Could You be Subject to DOT Regulations and Not Know It? (Part 2): Passengers and Payment Type

The FMCSA considers you an operator of a commercial motor vehicle when you operate a vehicle designed to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation, or more than 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation. This means that DOT regulations apply.

In my last posting I outlined weight issues that can push you into DOT compliance territory without realizing it. This posting is about triggers related to passenger count and type of payment received for services. For this posting I will again assume that your company is operating in commerce and on public roadways.

Bus on Highway

The FMCSA considers you an operator of a commercial motor vehicle when you operate a vehicle designed to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver), or more than 15 passengers (including the driver) whether directly compensated or not. This means that DOT regulations apply. Additional driver regulations, including CDL requirements, apply at 16 passengers (including driver). To make things more confusing different states have regulations that exceed these.

Assuming you do not trigger DOT regulations by weight, take only indirect payment and are operating a vehicle that is meant for 9 to 15 passengers (including the driver), there are federal exceptions that you can take advantage of as long as you are an interstate operation. More on that in a bit.

In some states regulations for intrastate operations are different. For example, in California, if you operate a truly intrastate fleet you will trigger DOT regs with just 10 passengers which will require your drivers to have a CDL, even if you are a non-profit organization such as a church. Drivers in an intrastate or interstate passenger carrier fleet who reside and drive in California are required to have a CDL endorsement on their license, which triggers record keeping requirements for your company. This gets confusing for all concerned.

Looking at this from a Federal standpoint (again, states will have different requirements for intrastate operations), there are exceptions to some DOT regulations when payment is indirect and the vehicle is designed to haul 9 to 15 passengers. This means that if your company does not transport passengers for a direct fee, but rather may transport passengers as part of a tour package, or as an incidental part of what you are doing without charging a separate fee, these exceptions can save you time and money. Remember from Part 1 of this series that as soon as you hook up a trailer and the combination GVWR is over 10,001 pounds, all exceptions go away. Here you can find further explanation of the exceptions provided for a brochure that outlines these exceptions and requirements. Keep in mind that even some enforcement agencies don’t know or understand the exceptions so training your drivers and keeping a copy of the pamphlet in your vehicles can be helpful.

If you do charge a direct fee for transportation the full spectrum of DOT regulations will apply. If your vehicles are designed to carry 16 or more people, regardless of weight, payment type, or actual passenger count, your drivers will have to maintain a CDL driver's license and as an employer, you will have to follow additional regulations such as drug testing and all other driver qualification requirements. Here are the CDL requirements promulgated by Federal DOT.

Another area to consider when trying to determine whether or not you are subject to DOT regulations is whether or not you are hauling hazardous materials, but that's a topic for a future post.

To learn more about Federal regulations, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website. Questions about state-specific regulations can be sent to your Woodruff Sawyer account team or addressed to a state-specific enforcement agent, such as the state patrol or state police. Most DOT regulation triggers also carry with them insurance proof or endorsement requirements. Your Woodruff Sawyer account team can help you sort through those requirements.

Follow this link for Part 3 of this series, which covers substances and toxins.

Knowing whether your fleet is regulated by the Department of Transportation or not has never been more important. Verdicts keep getting larger and more frequent. This article discusses that trend and some of the more common controls used to mitigate exposure.



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