, 49 C.F.R. § 392.22;
  • a requirement to stop, look, and listen before crossing railroad tracks, 49 C.F.R. § 392.10; and the hours-of-service rules discussed below.

How Many Hours Can a Commercial Vehicle Driver Drive in a Day?

The FMCSR limits the number of hours a commercial vehicle driver can drive. The limitation depends on whether the driver is hauling cargo or transporting passengers. Commercial truck drivers cannot drive for more than 11 consecutive hours, and cannot be on duty for more than 14 consecutive hours, after they finish an off-duty period of at least 10 consecutive hours. In addition, drivers must take a rest break of at least 30 minutes after being on duty for 8 hours before they can continue driving. 49 C.F.R. § 395.3.

Drivers of passenger vehicles cannot drive for more than 10 consecutive hours, and cannot be on duty for more than 15 consecutive hours, after they finish an off-duty period of at least 8 consecutive hours. Drivers may not be on duty for more than 60 hours during 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. 49 C.F.R. § 395.5.

How Do We Know How Many Hours a Commercial Driver Was Driving Prior to an Accident?

Commercial drivers must maintain a log book that records the driver’s duty status for each 24-hour period. Drivers must record the time they went on duty, the times they started and stopped driving, and the time they went off duty. They must also record miles driven. 49 C.F.R. § 395.8.

When drivers drive between states, operate a vehicle that was manufactured after 1999, and drive for more than 8 days in a 30-day period, they are usually required to use an electronic logging device (ELD) rather than a log book. An ELD records driving hours automatically, but the driver must log in and record certain information, including the time that the driver comes on duty and goes off duty. 49 C.F.R. Part 395, Subpart B. While drivers sometimes falsify logbooks, it is more difficult to falsify records made by an ELD. Since the ELD makes an automatic record of the time the truck is moving, the speed at which it is operated, and the miles driven, it is difficult for drivers who use an ELD to lie about their hours of driving. Even when drivers keep a log book, however, it is often possible to uncover evidence that proves the entries were falsified.

Do Commercial Drivers Need a Special Driver’s License?

All drivers who operate a commercial vehicle that has a gross vehicle rating (GVR) or a gross combined vehicle rating (GCVR) of more than 26,000 pounds, a commercial vehicle that transports hazardous materials, or a vehicle that carries more than 15 occupants must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). States must follow federal regulations when they issue a CDL.

In addition to passing the tests required to obtain a CDL, commercial drivers need to obtain endorsements to drive certain commercial vehicles, including tanker trucks, dual trailers, trucks that transport hazardous materials, and buses that can transport more than 15 occupants.

Trucking companies may be negligent when they hire a driver without confirming that the driver has a valid CDL with required endorsements. Failing to assure that a driver’s CDL has not expired or been revoked after the driver is hired may also be an act of negligence.

Do Commercial Drivers Need Medical Exams?

Most drivers who are required to obtain a CDL must also obtain a medical certificate. Sleep apnea, heart conditions, diabetes, and high blood pressure are among the conditions that must be under control before a medical certificate will be issued. A driver’s use of certain medications that cause drowsiness may be disqualifying.

Must Commercial Drivers Carry Liability Insurance?

All drivers in Georgia must carry liability insurance. The FMCSR requires most commercial vehicles to have minimum liability insurance of $750,000. Auto haulers must have a minimum of one million dollars in liability coverage, while certain hazardous materials haulers must have minimum liability limits of five million dollars. Operators of vehicles that carry more than 15 occupants must also have minimum liability insurance of five million dollars.

Accidents caused by commercial vehicles are not the same as accidents caused by other vehicles like 4-door passenger cars. There are different rules that apply in cases of commercial vehicle accidents. Consult with a knowledgeable lawyer who has gone up against truck companies and won.