What is a Commercial Vehicle?

Based on the type of vehicle they drive and the type of work they do, a driver might be required to have a commercial driver’s license. Although a lot of vehicles that are used for business purposes can be referred to as commercial vehicles, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a much more specific definition.  

What types of vehicles require a commercial driver’s license?

The Virginia commercial vehicle accident attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp have been handling these kinds of cases for more than four decades. We know what needs to be done in order to ensure that our injured clients receive the financial compensation they need and deserve.  We operate on a contingency fee basis, so you don’t pay anything unless we secure a settlement or jury verdict in your favor. Call our offices today to schedule your free consultation. 

How is a Commercial Vehicle Defined?

For most people, a commercial vehicle is one that is used for business or commercial purposes. Commercial motor vehicles transport paying passengers or cargo and are designated as commercial when they are registered or titled to a company. Commercial vehicles include fleet vehicles, company cars, or any other vehicle that is used for business purposes.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the government agency in charge of regulating commercial vehicles. The FMCSA defines a commercial vehicle as any towed or self-propelled motor vehicle used for interstate commerce on highways to transport property or passengers when the vehicle:

  • Has a gross combination weight rating or a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,001 pounds.
  • Is used or designed to transport 9 to 15 passengers, including a driver, in exchange for compensation.
  • Is used or designed to transport 16 passengers or more.
  • Is used for or designed to transport hazardous materials in accordance with the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975.

Is a Commercial Driver’s License Required to Operate a Commercial Vehicle?

Not necessarily. Not everyone who operates a commercial vehicle has to have a commercial driver’s license. If you operate one of the commercial vehicles listed below, however, you will need to have a valid CDL:

  • Any combination of vehicles that has a gross combination weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds, as long as the gross vehicle weight rating of the towed vehicle is greater than 10,000 pounds.
  • Any one vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds, or any such vehicle that is towing another that does not weigh more than 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle that is designed to transport 16 people or more, including a driver.
  • Any vehicle that transports hazardous materials.

Different Types of Commercial Vehicles

When a vehicle is specifically designated for business use, it usually qualifies as a commercial vehicle. Some of the most common commercial vehicles are:

Commercial trucks

  • Tractor-trailers/18-wheelers  
  • Box trucks  
  • Pickup trucks

Commercial Vans

  • Step vans
  • Cargo vans
  • Passenger vans


  • Transit buses  
  • Motor coaches  
  • Minibusses


  • Heavy equipment vehicles, such as those used for farming and construction
  • Specialty vehicles, such as street sweepers and garbage trucks
  • Commercial cars, such as rental cars and delivery vehicles

Federal Regulations for Commercial Vehicles

While any of the above-listed vehicles could be considered commercial vehicles, they are not all subject to FMCSA regulations. For instance, according to the definition of a commercial motor vehicle, taxis are not affected by federal regulations. Likewise, if a commercial vehicle and its driver engage solely in intrastate commerce, they would be beholden to local and state requirements as opposed to federal regulations, although most state regulations are identical to those of the FMCSA. 

If a vehicle meets the FMCSA’s benchmarks of a commercial vehicle, the business or company owner has to comply with the Department of Transportation’s safety statutes pertaining to:

  • Required drug and alcohol testing for anyone with a commercial driver’s license 
  • Operator qualifications such as medical exams
  • The operation and driving of a commercial motor vehicle 
  • Vehicle accessories and parts that are necessary for safe operation
  • The Hours of Service rules
  • All maintenance, repair, and inspection of the vehicle

In addition to these regulations, commercial vehicle owners need to be familiar with the federal requirements for commercial driver’s license holders, commercial vehicle insurance, accessibility, and driving records. 

Call Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp 

After being injured in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, victims deserve to be fairly compensated for their injuries and damages. If you would like to speak with a qualified Virginia commercial vehicle accident lawyer about your potential injury claim, call the Virginia Beach personal injury law firm of Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp at (833) 997-1774 to schedule your free consultation. 

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