By Tom Bray
Aside from the obvious logistical differences, there are a host of regulatory requirements that accompany the transition from exclusively operating smaller passenger-carrying vehicles to a fleet that also includes coaches and buses. Because these regulations can be a bit confusing for even experienced operators, I’m going to attempt to break it down for better clarity.
As you add buses to your fleet, it is mandatory that you are aware of the three primary thresholds that relate vehicle size to their corresponding regulations: seating eight passengers or fewer, including the chauffeur; those seating nine to 15 passengers, or that are rated at or weigh more than 10,001 pounds; or, vehicles either designed to transport more than 16 or that weigh or are rated at 26,001 pounds or more.
If all vehicles seat eight people or fewer, the fleet (including your company, chauffeurs, and vehicles) will be regulated by state and local rules and laws, not by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
However, that changes once you start talking about vehicles designed to seat nine passengers or more, or are either rated at or weigh more than 10,001 pounds. In those instances, you will be regulated by FMCSA, if involved in interstate commerce (carrying passengers who have crossed or will cross state lines), due to meeting the definition of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in §390.5 of the FMCSA regulations. (You can familiarize yourself with the full scope of the regulations, as well as the sections and parts cited in this article, at fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations.)
A common misperception is that regulations begin at 14 passengers and above, which may be confused with CDL regulations. For companies operating under FMCSA regulations, the following is a breakdown of the regulatory specifications applicable to any for-hire passenger-carrying vehicle that is designed to seat eight people or more or that weighs or is rated at 10,001 pounds or more.
To operate a vehicle meeting FMCSA’s definition of a passenger-carrying CMV, the company must:
• Have a USDOT number (if you need help with this, the FMCSA has compiled a list of explanations and links to assist, which you can find at bit.ly/2Zm9Ren)
• Mark all vehicles with the company’s name and USDOT number (§390.19 and .21)
• Have a proper insurance policy and limits, along with proof of insurance on file with FMCSA (Part 387)
• Maintain an accident register (§390.15)
• Have mechanisms in place for compliance and safety management (Part 385 and various safety regulations)
• Keep the records required by the regulations and present them during official audits (Parts 385 and 390, and various safety regulations)
Driver requirements and qualifications
The FMCSA regulations place a lot of emphasis on a carrier’s drivers. All carriers must constantly track their drivers and make sure they comply in two key areas: driver qualifications (DQs) and hours of service (HOS).
In the area of driver qualifications, the company must make sure:
• The driver has and maintains the appropriate license based on state requirements (§391.11)
• The driver has a current and valid medical card at all times whenever driving a CMV (§391.41)
• That it maintains a DQ file on all drivers (§391.51)
• That no driver has been disqualified for certain traffic or criminal convictions (§391.15)
Hours of service
It is the company’s responsibility to make sure drivers comply with the HOS requirements in Part 395, including following the limits and maintaining logs or other time records. Key points include:
• The driver cannot drive once a limit is reached. The limits for a passenger-carrying driver require that the driver stop driving once they have:
• Accumulated 10 hours of driving time (defined as time driving a commercial vehicle);
• Accumulated 15 hours of on-duty time (to restart the 10- and 15-hour limits, the driver must have 8 consecutive hours off); or
• Accumulated 60 hours of on-duty time in the current seven-day period, or 70 hours of on-duty time in the current eight-day period (depending on how many days per week the carrier operates ... if the carrier operates CMVs six days or fewer, the carrier must use the 60 hours)
• The driver must maintain a driver’s log, either electronic or paper (paper is only allowed if certain exemptions apply), to show compliance with the limits
There are exceptions in §395.1 that are applicable to passenger-carrying drivers. However, these are only applicable in specific circumstances. Here are a few of the most common ones passenger-carrying drivers use:
• 100 air-mile logging exemption: A driver who stays within 100 air-miles of the work reporting location and returns within 12 hours can use a time card rather than a driver’s log.
• Adverse conditions: A driver who encounters an adverse traffic or weather condition that could not be known at time of dispatch is allowed to drive up to an extra two hours to complete what could have normally been completed in 10 hours of driving (the driver can accumulate 12 hours of driving rather than 10).
• Travel time exemption: A driver can log travel time as off-duty time, provided the driver did not drive a CMV or do any work for the company during the travel time, and was given a full eight-hour break upon arrival at the destination of the travel.
All vehicles within the fleet that meet the definition of a passenger-carrying CMV must:
• Be equipped as required in Part 393 (including having the emergency equipment detailed in §393.95);
• Be inspected daily by the driver, who is also required to submit a driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR) detailing the condition of the vehicle at the end of the workday;
• Be systematically maintained with records showing all maintenance activity over the previous year (§396.3);
• Have the emergency exits and exit marking inspected every 90 days (§396.3); and
• Be annually inspected (§396.17)
Bear in mind that if the vehicle either is designed for or seats 16 passengers or more, or weighs/is rated at 26,001 pounds or more, then there are a few additional requirements.
If the company operates vehicles meeting this definition, the carrier:
• May only allow CDL-licensed drivers to drive these vehicles (§383.37);
• Must operate a DOT-drug and alcohol testing program for the CDL-licensed drivers and must have supervisors trained on reasonable suspicion (Part 382); and
• Must meet the higher insurance policy minimum required in §387.33 ($5,000,000 as opposed to $1,500,000)
Drivers operating these vehicles must meet the following additional requirements:
• Have the appropriate class of CDL (Class A, B, or C), depending on the weight and configuration §383.91 with appropriate endorsements—normally the “P” endorsement (§383.93)—and without an applicable restriction (§383.95);
• Their medical card must be merged with their CDL (§383.71);
• Possess none of the additional disqualifications applicable to CDL drivers (§383.51);
• Pass pre-employment drug test; and
• Complete and pass any additional required tests (post-accident, random, reasonable suspicion, etc.)
With the help of these lists, you should be able to review your company’s compliance efforts to ensure you’re not running afoul of the requirements for each bus and motorcoach in your fleet. [CD0519]
Tom Bray is an industry consultant on transportation at J.J. Keller & Associates. He can be reached at email@example.com.