When most of us read the words “commercial vehicle,” we think of eighteen-wheeler trucks that weigh tens of thousands of pounds and cause catastrophic damages in a collision. But these so-called big rigs are just one kind of commercial vehicle on the road, and they’re not the only type you may encounter in the event of an accident. Small vans and buses can be commercial vehicles, as could a tiny sedan in certain circumstances.
Because these vehicles are owned and insured by companies rather than individuals, they fall under a different set of standards when it comes to accidents. Knowing you’re dealing with a commercial vehicle will (or should, at least) affect the steps you take in the immediate aftermath of the crash, as well as how you and your attorney will handle the claim.
What Exactly Is a Commercial Vehicle?
The Federal Motor Carrier Regulations define a commercial vehicle as:
Any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle—
- Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
- Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
- Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
- Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C.
Translated to everyday language, that means a commercial vehicle is one that’s driven or towed (e.g., a trailer), transporting goods or services, and meets one or more of the following criteria:
- It weighs more than 10,000 pounds. This point can get confusing quickly, because there are two ways to determine that weight. There’s the gross vehicle weight, which is simply how much the vehicle physically weighs. The gross vehicle weight rating, on the other hand, is the maximum operating weight as determined by the vehicle manufacturer. Typically this information can be found on the sticker inside the vehicle door. Whichever of those is greater — the actual weight or the manufacturer rating — will determine if the vehicle is commercial.For example, a vehicle might weight only 9,000 pounds, but if the manufacturer’s sticker sets the gross vehicle weight rating at 11,001 pounds, you’re dealing with a commercial vehicle.
- It’s transporting nine or more people for commercial purposes. If a vehicle is carrying eight people plus the driver for a commercial purpose, it’s a commercial vehicle. Common examples of this include paid tourist activities or shuttle vans.
- It’s transporting more than 15 people, period. Even when no one’s getting paid, if a vehicle is transporting more than 15 people, it’s considered commercial. A church or synagogue outing and other private events fall into this area.
- It’s moving hazardous materials. Any vehicle will be commercial if it’s transporting any material the government deems hazardous in quantities that require the vehicle to display a special placard. So even a tiny, two-door Smart car carrying compressed gas or radioactive material will be a commercial vehicle.