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Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Operating Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs)

There are extensive rules from both the federal government and Pennsylvania governing the operation of commercial motor vehicles for both the driver and the the commercial motor vehicle. This page attempts to capture most of the relevant resources for those rules.

What is a Commercial Motor Vehicle?

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines a commercial motor vehicle as a truck or a truck and trailer in combination with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds or more and is engaged in interstate commerce or is transporting goods that ultimately will cross a state line. In Pennsylvania, if a vehicle is engaged strictly in intrastate commerce (it does not cross state borders) then a CMV is a vehicle or vehicle and trailer in combination that has a GVWR of 17,001 pounds or greater.

If you have a vehicle or combination that has a GVWR of more that 10,000 but less than 17,001 pounds that is not registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation for interstate commerce be careful that the truck doesn't cross a state border. Fines can be heavy and police like to watch the main border highways for violators.

Who Needs a Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?

There are a variety of requirements to have a valid license to operate a commercial motor vehicle that depend on the size and type of vehihcle and the cargo that is being carried. Below is a synopsis of who needs a CDL to drive what in Pennsylvania.

Who Needs a CDL?As a result of the Federal commercial motor vehicle Safety Act of 1986, Pennsylvania established a commercial driver Licensing Program. This program has been developed to improve driver quality, ensure commercial drivers have the skills needed to operate commercial vehicles and to prevent drivers from having more than one driver’s license.

You are required to have a CDL if you operate or plan to operate any of the following commercial motor vehicles (CMVs):

a) A combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.

b) A single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds.

c) A vehicle designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.

d) A school bus designed to carry 11 passengers or more, including the driver.

e) Any size vehicle, which transports hazardous materials and is required to be placarded in accordance with federal regulations.

f) Any size vehicle used in the transportation of any material that requires hazardous materials placards or any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR 73. Federal regulations through the department of Homeland Security require a background check and fingerprinting for the Hazardous Materials Endorsement.

Below are resources from PennDOT concerning obatining and renewing a CDL:
Commercial Driver's Information Center

Obtaining a Commercial Driver's License

Commercial Driver's License Fact Sheet

Commercial Driver's Manual

Guidelines for commercial motor vehicles. (This includes trucks and truck and trailers in combination.)

Click here to download the Commercial Motor Vehicle Technical, Licensing, Recordkeeping, and Procedural Manual. The Manual includes all necessary paperwork and what vehicle types are exempted from certain portions of the regulation. Highly recommended for landscape contractors!

The Department of Transportation adivses that this Manual should not be a substitute for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) . You should consult the FMCSRs, which are updated quarterly online, for the latest changes.

Hand Held Mobile Devices

As of March 8, 2012, all hand held mobile devices have been banned for use by drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMV) when operating interstate vehicles with DOT rating of over 10,001 lbs. This new federal rule was established by the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

The rule prohibits operators with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) from using a hand held mobile telephone when operating a CMV. The penalty for violating this law is a civil fine of $2,750 per offense and disqualification from operating a CMV. States will suspend a CDL after two or more serious traffic violation. Companies that allow their drivers to use hand held mobile phones with operating a CMV could face a maximum penalty of $11,000.

The definition of a CMV for this rule only applies to interstate vehicles, not intrastate vehicles that need a U.S. DOT registration when the weight or combined weight is over 17,001 lbs unless they are rated for Hazmat. The 1984 Act defines a CMV as a self propelled or towed vehicle used on the highways to transport persons or property in interstate commerce; and that either:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight/gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 lbs or greater;
  • is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation;
  • is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, not for compensation;
  • or is transporting any quantity of hazardous materials requiring placards to be displayed on the vehicle (49 U.S.C. 31132(1)).

All drivers operating CMVs are subject to the FMCSRs, except those who are employed by Federal, State, or local governments (49 U.S.C. 31132(2)).

The rule only applies to CDL drivers when you are driving an interstate CVM and is not applicable to any other driving situations, including driving your personal car or a work vehicle not rated at an interstate CMV. 

However, on March 8, 2012, Pennsylvania banned all texting and mobile surfing while driving , not just for CMV's. It is a primary offense and can lead to a $50 fine and a point on your license. The police have the right to ask to search your phone when you have been pulled over.  

So, if you drive a CMV, you cannot use your mobile phone at all while driving. If you are not driving a CMV, you may talk on your phone, but not text or surf while driving.  

Special Mobile Equipment (SME) Permit

Large, non-road rated heavy work equipment such as loaders and backhoes need to have an annual $36 permit for transport on or over roads from Pennsylvania. You can access a fact sheet on the permit requirements here.

Landscape Contracting and Nursery Equipment qualify for a SME when:

49 § 4921. Width of vehicles.

General rule.--The total outside width of a vehicle, including any load, shall not exceed eight feet except as otherwise provided in this section. With regard to stinger-steered automobile or boat transporters or vehicles operating as provided in section 4908 (relating to operation of certain combinations on interstate and certain other highways), the total width of a vehicle, including any load, shall not exceed eight and one-half feet, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

Special vehicles.-- Special mobile equipment not exceeding nine feet two inches in width may be driven, hauled or towed between sunrise and sunset on highways other than freeways.

49 § 4944. Maximum wheel load. 

No motor vehicle or combination shall, when operated upon a highway, have a weight upon any one wheel in excess of 800 pounds for each nominal inch of width of tire on the wheel. Special mobile equipment may be authorized to carry up to 1,000 pounds per nominal inch of tire width subject to the issuance of a permit by the department.

49 § 4975. Permit for movement of special mobile equipment. 

An annual permit may be issued authorizing the hauling or towing of a piece of special mobile equipment which does not exceed nine feet two inches in width on freeways, provided the permitted vehicle or combination maintains a minimum speed of 40 miles per hour.

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