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What Is a Commercial Vehicle?

As the name suggests, a commercial vehicle is any vehicle that’s primary use is for the profit of an individual or company. This can be in the form of transporting goods, materials, or passengers.

Often a driver will need the appropriate license to operate a commercial vehicle. There are a few reasons why a special license may be required but the most likely ones relate to the size and weight of the commercial vehicle. Carrying passengers is another reason why a license may need to be obtained before a person can legally drive a commercial vehicle.

There are specific laws in place that relate to the use and licensing of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) specifically. In this article, we will define what a commercial motor vehicle is. Also showcasing the different types, licensing, and special laws for commercial motor vehicles licensed on US roads today.

Defining a Commercial Motor Vehicle

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states that vehicles need to meet specific weight requirements to be classed as a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). While defining some commercial vehicles is easy, others can more tricky to class as the CMV bracket encapsulates a wide variety of vehicle types.

It would be assumed that most people would pick a heavy-duty truck as a commercial vehicle from a mile away. Hauling large amounts of goods across the country with a company’s logo proudly shown on the side of them, these vehicles are easy to classify as commercial.

However, did you also know that standard-sized vans and pick-up trucks can also be defined as commercial vehicles? This large classing capacity means that listening to what the experts have to say on the subject is always the best policy.

The guidance under the FMCSA of defining a commercial motor vehicle are as follows.

  • Any vehicle that is self-propelled, or towed and is used to transport goods or passengers
  • Any vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating or combination weight rating of 26,001 points or more
  • Any vehicle that has more than eight seats fitted and is used to transport people for monetary gains
  • Any vehicle that has more than fifteen seats to transport people
  • Any bed or trailer that is purposed with transporting a large quantity of hazardous material

Knowing whether your vehicle is deemed to be a CMV is, therefore, extremely important as you could be liable to comply with specific laws that relate to your vehicle type.

Not only that, but anyone who operates your vehicle will have to comply with the same laws. On the flip side, you should always be made aware of whether a vehicle is classed as commercial or personal before being made to operate it.

When operating a CMV, you should take it upon yourself to know the laws that relate to the CMV vehicle specifically. Either by asking its owner or finding the relevant information of your own volition.

Types of Commercial Vehicles

What Is a Commercial Vehicle?

Commercial vehicles come in all shapes and sizes that each have their own area of expertise within the commercial sector.

Check out the list of vehicle types below to ensure that you’re in the know of the different vehicle types that are currently classed as CMVs in America today:

  • Passenger bus
  • Box truck
  • Cargo van
  • Limousine
  • Pickup truck
  • Cement mixer
  • Passenger vehicle
  • Sport utility vehicle
  • Ice cream truck
  • Heavy-duty truck
  • Medium-duty truck
  • Flatbed truck
  • Garbage truck
  • Delivery truck
  • Delivery van

Commercial Driver’s License Requirements

A vast majority of CMVs will require a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to legally operate them. Calling for specialized tests and training, a CDL is a special license type in which drivers who already have a standard driver’s license will obtain for the sole purpose of commerce.

Much like a regular driver’s license, this license will require drivers to pass knowledge and skills tests that prove they are capable of safely and confidently drive a certain class of CMV. There are many different CDLs that each give a driver the right to drive a specific vehicle type.

If the company you work for has multiple commercial vehicle types, make sure you have all the relevant licensing approved before driving each of them. Being the holder of such a license also comes with its own unique list of rules and regulations that come into effect once you’re behind the wheel of a CMV.

Every state has its own licensing regulations but a few of the main ones to consider are having the correct number of service hours documented before driving interstate. Also, always make sure your blood alcohol concentration limit is under 0.04%.

Another important consideration is whether any medical certification is needed to drive a certain CMV class. Again, this varies from state to state but some CMVs won’t require a CDL to operate them. Even though emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks may fit into the weight category for a CMV class, they often don’t require a CDL to drive

Abiding by CMV Requirements

What Is a Commercial Vehicle?

Owning and or operating a CMV means you will have to adhere to a larger list of laws and regulations than you would for a personal vehicle.

As well as adhering to federal laws passed by the FMCSA, you will also be required to know and uphold any CMV state laws too. For instance, if you are looking to operate a CMV, you will be required to acquire commercial vehicle insurance.

For CMV owners, you must check to see whether your vehicle’s weight matches its approved class. If it doesn’t then it will likely need to be moved up or down into the correct CMV classification.

If the owner of a CMV knowingly or unknowingly breaks any state or federal CMV laws, then it is likely they may be guilty of negligence.

If you or an operator of your vehicle has been the cause of a road accident while not following CMV laws, then you will likely be liable for damages to the other party’s vehicle and any personal damages. Depending on the nature of the accident, the liability could be solely the drivers, or potentially the owner of the vehicle – company or otherwise.


As you are now well aware, there’s quite a lot to unpack when asking the question; what is a commercial vehicle?

This article aimed to give prospective commercial vehicle owners, owners, and operators a good idea as to the expectations and liabilities surrounding CMVs. As a result, helping drivers to safely and legally use a wide variety of vehicle types for the purpose of commerce.

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