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Definitions are the starting point for any student of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). Failing to understand or even know a definition exists puts a motor carrier at risk of noncompliance from the onset. In the event of a crash or DOT audit, lack of knowledge will never be an acceptable defense.

390.5: Fundamental terms

The basic and most commonly used definitions appear in 390.5. This regulatory section indicates that those definitions apply throughout �this subchapter� of the regulations, �unless specifically defined elsewhere.�

The word "subchapter" refers to a specific block of regulations within the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In this case, the use of �this subchapter� refers to CFR Title 49 (which contains all the transportation-related regulations), Volume 5, Chapter 3 (which contains regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)), Subchapter B, which is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Within that subchapter are Parts 350- 399.

Going back to the wording of 390.5, the definitions found in that section apply throughout Parts 350-399 ("this subchapter") except in cases where a particular Part has its own definition.

In addition to 390.5, other definitions reside throughout the FMCSRs. They relate to specific topics, such as new-driver training, DOT drug and alcohol testing, CDL licensing, safety fitness standards, rules of practice, financial responsibilities, rulemaking procedures, parts and accessories, and hours of service.

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When would a definition differ?

There are a few cases where one term has two different meanings, depending on the FMCSR Part.

Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is probably the most common example of two definitions for the same term. Instead of 390.5, Parts 380, 382, and 383 all rely on the CMV definition found in 382.107 and 383.5 (which are the same vehicle even though worded a little differently). Basically, this alternative definition refers to a larger class of vehicles (i.e., over 26,000 pounds, or designed for 16 or more passengers, or placarded for hazardous materials). Drivers of these larger (or placarded) vehicles are subject to additional regulations for CDL licensing, drug/alcohol testing, and new-driver training

Don�t use FMCSR definitions for other requirements

When complying with requirements outside of DOT/FMCSA, you should look to other agency definitions � rather than refer to the FMCSRs.

When operating in intrastate commerce, for instance, states have the option of adopting their own definitions. Using the example of regulated vehicles, the weight thresholds for intrastate-only vehicles vary greatly, often mimicking the federal standard of 10,001 pounds or tying them into the need for a CDL. Yet other states have adopted weights completely unrelated to any federal rule (e.g., 18,001 pounds).

Specific to International Registration Plan (IRP) and International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), the definition of interstate commerce differs greatly from definition in the FMCSRs. The two are not interchangeable. If you mistakenly use the definition in the FMCSRs, you may be participating in IRP and IFTA when you don�t need to.

Key to remember: Definitions lay the foundation for the FMCSRs. Misunderstanding a single regulatory definition can put a carrier at risk of fines and high court settlements.